INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Most racers have been sitting in a driver's seat for most of their lives. Some seasoned veterans have been taking the tree since their teenage years. Some racers grow up working crew for their dad or their friends and are now behind the wheel themselves. Some began racing a junior dragster as early as five or six years of age. Alia Wischmeyer does not fit in any of those categories.
At 20-years-old, Wischmeyer is a third-generation NHRA U.S. Nationals fan. She has been attending since she was young, along with her father and grandfather. Despite being a fan, Wischmeyer was not a racer, nor was her father. Over Labor Day weekend in 2018, she and her father, John, were ready for that to change.
"In 2018, we were sitting at the U.S. Nationals, and I told my dad 'this is what I want to do," Wischmeyer said of how the plan came to be. "We made a game plan, and the goal that we've made is this year, 2020, we will be [racing] at the U.S. Nationals."
That could be quite the process for two individuals that have never even taken the tree. There was one hurdle that needed to be cleared before the plans could be set in motion. If Alaia and John could overcome that hurdle, the rest would be easy. They had to convince mom, Melora, to let it happen.
Alaia had always wanted to drive a junior dragster. As with most mothers, this one had reservations of putting her daughter in a junior dragster along with the financial burden and time commitment it would require.
"She was like 'okay. Clearly, this is something you want to do because you've been asking for about ten years," Alaia said of the conversation with her mother. "Now, she's very supportive of it."
Just like that, the first part of the game plan was complete. On to the next step.
Next up was the Doug Foley Drag Racing School (now Pure Speed Drag Racing Experience) at Lucas Oil Raceway. That was not fast enough for Alaia. She followed that with a trip to Route 66 Raceway for the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School for her Super Comp license in May of 2019.
With a competition license in hand, it was time for Alaia to have a dragster of her own.
"We would drive to all over the Midwest, and we eventually went to Summit Motorsports Park to pick look at a car," Alaia said. "We went one day to watch it run. We went back the next day, and when he was getting ready to put it on his trailer, we put it on ours and brought it home."
With a Super Comp license and a dragster in the garage, it was time to hit the track. The Coronavirus Pandemic put a delay on her first passes, but as the Midwest began to open back up, Alaia finally made her debut on a dragstrip. Some Lucas Oil Raceway Wild Wednesday's and a few test-and-tunes under her belt, Alaia was able to get close to 40 passes before the middle of June. Being able to make passes brought a whole new set of obstacles.
"It's frustrating because I know what I am supposed to do, and I want to do it so badly," Alaia said of the steep learning curve. "The whole process of letting off the transbrake at the right time and not red lighting, I am struggling with red lighting. I am figuring out that consistency of how far you stage to get our numbers so that we can succeed."
Without racing backgrounds, when an issue or question comes up, Alaia and John often find themselves without a solution. After each pass, the duo looks at the video and all the numbers available to them. When not at the track, one or both can probably be found in the garage making improvements to the dragster.
If that's not enough, they have a few resources in the racing world despite being so new to the sport. Luckily, John has a friend and co-worker that owns Arthur Racing and Performance Parts in Martinsville, Indiana and has a son that races in the junior dragster ranks. Roy Niemann is another family friend that has experience as a crew member at the nitro Funny Car ranks.
While doing her best to figure out the inner working of a Super Comp dragster, Alaia does have other responsibilities. As many high school graduates do, she chose to enroll in college immediately after high school. Going into the 2020-21 academic year, Alaia will be a junior at Ball State University. A hard-enough challenge to take on competitive drag racing and college courses, Alaia is a nursing student.
"There's been a lot of mental breakdowns, a lot of late nights," Alaia joked about how she balances her commitments. "My freshman years was absolutely the hardest year, just figuring out time management. This year's going to be an experiment, too, now that we actually have the car. There are a lot of races that start Thursday-Friday, and I have clinicals on Friday."
In a couple of years, Alaia plans to graduate with a nursing degree. Despite 2020 being her first season in a racing vehicle, her competitive drag racing plans are just as concrete.
"In a week, I am going back to the Frank Hawley School in my car to learn more of the technical side, absorb more information, and hopefully come out of it stronger," Alaia said of her upcoming plans. "Past that, my goal is to be in a Top Fuel dragster at the end of this. That's always been my goal."
She wanted to be in a junior dragster when she was little. It wasn't an option. Now, Alaia has ten years of drag racing progress lost to make up for, and she's not wasting a single second.
Alaia will be chasing the Super Comp title on the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series with the hope of running at the 66th NHRA U.S. Nationals in September. In between those events, she wants to make as many passes as possible. Her first-ever competitive races were at Lucas Oil Raceway over the weekend of June 13-14 for a pair of Brown's Oil Service ET Bracket Races Presented by Comfort Suites. They won't be her last.