Megan McKernan is not your typical drag racer.
She has two degrees in physics, is the daughter of the CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California and is considered an expert in racing-related engineering and technology.
But if you ask her mentor Robert Hight, the 2009 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series Funny Car champion, what sets her apart... he'll say it’s her desire to learn everything about drag racing.
Hight says she is as interested in learning how to change the oil on her dragster as she is in driving it down the strip.
“Her greatest strengths are realizing there is more to this job than just driving the race car,” said Hight. “It’s all about going and getting a sponsor, taking care of that sponsor, organizing the team, organizing the travel and all the logistics. And she does that from top to bottom.”
McKernan, who is 32-years-old and from Sierra Madre, is at the NHRA Winternationals this weekend for the season-opening Top Alcohol Dragster races at Pomona Raceway. On Thursday, she had the 15th fastest qualifying time.
"It went really well,” McKernan said. “The first run is the most nervewracking for me. I was pretty nervous.” But once she was in the dragster and ready to race, “all those butterflies went away.”
After making her qualifying run, McKernan had to leave the race track to return to work as a market researcher for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), a trade association consisting of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, publishing companies, auto restorers, car clubs and race teams.
She is in her second full season in Top Alcohol Dragster and her ninth season in drag racing. She is planning on running the entire 2012 NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster season.
How McKernan Ended up With a Top Alcohol Dragster License
McKernan has a support system that includes 15-time NHRA champion John Force and his daughters, Ashley and Courtney Force. The car McKernan drives was owned by John and driven by Ashley and Courtney before they moved up to the NHRA Funny Car class.
It was John Force who suggested McKernan earn her Top Alcohol Dragster license three years ago in the car he set up for his daughters.
“From there, we weren’t really sure where we wanted to go,” said McKernan. “We set up a plan and here I am.”
That plan included entering the final two races of the 2010 NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster season in Las Vegas and Pomona. She qualified for both races and prepared to run the entire 2011 season.
She advanced to two finals at Bakersfield and Seattle, but lost both times. McKernan finished in third place in her first full season racing in NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster.
“It went better than planned,” said McKernan. “At the same time, to make it to two final rounds, I didn’t expect that.”
McKernan, who graduated from Mayfield High School in Pasadena, holds degrees in physics from USC and the University of San Diego. She also writes about the specialty equipment market.
Since she knows her dragster better than most drivers, Hight doesn’t consider himself a coach for McKernan, but more of a consultant and mentor.
“I just try help Megan however I can,” Hight said. “I really don’t do a whole lot to be honest with you. It’s fun to hang around there and be involved, to see her desire and what she has accomplished. From top to bottom, she has a role in everything.”
Will Megan go Pro?
Even though she has a support group that includes the Forces and a car that has propelled Ashley and Courtney Force to pro careers, McKernan has no desire to leave the NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster class.
“I think it would be awesome to see what it would be like to go 300 miles per hour,” McKernan said, adding that she doesn’t want to drive a Funny Car or a Top Fuel dragster. “I wouldn’t want it to take away from the racing. I really don’t have a desire to go pro.”