Andrew Anderson, a seventeen-year-old junior at Edmond North High School, is a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) junior drag racer. He said it was just coincidence that got him involved in the speedy sport.
"We were driving home one day and saw three small dragsters sitting on somebody's lawn," he said. "We didn't know what they were, so we stopped to learn something."
It turned out the cars were junior dragsters and there's a track for racing those in Noble. Anderson was intrigued.
"I thought it would be really fun," he said. "When I was younger I was really small. I wasn't really big enough to play any sports and be very successful at them. I thought this would be fun, and it seemed a good fit for me because in this sport it's good to be light."
That was about seven years ago. A month before his tenth birthday Andrew competed in his first race. The results weren't memorable.
"I don't remember how I did," Anderson laughed. "I probably lost in the first round."
He's gotten better, though. Today, out of the thirty or so racers competing at Thunder Valley Raceway Park in Noble, he is ranked sixth in points earned so far this season.
For junior dragsters, the track can't be longer than 1/8 of a mile. It's a straight track where, basically, the first car to cross the finish line wins. The cars used are near-replicas of the full-size cars driven by NHRA professionals. Racing season is from March to October. Drivers who qualify can go to the Junior Dragster National Championships and compete for scholarship prizes to further their education.
Anderson said his mom wasn't entirely gung-ho about his desire to race at first. "My mom was questionable at the beginning. She didn't know how a nine-year-old boy would go 50 miles per hour. But there are fewer injuries in drag racing than in football, baseball, basketball and all that. Once she learned that, then she didn't mind."
When he was under ten years old, Anderson was limited to cars that couldn't complete the 1/8-mile track in less than 12.9 seconds. In his current bracket he is allowed to shoot for 7.9 seconds.
"There have been a lot of technological advances in junior dragsters," he said.
Anderson has set a long-term goal of racing professionally. More immediately, though, he has set his sights on attending a state university, probably the University of Oklahoma, where he'll major in either engineering or sports marketing.
"With the engineering degree, that would help in designing and tuning my own cars," he said. "And the sports marketing would also go well with drag racing, helping to get sponsors."
Currently, Anderson has two sponsors and he's hoping to take on more. Sponsors provide parts for the car and other forms of support in exchange for advertising space on the body of the vehicle. His engine sponsor is Pure Power USA of Eldridge, Iowa. Gaged Engineering of Bellevue, Nebraska, sponsors his clutches.
Anderson hopes to win a national championship this year. "It would give me different credentials and help me pick up sponsors."
He explained that a lot of racers pick up local sponsors. But to make it in the world of professional racing a driver needs to have a major sponsor with serious clout-and money.
"I'm hoping to pick up that kind of sponsor, but I know it might never happen," he said. "But with a degree in engineering, I could get a good job anyway."
Anderson is also a member of Junior ROTC at Edmond North. That requires him to write a lot of resumes, so he feels he's ready for college writing as well as the challenge of writing letters, seeking racing sponsors.
In March, Anderson got to make his first pass in a real, full-size race car, a 1962 Chevy. The big cars run on a 1/4 mile track. "Oh, it was fun," Anderson said. "Those cars go a whole lot faster. That car would go about 126 miles per hour."
Drag racing has always been popular, but recent Hollywood depictions of illegal racing have actually helped bring attention to the sport. "Street racing movies have brought a lot of younger crowds to the drag strip," said Anderson. "Those movies put a bad definition on drag racing for people who don't really know what it is. A lot of people just think it's illegal street racing."
Anderson does most of his racing in Noble, but sometimes travels to some tracks in Texas. He also goes to Colorado once each year for a national-level race in Denver.
The local races are held at Noble on Saturdays. "Unless there's a bigger race, we start around noon," said Anderson. "They always let the junior dragsters in before the big cars. The track manager won't let the big cars start until we're done."