Championship Drag Racing

NHRA Nationals
Las Vegas, NV
(April 6-9)

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Driver Profile
Hillary Will
KB Racing dragster

Gymnastics and Top Fuel are very similar

Las Vegas, prerace: Gymnastics and driving a Top Fuel dragster have a lot of similarities. Both sports require precision and timing. Just ask Hillary Will, who has done both.

Will, 26, who will be behind the wheel of the KB Racing LLC-owned, Kalitta Motorsports-managed Top Fuel dragster at this weekend’s NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, spent most of her childhood consumed with the sport of gymnastics.

“I have been fascinated with gymnastics since the first time I was exposed to it as a four-year-old watching Mary Lou Retton win the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics,” said Will. “Shortly after that, I began taking gymnastics. It is very demanding and requires the athlete to be determined and focused. I practiced long hours, day in and day out, all year long.”

When Will was 10-years-old she received specialized instruction at Bela Karolyi’s gymnastics camp in Houston. Bela Karolyi made his mark in the sport of gymnastics teaching and training accomplished gymnasts such as Nadia Comanechi, Mary Lou Retton, and Kim Zmeskal.

Will’s is fascinated by drag racing for the same reasons she was fascinated with gymnastics. “It’s about defying the laws of physics and doing the unthinkable,” said Will, comparing the two disciplines. “Watching a Top Fuel dragster travel 1,320 feet in under 4.5 seconds and reach nearly 330 mph is amazing and doesn’t seem possible when you think about it. Just like some of the things a gymnast can do, doesn’t seem possible. It requires a lot of hard work and dedication.

“I’ve taken what I learned in gymnastics and applied it to being a race car driver. I remember being on the balance beam where the margin of error is so small. Wrong placement of my arm or even my toe at given time would throw me off. Every movement had to be precise and deliberate.

“Driving a dragster is no different. One wrong movement adversely affects the run, whether it’s staging, keeping it straight, doing too short of a burnout or any number of things. You have to do everything with confidence and have no second thoughts. When wins and losses are separated by merely thousandths of-a-second the smallest error can cost a run.”

As a gymnast, Will learned the importance of visualization. She practiced her gymnastic routines with perfect execution over and over in her head.

“I do the same thing with driving. While I have actually only made about 50 runs in Top Fuel Dragster, I have practiced thousands and thousands of runs through visualization,” says Will, a native of Northern California, who grew up in Fortuna but now lives near the Kalitta Motorsports shop in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Finally, her family's support – grandfather, father, mother and younger siblings – plays the same role in Will’s racing life today, just as it did in gymnastic. “My entire family has always been more than supportive of my gymnastics career as well as my racing career. My success in both sports has only been possible because of their support.  When I was in gymnastics, they had to drive me to and from practice every day. It was a long way away since we lived in a small town. This support carried over to racing. My Grandpa put a lot of miles in the truck and trailer hauling my race car around the country. My Dad invested in only the best racecar parts for me to drive,” recalled an appreciative Will.


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