I don't wake up past 11 a.m. on weekdays, and sadly, later than that on weekends. I can't stand morning people and avoid early meetings. Despite this unwarranted hatred for morning, I was excited to meet Julie Stepan at the scheduled time of 8 a.m. at Englishtown Raceway in New Jersey. This not only marked the first time in months I saw the sunrise (which still comes up from the east, as I suspected), but it was also a chance to meet the woman the industry has been raving about since she first started her professional drag racing career. Waking up this early had side effects, however, by way of weird thoughts squirming through my mind:
"Will she be hot enough to justify waking up this early?" "Does she really know how to race a car or is she just over-hyped because she has breasts?"
"Would she mind playing a lil' game called 'Just the Tip'?"
I was anxious for these questions to be answered. Even if they weren't, at least I had something to talk about, since I didn't prepare any questions or bring a tape recorder. The entire track was empty, save a couple of employees and wayward birds searching for a place to perch. Her trailer was parked behind the grandstands, amid a sea of other trailers. When Julie came out, I remembered thinking that complete gearhead, wrench-twisting, race-car drivers should not look as gorgeous as she did that day. The Marty Ladwig-owned, '06 Chevy Cobalt that she regularly drives in the all-motor class pales in comparison to her petite 5'2" frame and slight mid-Texan accent. We began to talk, and I discovered immediately that she was far from being the Anna Kournikova of this sport.
Her unquenchable thirst to win every quarter-mile pass was prevalent, even through her unsettlingly quiet demeanor.
Julie talked a notch above a whisper and smiled demurely as she wiped down the Cobalt. Her conversation of choice was about the race and condition of her car, which she constantly kept an eye on. I only found out details about her life later on, after discovering her MySpace page. Julie just turned 21 and likes to wear pink. She enjoys yoga, shopping, and traveling and declares that she only reads Cosmopolitan and National Dragster.
I saw her again on the track later in the day. A furrowed brow and pursed lips replaced her soft smile. Once she sat on top of her lone Recaro carbon Kevlar seat, she transformed into a firecracker. Her quiet manner was thrust into an atomic rage, triggered by the start of the 2.4L ECOTEC engine. Julie's inherent driving talent gleamed through the side window when she staged on the drag strip. Her burnouts are explosive. When the smoke settled and the tree turned green, the latest drag racing prodigy kicked the gas pedal, rocketing her Cobalt up toward fist-clenching speeds. Although she didn't win her class that weekend, I was offered a glimpse of what the future might hold for her, and it's beyond being the mere object of every race lover's fantasy. I met up with Julie a couple of weeks later at her home in Valencia, California. Her melons were perfect, ripe for lips to suckle and soft to the finger's touch. I cupped them firmly as though they were basketballs, gently squeezing them like water balloons; delicate and ready to burst. She didn't mind my passionate caress of her melons. She also let me touch her bananas, apples, and other fruit spread across the plate as we talked shop while eating breakfast.
"I love eating fruit in the morning," Julie explains, "Sometimes, I eat cereal because I don't like eating heavy." She gets up to retrieve her laptop, still talking about her snack habits and their role on how well she performs during race day. "On race weekends, I only eat fruit throughout the day," she says, staring at the computer screen.
At that point, I figured that the small talk about fruit has gone on too long and quickly moved onto more pressing questions. Inquiries every man wants to know, especially about a woman who has the potential to dominate a sport, once thought to be made only for men. Besides, all the talk about melons was making me the "H" word, and it wasn't "hungry."
Do you usually eat with your clothes on? (Yes, it's a stupid and inappropriate question, but if I didn't ask, who will?)
"Yes, at home I always wear my pajamas. For one thing, I have two male roommates."
Do they ever try to hit on you? (This was a question stemming from my experiences with having a female roommate. I tried flirting with her from the day she moved in until the day she asked the judge to put a restraining order against me.)
"No, they are older and both are my friends."
What do you look for in guys? (I was hoping she would say, "I love a strong Filipino man with dark eyes who has a passion for pink soup ladles and mariachi bands. Uh, kinda like me.)
"I like honest guys. I hate it when guys try to impress me. I just want them to be honest. I like guys who are taller than me, but that's not hard to find because I'm short. I want him to be only a non-smoker. If he's a drinker, that's okay. But if all he wants to do is drink, I'm not really into that. He has to have dark brown hair and blue or brown eyes. I also like it when guys know more about cars than I do."
Do you know how to change your own oil? (Yes, it's an indirectly misogynistic question; I sure as hell wouldn't ask this to a male drag racer.)
"Nope. My dad is a mechanic, so I never had to worry about any of that. I do have an idea of how it works, but I've never done it myself."Why do you like drag racing so much? (To be honest, I didn't know drag racing still existed.)
"I love drag racing! It is all I want to do and all that I think about. I am the happiest person alive when I'm in my drag car."
When you stage, waiting for the tree to turn green, what goes through your mind? (Personally, I would be making sure I was in first gear and not in neutral.)
"I don't really think about much when I race. I have been down the quarter-mile, hundreds, even thousands of times. To me, the more I think, the more I make mistakes. Racing is very natural to me."
Real or fake? (This was actually the first question on my list, but I needed a little bit of warming up to ask it. Take note of that, future journalists!)"Real!" Wow! (Yes, I was really surprised!)
Do you even know what I'm talking about? I could've been asking about your hair color."My hair color is real, too, but I assumed you were talking about my boobs."
I stopped my line of questioning simply because that's really all I wanted to know. Leading up to that last question though, I found out a lot about Julie Stepan: her devotion to drag racing, natural talent as a race car driver, and accomplishments that transcend those of most 21-year-olds, male or female. All of which made me a big fan of Julie and a born-again fan of drag racing.
OWNER MARTY LADWIG
DRIVER JULIE STEPAN
HOMETOWN SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
DAILY GRIND PROFESSIONAL RACE CAR DRIVER
POWER est 350 @ 9500 RPM, 10.52 @128 mph at 1900 lbs
UNDER THE HOOD Chevy ECOTEC 2.4L engine; 15:1 compression ratio; blueprinted crack, rods, and pistons; Roush Ladwig custom grind camshafts; Carillo H-Beam connecting rods; JE Pistons; Total Seal piston rings; Ported (CNC) ports hand finished; Roush competition engines head modification; Ferrea valves; Roush valve springs; Kinsler intake manifold; Fast XFI fuel injection; Bosch fuel injectors; Weldon fuel regulator and fuel pump; Kinsler throttle body; Borla exhaust tip; GM Racing cam gears; MSD Ignition; NGK spark plugs; MSD spark plug wires; Roush custom aluminum oil pan and exhaust air box
DRIVETRAIN 4T65 Hydramatic (GM) transmission; Bates Engineering axles; MSD shift controller; B+M Pro Ratchet shift lever; Coan torque converter; Trans brake
STIFF STUFF Penske shocks; Ivan Stewart springs
STOPPERS Mark Williams Drag Race 4-piston brakes
ROLLERS Weld 15x8 wheels; Mickey Thompson ET slicks 26x8x15
OUTSIDE Roush custom fiberglass hood, rear wing, carbon doors paint; Lexan windows; Screen Pro graphics
INSIDE Recaro carbon Kevlar seats; fiberglass custom dash
PROPS Chevrolet, Roush Industries, GM Racing, Lucas Oil, K&N, Borla Exhaust, Fast XFI, Coan, Mickey Thompson, Kinsler fuel injection, MSD, PCS, Hydramatic transmission, NGK; From Julie: younger sister Callie, minature Daschaund Willie
CONNECT gmracing.com; borla.com; chevrolet.com; coanracing.com; force-efi.com; kinsler.com; knfilters.com; lucasoil.com; mickeythompsontires.com; msdignition.com; ngksparkplugs.com; roushind.com