Meet new Zealand’s fastest under-21 female drag racer

For Janelle Lawson, racing is something she lives and breathes. "I'm at home in my car and it's a part of who I am now."

Janelle Lawson is every bit the gracious young lady, studying midwifery, dating a police officer and volunteering in under-privileged countries. But the Aucklander is also a self-proclaimed speed fanatic, thrashing some serious pace behind the wheel as our fastest under-21 female drag racer!

“I won my first race at 10 and was up against a male who was about 14, who kept giving me grief about being a girl and so young,” recalls Janelle, 20, who stepped into her first drag car aged seven.

“He cried when he lost, and I shook his hand and said, ‘Good race!'”

Janelle’s first set of wheels aged seven.

Over 40 trophies now fill shelves in Janelle’s childhood bedroom in Helensville, West Auckland. It was her parents Lisa, 49, and Adam, 48, who got their daughter into the sport, bringing an old red junior dragster home on the back of a trailer one weekend.

“We went down the back roads of Kumeu to learn the basics, dodging construction and security guards,” she tells. “My first pass, or race, was a disaster and I hit the bank trying to turn, and got to see the inside of the ambulance for a scraped knee!”

But she wasn’t put off. After ditching the little red car two years later for an American Spitzer – one of the first of its kind in New Zealand – Janelle went on to compete across the ditch alongside younger sister Alyvea, now 16, another up-and-coming girl racer.

The speedster took out the Princess of the Track title six years ago when she competed at Queensland’s Willowbank Raceway against more than 100 others during the Winter Nationals.

“I didn’t lose one of my eight races and it was epic, especially because I didn’t know the track,” she enthuses. “They gave me a trophy with ‘Princess of the Track’ engraved on it.”

When Janelle said goodbye to the junior league and welcomed a bigger and better dragster two years ago – a grunty American import, worth over $100,000 – Janelle was so overwhelmed, she burst into tears.

“I was in love!” smiles the university student, who puts her racing success down to hand, eye and foot coordination. The new car is a full-length dragster, capable of ridiculously fast speeds of over 320km/h.

“We’re expecting it to easily go over 400km/h, but since we’re still learning about the car, I don’t want to go too fast too soon and get into a really bad accident,” she explains.

Janelle was 14 when she had her first major crash. Her engine snapped in half while she was competing in the New Zealand Junior Drag Racing Champs.

“I was almost flung into the solid concrete wall and was about five millimetres away from it,” she says. “It all went in slow motion.”

But three weeks later, her dragster was fixed and Janelle was happily back on the track. Even witnessing a fatal crash recently hasn’t dampened the petrolhead’s passion.

“I saw it happen as I was pulling my helmet off at the end of the track,” she tells.

“It killed a man in his 60s, who my family knew. It was horrific and definitely made me always check my seatbelts are tight enough, my helmet’s on properly and all my safety gear is up to scratch. Even in my road car.”

By the end of this year, Janelle hopes to jump from her spot as New Zealand’s ninth fastest female drag racer to the top five.

“To stop racing would just feel wrong because it’s something I live and breathe,” she beams. “I’m at home in my car and it’s a part of who I am now.”

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