AUSTRALIA HAS ITS FIRST FEMALE TOP FUEL CHAMPION
The more times Kelly Bettes watched the movie, the more times she daydreamed of the moment when her ship would come in.
For the rookie Australian Top Fuel driver, her favorite movie was Heart Like A While, the story of four-time champion Shirley Muldowney's struggle to gain acceptance in the male-dominated sport of drag racing.
Bettes determined one day she'd be just like Muldowney and chart herself a path right to the kings of the sport, albeit in a queen's role.
Sunday afternoon in Ipswitch, Queensland, located outside of Brisbane, Bettes earned her rightful place in Australian drag racing. She never flinched at the challenge en route to becoming Australian's first female Top Fuel champion.
Bettes drove the Lamattina Family dragster to the title by knocking off defending series champion Wayne Newby during the semifinal round of the Gulf Western Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway, a part of the 400 Thunder Series.
Her emotions overtook her as she could hardly speak in a post-run interview, struggling for words in the midst of free-flowing tears.
“It’s mind-blowing," Bettes said. "She’s the lady we all looked up to, the one we aspired to be. And I watched Brittany as she made her way. I just cannot imagine putting myself in the same category as series champion.”
Bettes entered the weekend, 36 points ahead of Damien Harris, on the strength of a season which yielded three wins.
Just like her childhood inspiration Muldowney, she refused to let the pressure of the moment overtake her as she worked towards her date with destiny.
“I was 100-percent focusing in on it,” Bettes said. “I was letting it drive me toward the win. I kept telling myself, ‘Kelly, this is yours to get.”
“Everybody works differently in the way they approach situations. I used [the pressure] to drive me to be better.”
It's not that Bettes, a two-time champion in the sportsman ranks, wasn't already aware she's wired differently than the average drag racer.
“I’m sure there are times when the pressure can get to you,” Bettes said. “This is me doing something I never thought I would do. I made it a point to tell myself over and over, ‘Don’t waste this opportunity. Don’t waste this moment.”
“I had no other options than to go for it.”
The thought of jumping into a Top Fuel dragster could have been intimidating if Bettes had let it.
“I never looked at it as intimidating, but instead an incredible opportunity. The fact a team with an incredible reputation asked me to drive for them, I knew there was no room for intimidation, only room for opportunity. I was very lucky to get this chance.”
Team owner Phil Lamattina summed up his driver's resolve in a profound statement.
“We took a chance on a young lady, she’s paid us back in spades," Lamattina said. "She has taught me so much it’s not even funny.”
And Bettes has paid it forward, proving to an aspiring female Australian Top Fuel driver that she too can be a champion, just like Muldowney taught her.