MADISON PAYNE TALKS ABOUT HER JOURNEY AS A TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER DRIVER
Madison Payne had a solid 2022 season finishing eighth in the Top Alcohol Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series world standings, including winning in Las Vegas in October over Tony Stewart in his debut race.
“When I won, I was like, we have to go, and my mom was like, ‘You can’t miss the winner’s circle,’ Payne said on the Between the Slicks podcast. “So, I missed my flight, but it was worth it. The midterm, I’m not going to lie to you guys, getting no sleep affected my grade a little bit. Didn’t go as good as it should have, but I didn’t fail it, and I got about a B on it, so I figured we could make it work. So, everything worked out. It was worth it.
“Last season was really good, but I hadn’t run that many races. I think last year, the whole year I ran maybe two regional races, maybe three. And my first regional race of the year was in Phoenix. I was there with my Super Comp car, and I wasn’t even supposed to race in February. And Duane (Shields) got sick, and I ended up running and I won that race. I also was No. 1 qualifier, low ET, everything. So, it was a great way to start my season because I had run Pomona (Calif.), and I think we had lost in the semis. Then we went to Phoenix, and I wasn’t even supposed to race, and I won the race.”
Payne is a college student at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She is a business management major with a minor in communications.
“Most people in my family, they own businesses, so I’ve kind of gotten to see what they go through,” Payne said. “So, I know a little bit about it, but I have a lot more to learn. But I took a class a couple years ago on business consulting, and I really liked that you could just go in there and observe people and tell them what they’re doing wrong, which I already do; I just don’t get paid for it.”
Jay Payne, Madison’s father, is a star Top Alcohol Dragster driver, as was her mom, the former Shelly Anderson.
“I always wanted to do drag racing, and then I think there was a little bit of worry from my parents, because they let me run a couple of junior dragster races, and I hated it,” Madison said. “But I told them, it was like, ‘I just want to go faster than this. It has nothing to do with racing. I love racing.’ So, I did go-karts for a little bit, which I absolutely loved, but my dad was racing at the time, and he was winning; he was important, so that kind of took over. And then, right before I turned 18, my parents were like, ‘Okay, Maddie...’ They didn’t even actually tell me. We were at a sponsor dinner with PEAK in Pomona, and they were like, ‘Oh, we heard you’re going to get your Super Comp license in a couple of weeks, and I was like, ‘No, I’m not. My parents have been saying that forever.’ Then I went home; my parents were like, ‘Yeah, we were going to surprise you.’”
Payne got his Com license and then moved on to the Top Alcohol license under the watchful eyes of his parents.
“In the beginning, (my mom) would wait till the end of the day or after I lost and had some time,” Madison said. “But now, if I lose, she’ll be like, ‘You could have done this better. Come on, Maddie.’ She hops right on it. But it’s fine in the moment. Not always my favorite thing, but I do appreciate it because I always remember what she says because it usually irritates me, so it sticks with me a little bit better.
“My mom, she loves racing. She didn’t want to step away, but in Pro Mod, she broke her back, and it was really bad when she got in that Pro Mod crash, to where she’s fine; she’s one tough cookie, but if she were to get in another serious crash like that, it would be pretty detrimental to her. But a lot of people have been asking her if she’ll drive a door car or Super Comp car or something, because my brother and I have both been doing it and we all kind of just laugh, because she’d be good at it, but she’d break out every time. She would want to go be the fastest, so I don’t know.”
Madison took a moment to discuss her career progression.
“I started running Super Comp in the middle of one summer. It was 2019, is when I started running Super Comp that summer, and I didn’t run that many races because my dad, he was traveling far for racing,” Madison said. “But whenever Tom Bayer was around on the West Coast, I would race with him. So, I raced a couple of races, and I was having so much fun, and I was getting really comfortable in the car, and we were at Indy, and this is when COVID was going on, so maybe 2020. But we were at Indy, and that was the year there were four Indy races, and Duane (Shields) and my dad were always parked next to each other because they were both PEAK. And I was over at Duane’s pit, and he was like, ‘Get in my car.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’ So, I would sit in his car. And he ran through the procedure, and I went back to my dad’s pit, and my mom was like, ‘Where have you been?’
“I was like, ‘I was over at Duane’s,’ but it was kind of... Because I love Duane. I bothered Duane all the time, even before I was running his car. And I was like, ‘it was kind of weird; he had me get in his car and go through the procedure.’ My mom was like, ‘Oh yeah, Jay and I were going to tell you, if you want to get your license in that car at the end of the year, we’re all for it.’ So, that’s how that kind of came about because I think Duane wanted to step away a little bit. After all, he had spent so much time at the races. He has such good friends and family out there, but he’s always so focused on tuning the car and racing the car that he had been looking for someone to maybe step into the seat.
“He didn’t really know, so he kind of put me on a trial basis. It’s great working with him because Duane and my dad has always been a team because they were, like I said, sponsored by the same people. When I started running that car, we all kind of just, it flowed, and we meshed so easily that it’s never been a problem. We’ve always kind of been a team without it being official.”
Payne acknowledged beating NASCAR legend/NHRA owner Stewart in all the hype in Vegas was quite the experience.
“I hadn’t really spoken to Tony or anything before that race,” Payne said. “Then, after that race, he came over and told me good job and was very nice. But I actually talked to him in Pomona, and he is a really nice guy, and he’s really taking the time to understand drag racing. But I was so happy I beat him. Nobody... It would just be so messed up if anybody came into the sport and won their first race. No, it’s not fair. So, I’m glad I finally got my first national event win because it was awesome. It was funny too when I won because, like you and I were talking about, it’s Tony Stewart.
“So, he’s a famous guy, and he had probably 200 people on the starting line on his side. And then, on my side, I did have a lot of people because it’s my family out there. So, I had a bunch of Sportsman racers, crew guys, all people that I love. But it didn’t add up to Tony’s side, so it was so funny seeing all those people, and then I won. So, it was really fun, and I’m happy it worked out the way it did. But as for Tony, I think he did a really good job, and he’s a really nice guy from my experiences with him.”
As for her future in NHRA, Madison didn’t have a clear-cut answer.
“Here’s the thing, I like Top Fuel, but at the same time, my mom did Top Fuel; I’ve heard all the stories,” Madison said. “I mean, Top Fuel’s so expensive, and there’s so much politics behind it. It’s fun to watch, it’s the fastest, it’s the quickest, and I definitely think it would be fun to try, to get to experience one time at least. But I genuinely... I love being a Sportsman racer, and I think that’s some of the best racing in the sport, if not the best.”