“I've been bullied since the third grade,” said Bailie Zepp ’24, a drag racer from Hanover, Pa. who holds three National Hot Rod Association junior racing records: most money won, most wins in a row, and most tracks traveled in a row. “Racing was my outlet to get away from [that]. It's turned me into the person I am today. I've become a more extroverted person … and I tend to push myself more to do things.”
Zepp even credits drag racing, which she learned at age 10, with improving her math skills because of the focus and strategy it takes to win a race; in fact, she went from nearly repeating a grade as a child to passing AP Calculus her senior year of high school. Now, she’s looking to put those math skills to use as a 4+2 Master of Science in Forensic Science student.
Drag racing is a two-car race where drivers compete to cross the finish line in quarter-mile, thousand-foot, and eighth-mile races. Zepp drives in the eighth-mile races, and typically finishes her races in 7 or 8 seconds—meaning she’s driving at approximately 85 mph.
“Drag racing is one of those [sports] where you always push yourself to do better,” said Zepp. “I've lost plenty of times, but every time I learned something new. I take that and I do better the next time.”
Being a national record holder isn’t easy though—in a typical year, Zepp spends hours each week during the season working on her reaction time and practicing on the track, as well as keeping her car maintained. In the winter off season, she jokes that she curls up with a practice “Christmas tree”—a light system that tells a driver when to go—to keep her reaction times sharp.
But those records help keep Zepp motivated—symbolized by the big cardboard checks that she uses to decorate her bedroom at home. She has nearly 10 of them, and they showcase some of her favorite races, including the Sweet Home Alabama Series, which is the farthest she’s traveled to compete and includes three races in three cities—Montgomery, Huntsville, and Steele, Ala.
With turning 18 years old this year, Zepp has moved to the “big car” races from the junior level. Her “new” big car is a 1989 Foxbody Mustang, which she’s been getting track-ready since January. While the season usually runs from March to November, due to coronavirus this year, Zepp said she’s only been able to visit the track a few times since they’ve reopened at the end of June.
“Our season kind of got cut in half; it was stolen from us,” said Zepp. “Right now, it's just Sunday with the big car because of everything that's going on. There aren’t big races going on, just little gatherings of a 100 people or less. And no spectators are allowed, which is really a bummer.”
Although Zepp loves drag racing and hopes to be a sponsored driver, she has a plan B as a virologist—someone who studies viruses.
“Ultimately, I would love to drive a race car,” said Zepp. “Although I would love to spend my adult years racing and meeting people, going all over the state or even the world, I realize that it's slightly impractical. So I'm going to college for my plan B and I'm also super thrilled about it, so it goes hand-in-hand.”