Drag Racing – the domain ruled by female top fuellers

Wednesday 13 September 2023

The FIA European Drag Racing Championship reached its dramatic conclusion at last weekend’s prestigious Euro Finals at the Santa Pod Raceway. In the ultimate Top Fuel class three female racers have dominated the 2023 season with Ida Zetterstrøm, Susanne Callin and Jndia Erbacher taking the top three positions in the final points standings.

“I’ve been at the racetrack since I was three weeks old and been racing since the age of eight,” disclosed the newly crowned Zetterstrøm when we caught up with all three at Santa Pod. “I started in a Junior Dragsters and moved up to a Super Comp Dragster at 16, before switching to bikes for about seven years. They were great years but Top Fuel was always my dream so, in 2021, I took the leap.”

Fellow Swede Callin’s career path is very similar. “My dad and my uncle used to race, so I grew up at the racetrack. When Junior Dragsters were introduced in Sweden I thought I’d better give it a go. Once you do it, you are hooked! I then went up through the classes but, having reached Top Fuel, I then had a long time away raising my own family before making a comeback a couple of years ago.”

Swiss star Erbacher is also part of a hugely successful drag racing dynasty. Her father, Urs, began competing in the 1980s and became a triple European Top Fuel Champion between 2007 and 2011.

“It’s a family thing for us,” she agreed. “My dad has been in the sport for than 35 years, so I was born into drag racing. That said, I was more interested in show jumping until I turned 16 when I switched from one horsepower to 10,000 horsepower!”

All three top Top Fuellers also believe drag racing is a sport which boasts true equality.

“Drag racing is welcoming for all genders and also all ages,” revealed Zetterstrøm. “You can be 18 competing against someone who is 65 – we are all here on equal terms. From the age of eight, we’ve mixed men and women on the same basis – there’s never been a boys’ and girls’ class. So right from the start everyone has understood that we are here on the same terms. When you are ‘newbie’ in a class you need to earn the respect of others but that doesn’t have anything to do with being a girl.”

“It’s a very open sport,” agreed Erbacher. “The fans think it’s really cool to see badass girls driving 10,000 horsepower projectiles down the racetrack, kicking the butts of so many male guys! When you put the hammer down, we are all the same. I’ve never heard a bad word about being a female racer, just big respect.”

“There always have been a lot of females in drag racing,” added Callin. “As a teenager I couldn’t understand why others thought it might be a problem as for me there’s nothing strange or weird about it. Gender really doesn’t matter – it’s more about who you are as a person and whether you have the feeling and reactions for the sport.”

So what’s it like to strap yourself into a Top Fuel dragster with a 11,000 horsepower, nitromethane-fuelled V8 throbbing away just inches behind your head?

“Nothing else compares to it – you get such a big rush,” grinned Erbacher. “The feelings you get when you leave the line are impossible to put into words – it’s like being a rocket shot out of a canon! It’s so explosive. Your heart changes rhythm and the ground shakes even for those in the grandstands.”

Zetterstrøm also struggled to explain the incredible forces at play. “The acceleration off the line is hard to describe,” she concurred. “These cars have a clutch that locks in half way down the track so, it’s like being shot out of a canon not once but twice. You are already going very, very quick and then you get even more G-forces on your body as you’re holding on and trying to aim the car as straight as possible with small adjustments. I love it!”

Erbacher, perhaps, best summed up the secret to success in one of the world’s most fearsome sports: “You need to have big balls!” she laughed.