Everyday this month, Double G Sports will be featuring interviews from prominent women in the sports industry as our way of celebrating Women’s History Month. This project is in its 2nd year. Today we feature Pro Mod Drag Racer, Dina Parise.
With the recent hype of Danica Patrick during Speedweeks at Daytona, there has been a greater focus on female racing drivers all around. Whether it be in the NASCAR, IndyCar, or NHRA Drag Racing, women have been a part of those series and made their presence felt. Few women have taken the additional step of owning their own race team, like New York based pro-modified racer Dina Parise.
Parise, along with husband Andrew, run a two-car operation in the ultra competitive Pro Modified category. Parise’s life has taken her from competitive gymnastics, figure skating (as a member of the Ice Capades), a professional hairdresser and now as a racer and carrying the nickname of “The Chef,” due to her being a cook for the team and fellow racers.
Parise sees her role as team owner/driver as empowering for women in general. “I think that females in the industry…we are positive role-models and we think it is a positive impact for women and for the drag racing industry as well,” she said.
Going further, Parise sees her position as a chance to help women in general by speaking regularly in Long Island. “I think women go through a lot and they blame themselves…you don’t have to go 240 M.P.H. to feel better. I didn’t get into a race car until I was in my thirties,” Parise said.
“Society is about being twenty or having to be [young to fit a demographic]…you don’t have to be. Our demographic of fans is so vast, it’s insane…I get fan messages from kids, men and women and I get thank you messages from everybody for being positive on social media and being real people.”
Parise’s diverse background goes with the way she has lived her life. “You only get one ticket in life and I am using mine until it expires…I am a big believer in trying things and if you fail, then you fail. If you don’t try it, you are never going to know,” Parise said.
Parise has met people in entertainment, music and other areas in her life as a gymnast, skater and hairdresser, but she has always loved racing, holding motorsports legend A.J. Foyt as one of her heroes. Her connection to racing cars came with meeting Andrew. “It all started because Andrew was building a ’67 Camaro while we were dating,” Parise said.
“He started racing [the car] in Super Comp. The first time I saw him go down the track, the car went towards the wall…I had seen drag racing on TV but never in person. I called my Mom and said, ‘This is the best thing ever!’ The following year, I went to the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School and got my Super Comp license. I have been head over heels in love with the sport, everything about it. I couldn’t let my husband have all the fun, which is why I started this!”
Pro Modified cars are purpose-built racing machines, with the body of a specific car over the top of a tube-frame chassis. After Dina got her license, she drove the ’67 Camaro in Super Comp while Andrew built the ’53 Corvette for Pro Mod racing. After a short time, Dina sought a greater challenge. “I was ready to step up…I wanted to go faster,” said Parise. “I informed him I wanted to go Pro Mod racing…with the support of the sponsors we had, we were able to build that second car.”
Parise moved up to Pro Mod and was the first woman in the North East Outlaw Pro Mod Association to race and win in the series in May 2010. Unlike other forms of motorsports, drag racing has been more open to women and there have been many success stories over the years.
From legendary three-time Top Fuel champion Shirley Muldowney in the 70’s and 80’s, women have won championships and races in all four major classes (Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle). Currently, Courtney Force, the youngest of 15-time Funny Car champion John Force’s four daughters, is one of the contenders for the title after winning the Road to the Future award last year as the best rookie.
Erica Enders-Stevens had a breakout 2012 season, winning four races and becoming the first woman to win in the Pro Stock class. In Top Fuel, Force’s older sister Brittany is running for the Road to the Future title in 2013 against former Pro Mod driver Leah Pruett.
Parise gave her thoughts on why drag racing has seen a greater diversity with successful women drivers versus other series. “I think that we are a racers racer…it is great that we are women but we are racers. For me, it took time to earn respect on the track…when our helmets go on, nobody really cares that we are women. We may look a little better once the helmets come off, but we earn the respect that we are good racers.”
Going further on the sponsorship side, Parise said, “[As women racers] we have a little more to offer for our marketing partners because we can reach out to our audience and bring more people in because they will pay more attention.”
Winning races and being competitive makes a big difference and Parise’s competitive spirit comes out against Andrew as much as any other driver, especially at the starting line on the ‘Christmas Tree.’ However, Parise keeps things in perspective due to the danger aspect of racing.
“I tree his butt almost 90% of the time and he knows it too, which is hilarious,” said Parise. “The trash talking is non-stop…the racing is non-stop. [However], you have to put things out of your mind because you’re in a car that goes 240 M.P.H. and it’s a dangerous sport. Do I want to kick his butt? Absolutely, but you still are concerned about [his] safety regardless.”
One instance of the danger aspect in racing took place between Dina and Andrew as they raced each other. “I crashed once racing my husband…I crashed and he got to the top end and he started to shut down but he didn’t know what happened. One of the other drivers happened to be there, picked him up and said, ‘she’s fine but she tagged the wall’…it was difficult because there’s always that possibility that something can happen.”
Outside of the trash talking and competitive spirit, the connection between the two is undeniable. “If he is not racing that round, he will roll me into the beams…we don’t have to say anything to each other – he looks at me and I know exactly what he is thinking.”
With a tight-knit crew and a passion for racing shared by the couple, Dina Parise Racing looks to 2013 as an opportunity to grow and is looking for marketing partners to join the team via e-mail at: email@example.com.
Parise thanked her crew for all they do for the team along with current marketing partners Throttle Threads, NGK spark plugs, LAT racing oils, CRC Industries, Hoosier tires, Kelly Jean Design, Neal Chance Racing Converters, MBRC chassis design, JE Pistons, Browell Bellhousing and Motorsports Unlimited.
Visit the teams’ website at www.dinapariseracing.com, their Facebook at www.facebook.com/DPariseRacing, on Twitter @DPariseRacing, Linkedin at Dina Parise Racing and their causes: Vettes for Vets, Wounded Warrior Project and National MS Society.