Race car driver Kolette Dicero, of Pittsboro, Ind., is an energetic 7 year old. She loves school, princesses and driving fast in her two race cars.
Mykal McEldowney, IndyStar
Kolette Dicero woke up, placed her favorite stuffed animal, Paper Bear, on her pillow and climbed down from her loft bed.
She hurried to her closet to pick out a dress, wedge-heeled shoes and a purse.
Her father, Anthony, reminded her: “Hey, you know we’re going racing, right?”
Anthony Dicero has made a career out of the racing business. But he was not the one drag racing today. His 7-year-old daughter was.
“I don’t want her to stop being a girlie-girl,” Dicero said, “but I still like that she races.”
Now, you might wonder whether 7 years old is a little young for drag racing. Well, she started at 5.
A family affair
The interest emerged at age 1. It was in her father’s Brownsburg garage, the one he used to share with professional NHRA drag racer Antron Brown.
Brown stored his sons’ junior dragsters next to Dicero’sprofessional dragster.
“She’d be running around in the shop and see his kids’ junior dragsters, and she’d always be sitting in them,” Dicerosaid. “We knew early on that she liked princesses, race cars and singing.”
Dicero and his wife, Jess, decided to buy a junior dragster when Kolette was 3. Dicero’s father brought him up around drag racing, and he has since made a career out of working on, tuning or owning a dragster or sprint car team.
“By the time she was 4 she was saying, ‘When’s my turn?'” Dicero said. “By the time she was 5, it was, ‘OK. Let’s go.'”
A junior dragster is about 15 feet long and nearly 300 pounds with a 5 horsepower Briggs & Stratton motor. Yes, your lawnmower might have a 5 horsepower engine, but can it reach speeds up to 85 mph? Kolette’s speed is restricted to 50 mph. After all, she is a second-grader.
“You know kids at school. They all have their own hobbies,” her father said. “Kolette’s hobby is completely different from everybody else’s.”
The thrill of drag racing
In early August, after her first day of second grade at Pittsboro Primary School, Kolette grabbed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and headed to Lucas Oil Raceway.
Revving engines and screeching tires rattled ears. Smoke from tire burnouts filled the air. The event was Wild Wednesday, when men and women drag race their everyday road vehicles such as Honda Civics or Buick Roadmasters.
Kolette waited in line for her turn. On this night, she wasn’t facing an opponent in the NHRA Junior Drag Racing League she competes in. She was just practicing.
Her mother bent down to give Kolette a kiss through the opening in her helmet. Her father told her he loved her. Then he pull-started the dragster’s engine.
Kolette edged up to the start line. She watched the light tree. Yellow-yellow-yellow-green!
Pressing hard on the gas in her pink shoes, Kolette took off. She finished the eighth-mile strip in 13.9 seconds, running just under 52 mph.
“Driving the dragster feels like you’re going 1,000 mph,” Kolette said after her run. “It feels like you’re going so fast you cannot breathe.”
Sponsored by ‘Nanner Puddin’
A month later Kolette was sitting at a table with her parents at Rusted Silo Southern BBQ & Brew House in Lizton. This was a business meeting with the restaurant’s owner, a potential sponsor.
“She’s all girl, but her passion is very apparent,” said Rob Ecker, who already sponsors two drivers: Brinton Marvel, who drives winged sprint cars in the same class as Tony Stewart, and Michael Meyers, who drives in the Lucas Oil Formula Car series. “We want to help make dreams come true for her.”
Kolette mid-meeting, not wanting anything for free, headed to the kitchen, determined to earn her sponsorship money.
She grabbed a pair of rubber gloves, pulled them over her fingers with their checkered-flag fingernail polish, and walked behind the counter to help prepare meals.
Ecker’s daughter, Karisa, who works at the restaurant, covered her mouth and laughed as Kolette dished herself a double serving of “Nanner Puddin.” It’s Kolette’s dish of choice and now the sponsorship wording on both of her race cars.
Kolette also zips around an oval track in a quarter midget. She has been racing those cars since she was 6.
“It feels like I’m dreaming,” she said about driving her quarter midget. “It’s just like butterflies flying into my face.”
Kolette, who recently took third place in her quarter midget during a Midwest Thunder Series race at Indy Mini Speedway at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, is typically the only girl on the track when she races. When asked whether she thinks she is a role model for other girls, she said she thinks she is.
“Boys drool, and girls rule,” she said. “I show courage, and you get to teach girls and gals that you can win the race, you’re going to be in first place, you’re going to be OK.”
Professional drag racer Krista Baldwin, a third-generation NHRA drag racer who met Kolette when she was 3 and is now her mentor, said you have to be strong to be a woman in the racing industry.
Baldwin didn’t have a female role model growing up. She wants to be that for Kolette. She wants to take her under her wing.
“You have to be tough,” she said. “But the race car doesn’t know if you’re a male or a female.”