A dream at the Night of Thrills turned into reality
By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher
One night, at 12-years-old, Sarah Edwards and her family traveled to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. to see their annual Night of Thrills show after her father heard a radio ad. Seeing that July show, the young girl was hooked.
That show, a long-time ago, caused her to go into motorsports.
“It has affected my life drastically, because I think if my parents never took me to Englishtown to their Night of Thrills event,” Edwards said. “I don’t think I would be talking to you because I don’t think I would have gotten involved in drag racing. I don’t come from a drag racing family, that was my first experience with any type of motorsport. And I was there, at the age of 12, I was hooked, mesmerized, and just WOW! If this girl in her young 20s and she’s driving a 300-mph jet dragster, which was the Queen of Diamonds by Hanna Motorsports, I thought I could do that, too. It snowballed from wanting and thinking I could do it to wanting to do it then actually doing it. Here I am today driving the same car that I saw when I was 12-years-old.”
Edwards, now 25, bracket raced in a 565-cubic inch Chevy Big Block for four-years before even driving a Jet Dragster. She also raced in Top Dragster and Super Pro classes at Atco Dragway in Atco, N.J. after forming Queen Bee Racing in 2012.
“My team consisted of my mom, my dad and my boyfriend,” she said. “They’re all still intact. My parents follow me to every race with the Jet car. My boyfriend Steve comes to races when he can. So, we’re still our own team and our own family, but I haven’t driven these cars since I signed my contract with the Jet car.”
It would be a conversation with her now teammate, Ken Hall, who she met at Night of Thrills event, that would lead to her being the new Queen of Diamonds pilot.
“I met Ken a few years back at a Night of Thrills event in New Jersey in Englishtown,” she said. “We had gotten to talking — very vaguely — and I at least don’t remember giving him my whole life story dating back to when I was 12-years-old and seeing the Queen of Diamonds at the track. We vaguely kept in contact and I guess when the position opened up for a new Queen of Diamonds Jet Dragster driver, Ken Hall mentioned my name to Al Hanna and almost immediately, he got in contact with me. We met and I brought my family to his family. All of us met and from there, the rest is history at this point.”
The Hanna Motorsports team consists of Al and Ellen Hanna as the founders with his son Rich Hanna, Ken Hall and Edwards as the drivers. Hanna and Hall drive the Jet Funny Cars.
Jeff Robillard, Gary Bengston and Jake Slater serve as their crew.
“It’s the best experience going,” she said. “Al Hanna is an absolute pioneer of the sport. He’s been involved in drag racing over 50-years. He has seen it come up through the ranks and he’s been a large help in helping develop the jet category. He’s on the jet committee for the NHRA. His biggest thing is safety. He’s constantly working on ways to improve these cars; not only going fast, but to make it safer.
“There’s no doubt what we do is dangerous. There’s no doubt about that. The No. 1 priority is that we’re all safe. He takes safety quite intensely — not only for myself as I drive the Queen of Diamonds, his son Rich, who drives our First Strike Funny Car and Ken Hall, who drives our Top Secret Funny Car. It’s wonderful working for such a strong family when you come from such a strong family atmosphere. Our families have really combined and we are at the track every weekend, or every other weekend. And at the end of the day, the goal is for all of us to come home safe.”
When she drove the Chevy Big Block, she loved the grit of the tires and the roaring of the motor. With the Jet car, she loves a different aspect.
“Going to the Jet car, it was a different transition,” she said. “The Jet car is a very smooth ride and it’s exciting for the fans to experience with the smoke and the fire show. To hear the burner pops, but as a driver, I find the ride to be smooth. I have 6,000-pounds of thrust behind me instead of a motor. It’s definitely a different sensation and ride. When I drove my Queen Bee dragster, my favorite part was my launch. The car would snap backwards and I thought I was getting into it. With the Jet car, my favorite part is pulling the parachutes and seeing them blossom. The feeling of the parachutes dragging the car back and your body wants to continue to accelerate forward before your body is greeted by your belts. That’s probably the most violent part of the ride, but it’s my favorite part of the ride.”
Edwards, or even when she’s racing Ernie Bogue Jr. in the Beast of the East Jet Dragster, will do several burner pops before lining up at the starting line. This past weekend, she made two solo passes at 294 and 295 mph at the 2nd annual Super Chevy Show on Friday and Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Ohio.
“That’s when we’re lighting some fuel and moving forward,” Edwards said. “It’s like we’re doing little mini launches and then you’re stopping yourself. You are stopping yourself with your breaks. At the top end of the track, we do not use breaks; we will only stop the car with parachutes.
“It’s a different sensation, but you’re only accelerating for a quick second. When you’re going down the track, you’re only going five seconds. It’s not like you’re going down the track for a long period of time. But in that quarter mile, you’re going 60-feet in about one second. We’re doing the quarter-mile in about 5 1/2 seconds. When we pull those parachutes, it’s really trying to stop us dead in our tracks. From a stand still to 5 1/2 seconds at 300 mph’s before going to another standstill, I find it to be the most thrilling, but violent part of the whole race.
Presently, she works for a construction company besides being the Hanna Motorsports Queen of Diamonds II pilot. She received her Associate Degree from Norwalk Community College in Interior Design.
“During the week, I work in a construction company doing administrative work and I was working for an Interior Designer part-time. I’ve run out of days in the week to do it all. Right now, I’m primarily with the construction company, but I do have my Associate’s Degree in Interior Design. The people, who I work for, are the best people to work for and are extremely supportive. They are also flexible and there’s some weeks, where I only work one or two days a week due to traveling with back-to-back races. I can’t express how supportive they are by allowing me to continue to follow my dreams. I tried juggling it all, but I couldn’t. The Jet car comes first, then the construction job.
“They just know racing comes first, so if I have an appearance or a race to go to, I’m gone. I don’t have an average 9-to-5, 40-hour a week a job. I work when I can and I race when I have to.”
She plans to be in the Jet Dragster for the long haul.
“I’ll be in a Jet car as long as I’m fortunate to be in a Jet car,” she said. “Where do I go from here? I’m pretty content and happy where I am. I’m able to travel the country and meet all these amazing people in different places. This job has taken me there. It’s pretty cool.
“I’ve never been interested in the body or the style of the Funny Cars. I’ve always admired the Jet Dragster. I think it’s just the design – it’s sleek and the Funny Cars look like a car to me, but it’s really not. The dragster is different and has an open cage. I always thought I would be so claustrophobic in a Funny Car. That made the dragster appeal much more to me. I’m very happy in the dragster and no overall ambitious to go into the Funny Car.”
While she grew up attending the Night of Thrills at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, she does not consider that her home track.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I have a favorite track,” she said. “There’s a couple of tracks that mean something different to me. Going back to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, it’s like going full circle – and that’s where I saw the Queen of Diamonds for the first-time. Last year, when I did that Night of Thrills event for the first-time in a Jet car, it was very surreal. A little over a decade ago, I was the one coming up to the ropes and staring at the car. Now, I’m driving the car.
“Atco Dragway, also in New Jersey, became my home track. That’s where I bracket raced for four-years growing up. I thought Englishtown would be my home track, but it turns out, Atco was. It’s an hour and a half further than Englishtown, which makes it 3 ½ hours from home here in Connecticut. When I get to go there, I get to go home, and I get to see everyone, who helped raise me and help me come up through the ranks. When I started, I didn’t know anything. We weren’t a racing family, as I said previously, and we learned everything we know from those people at Atco Dragway, which we are very grateful for. When I go back to do their thrill show, it’s a homecoming for me. Every track has a different meaning, but I don’t have a favorite track over the other. They have a different place in my heart and pull at a different string when I am there.”