At 32, Stephanie Eggum had done more than most twice her age. A trained skydiver and later professional drag racer, Eggum went on to be the first to eclipse the 7-second mark in a FWD Honda, resulting in her becoming the world's quickest and fastest—a record that, years later, is yet to be broken. Eggum's interest in drag racing began in 2001 following a skydiving accident that inadvertently resulted in her spending more time with her father who shared a similar interest and whose friend piloted a Pro Mod dragster. Once exposed, Eggum was sold and soon embarked on her own racing career. The thrill of jumping out of airplanes never left her, though. Her dream to skydive into the staging lanes where she'd re-suit and take control of her Civic dragster was often talked about between herself and her crew chief, Jeromie Hicks. Eggum died earlier this year doing what she loved almost as much as racing—skydiving—as the result of a chute that failed to open, but her record-setting history lives on. The following is a conversation with her crew chief and friend, Jeromie Hicks.
HT: How did your relationship with Stephanie begin?
JH: I first met Stephanie when I worked for Nitrous Express, traveling around as a technical representative. I used to sponsor a lot of racers, and she was one of the teams who I'd helped with a nitrous system. This was when she was with her old crew chief, when the Civic was black.
HT: Let's talk about that Civic. She'd purchased it semi-complete from another team, didn't she?
JH: She bought the car from Venom. It was a total heap. I felt so bad for her when she was running that car. Stephanie bought that car for a pretty good amount of money. There was a contract with it and all sorts of stuff. She was supposed to keep the Venom [logo] and paint scheme on it for a year, but as you can imagine, that deal went bad. She eventually said, "Screw that," and painted the car black. Of course, this was all before me, but this was stuff I knew about since I was one of her sponsors. I saw all of the struggles she was going through, but I also saw how she just kept on going
HT: How did the car do initially?
JH: They ran that car its first season and didn't really have the best luck. Right around this time I parted ways with Nitrous Express and had gotten in touch with Stephanie, when she'd gotten the Scion deal. [By now] we were in more of a personal relationship. Anyway, she got me a job down there as a truck driver for the team. I started seeing that there were things that were not so good about the program. I told her, "Hey, you may want to get down here and take a close look at this." To make a long story short, Stephanie, her dad, and I went into a meeting with [the team owner.] We basically explained to him that we wanted to do our own thing, to run the car under his umbrella with his money. We no longer wanted [their team involved.] Basically, [the owner] said that there was no way we were ready to be on our own and that I wasn't ready to be a crew chief. Of course, Stephanie wasn't going to back down in that meeting. She was a strong-willed woman. She had so much money wrapped up into that deal. Finally, after her firing back every time, he said to her, "Stephanie, if you interrupt me one more time, I'm going to kick you out of this meeting." She was like, "I'll tell you what. I'll save you the fucking trouble," and she got up and walked out. I quit right there on the spot. Stephanie, her dad, and I sat in a rental car for about 20 minutes when I told them, "Hey, I'll move up to Chicago if you can pay me this much a week and give me a place to live. I'll rebuild that car within three months, we'll bring it back out, we'll run consistently, and we'll save your career." For some reason, they believed me [laughs]. They took a chance on me and I'm glad they did. I packed up that day, stopped at my storage building, loaded up all my tools, got to Chicago, and started ripping the car apart right in her parents' garage.
HT: So, to be clear, we're talking about the Civic now, right?
JH: Yes. The Scion never made it out of the shop—at least not while we were there. The car wasn't even halfway complete. That's why she [had been] running the Civic. [At that time,] the Civic was just something for her to go out there and break the beams with and try to get a few points [in the meantime]. She knew we would've missed three or four races because the Scion was behind.
HT: After finishing the Civic, what happened next?
JH: When we finally finished the [Civic], I think we got 80 hits on the car before we even took it to competition for the first time. We tested full-time. We'd go to Joliet every Tuesday. We wanted to test, test, test. The car was so consistent. Stephanie was a robot. As a driver, she was awesome. With all of the testing and all of the development that we did, we'd have her doing the weirdest stuff in that car like, clutch the car on the one-two shift but just throw the lever on the two-three and then clutch it again on the three-four. We were trying different things. Most drivers, you had to send them out there and they'd screw it up three times before you'd get what you needed. Those were wasted passes. We never had wasted passes. We'd tell her what we wanted her to do and she would do it and make it look easy.
HT: Where did Stephanie compete that first season back? How did she do?
JH: We ran all of the last NOPI races and all of the NHRA races. Stephanie and I drove in a truck and trailer—just me and her—to all of those events. We gave it our all and we finished that first season running 8.40s on a stock transmission.
HT: Can you tell us a little bit about Stephanie's history? What were some of her interests before getting involved in drag racing?
JH: Honestly, she was into skydiving before racing.
HT: It's been reported that Stephanie's initial skydiving accident back in 2000 partially led to her interest in drag racing. Can you tell us about that?
JH: She hadn't had a whole lot of jumps [yet]. Her main [parachute failed] and threw her into a spin. The g-forces involved in that will knock anybody out so, of course, she passed out, and hit the ground. She fell out of the sky and hit the ground. She had a lot of head trauma and back injuries from that but she got up and walked away from that one and lived through it. [After that] she moved back in with her parents. Slowly, she began doing everything that everyone else was doing. She was extremely book smart before the accident. After the accident she'd said that things got harder for her, but it got better over the years because she'd kept working at it. Once she started getting out more after the accident, she began hanging out with her dad a lot. One of his friends ran a Pro Mod car, and she was like, "Hey, I wanna race." She bought a blue, 2000 Civic Si that she later raced in NOPI Chic. It started out as a show car and then she started racing.
HT: Why Honda? Can you tell us what led Stephanie to drag racing a Civic instead of something else?
JH: You know, that's a good question. I don't know. I don't know if it had anything to do with The Fast and the Furious craze or if she just thought it was cool. But that first blue Civic was her first Honda, and that's definitely what started the Honda deal for her.
HT: Was Stephanie a Honda enthusiast, would you say, or did she just want to go fast by whatever means?
JH: She wasn't the type to sit around and have Honda arguments [laughs]; she just liked racing in general. She did like door cars. She didn't like dragsters; she didn't like any of that stuff. She wanted doors on it, whether it was a Pro Mod car or a Funny Car or whatever, that's what she wanted to drive. She didn't care what it was, just as long as it was fast and she was allowed to drive it.
HT: Sport compact drag racing had already been established prior to Stephanie's involvement. Were there any racers in particular that she admired?
JH: Uh, no [laughs]. There weren't a whole lot of women in that scene and the ones that were in it were very protective of their thunder. They didn't want anybody stealing their thunder. A lot of people got along when people were slow, but when people started going fast, people started changing. We had a lot of people who ended up hating us in the end, but that's just because we got fast. Stephanie dealt with so much bullshit from some of them that any respect that she might have had for them in the beginning was lost. But, if there was anybody, I would say Shaun Carlson because of how hard he worked and all of the things that he was involved in. A lot of it was because of his going on to do the Pro Stock deal. She was like, "Wow, somebody can leave this sport and go on to do other stuff." He proved that.
HT: What sort of preparations did you make as a team to be the first FWD Honda in the sevens?
JH: That year we wanted to make the car as consistent as we could. When we were running 8.40s, we could do it every pass. If Kenny [Tran] messed up, if Bothwell [Motorsports] messed up, if anybody messed up, we'd win the round. They always knew whenever we pulled up that we may not run the fastest time but we'd run the same time, every time. Over the next winter we'd made a lot of changes to the car and switched to a Liberty [transmission]. When we came back out, I guess that's when we really had the push to go sevens. I wasn't thinking about it early on because I wanted to be consistent first and do what I'd said I'd do. We knew that if we would go out there and run consistently quick, we could prove something rather than go out there and blow up trying to be a hero every pass. That second season we started getting the chance to use a lot of our little tricks that we'd had, like how to keep the boost up on the shifts and all sorts of good stuff like that. We just kept getting faster, and faster, and faster. We had a tune-up that we put in and the car would go 8.20 every single pass, and it would do it all day, every day. It could've been a bracket car. Once we started leaning on it to run a seven, it became a lot harder on the car. We were killing transmissions and learning the weak links but we kept at it. I don't remember exactly what major changes we'd made—it was just a bunch of little changes that clicked all around the same time—but that's when we jumped to 7.90s. That really freaked a lot of people out.
HT: What was that first 7-second pass like?
JH: I've got home video of our first 7-second pass at Joliet [Route 66 Raceway] during testing. When it popped up on the board, I was in shock. I couldn't believe it. The pass looked smooth, but I'd never seen a 7-second pass before. I was like, "Holy crap!" We all kind of lost our minds there—even the track officials because they'd seen us testing there and they knew what we were shooting for. [After the pass] I said, "Okay, when we get to the top end, everybody act normal. I'm gonna bitch at Stephanie for not lifting when the tires were shaking and then hand her the timeslip." I got up there, got off the golf cart, and was like, "You know, next time you need to lift so you don't rip the tranny out of the damn thing," basically giving her attitude like I'd always give her [laughs]. I handed her the timeslip and her face popped up. She had a full-face helmet on but you could see that smile in her eyes. That was one of my proudest moments ever, one of the happiest days of my life.
HT: Let's talk about the first time the car ran sevens at an event.
JH: It was at an Englishtown [Old Bridge Township Raceway Park] race. Right when I'd gotten [there] I pulled Gary Gardella into our trailer and said, "Well, since you're the record-holder, out of respect, you should see the video of what we did in testing and what I plan to do this weekend." He watched it and was like, "Wow, that's awesome. Good luck this weekend." During qualifying I wanted to run sevens every single pass. I wanted it so bad. We ran like an 8.03 for our first qualifying run. Man, I was so pissed off [laughs]. But for our second qualifier, which was late at night, Ron Loomis, driving the Bothwell car, made his pass, made a bunch of noise, and went sevens. I was like, "Nah, screw that." We pulled up in the same lane, she left the line, and that's when we ran our first 7-second pass in competition. We went faster mile-per-hour and E.T. than Loomis just did so, of course, that whole place went nuts. People in the stands didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to think [laughs]. We ran four 7-second passes that weekend. At that point, everybody knew it wasn't a fluke. They knew we were really doing it. From then on out, I'm pretty sure we put sevens on the board at every single track we went to throughout the country. We did it for two years, but then the Hot Rod class was getting smaller and people just weren't showing up.
HT: You said it yourself: people just weren't showing up. How did you and Stephanie deal with that?
JH: We could always count on Kenny Tran to be there. He was a great competitor, a great guy to race with. There were plenty of other cars out there but they didn't always show up. It sucked because just as we were really coming out swinging and getting our stuff together, that's when [a lot] of the Hot Rods were being dismantled or torn apart. We never really got a chance to achieve what we wanted to with that car because we never really could turn it up. We never could lean on it because we were running for a championship. We had sponsors; we couldn't go out there and break stuff out of selfishness to try to run a number. I think that's hard for people on the outside to understand—that we have to be conservative. It ate us up. It drove us crazy. We wanted to turn it up and go out there and lay it down, but when you're running for a points championship and you've got these sponsors on your car, they're expecting you to be out there every round.
HT: The car has since been retired, but what'll ultimately happen to it?
JH: Let's be clear: the car was never retired; a place to race was taken away from us by sanctioning bodies that bailed on sport compact racers. About a month ago I went to Florida to get the car. The car was back at my shop three days before I'd gotten the phone call about her [accident]. We'd just talked and said, "Hey, we don't have rules, we don't have any of that bullshit. Let's go do some exhibition races. Let's go out there and remind people of who we are." Nobody goes 5.19 at the eighth-mile like we were. Think about what that Civic will do if we strap on the same turbo that everybody else has. The car's gonna go 7.50s, 7.60s, easy. We finally got to the point where we were like, "Screw it. Let's do it." I was putting together some funding on the side, trying to get the ball rolling because she was busy with her skydiving and she just wanted to drive. I was the one who wanted to mess with the car. She wanted to come out and kick butt and defend her record. I approached some companies about getting funding to help me get the car from Florida to bring it back up to my shop but nobody wanted to come through. I actually sold a bus that I had, of all things, and told Stephanie that I was going to use my money to get the car. Now, I am so glad that I did that. I remember one of the last conversations that I had with her about one guy in particular who'd been interested in buying the car. He really wanted [it]. We discussed running it and then possibly selling it. Whatever we did, she just wanted to skydive into the starting line and then hop in the car and drive. That's what she wanted to do. We also started talking about the NHRA museum. I've always felt that ever since we'd got done running the car that it should be [there]. She thought that would've been pretty cool. That was our last conversation. Right now I live in a house [with a] shop. I walk 10 feet into my double doors and I'm sitting in my shop and her race car's sitting right there. It feels like she's sitting there with me. That's definitely helped me get through all of this.
HT: Why do you think Stephanie was so successful? Could the car have done what it did with somebody else behind the wheel?
JH: I don't think it would've at all. It all boils down to the robot that she was as a driver and how consistent and reliable she was behind the wheel. Every little thing that we did to that car, we would see the difference. We never had radios—none of that stuff. Everything with our team was yelling, screaming, hand signals, or flipping each other off [laughs]. That was our communication. If I'd be out there on the track, at any moment, I knew she had her eyes on me the whole time. At any moment—I could be in the right-hand lane, the left hand-lane, over the wall, talking to the starter—all I had to do was put my left hand up in the air, make a spinning-hand maneuver, and you'd hear a Hot Rod car fire up. That was our routine. She knew exactly how much temperature we needed to have in the motor before she could pull up and do all the things that she had to do. She had to do her burnout just right to get enough heat into the clutch or else it would slip. It might grab later on, but for consistency, we needed her to do her burnout the exact same way every time. Our rear brake pressure, when we left the line, that was a certain pressure that we ran, an important number so that we wouldn't crawl the beams. There were so many minute details and they all boiled down to her. She was like a robot. Once we put her in the car, at that point, that's when we really were a team. She became part of the car.
HT: It sounds like she had an extraordinary competitive edge, no?
JH: She did not like going slow. She hated testing. She hated running eighth-mile—hated it with a passion. We'd show up for testing, everybody knew we were testing, but she'd just be pissed. She'd be like, "Everybody thinks the car is slow! They think I can't drive." One time when we were doing the shift interrupt, it wouldn't shift. It had nothing to do with her. She would get so pissed off with stuff like that. Everybody was constantly looking for reasons to talk crap about a girl driver so she wanted to always show what she could do. Usually at the end of every test session, if I wanted to have a nice, pleasant ride back home, I'd let her finish up testing by making a full pass.
HT: One of Stephanie's dreams was to race Funny Cars. Was she still pursuing that before the accident?
JH: Yeah. In the middle of our last season in 2007 she got her [Top] Alcohol Funny Car license. She said that that was probably a bad mistake on her part because the Civic felt so boring and slow after that. How do you go from an Alcohol Funny Car and get back into your FWD Civic [laughs]? She didn't want to do sport compact forever; she wanted to move up. She also tested in a Top Alcohol Dragster and got her Top Alcohol license. She did everything that she could to try to get into that scene.
HT: Can you tell us about Stephanie's work ethic and her wanting to be the best driver that she could?
JH: She worked really hard to try to get into a Pro Mod car or a Funny Car. Her workout routine was ridiculous. She'd be at the gym almost three hours a day. I went with her for three weeks, and in three weeks I was not able to do her normal routine that she did every day. I was like, "Screw that. You can work out and I'll build the race car." The physical shape that girl was in was amazing.
HT: Were there any racers in particular who Stephanie had considered serious rivals?
JH: She definitely had rivals. Some of them were people who liked us and helped us in the beginning but then, of course, as she began beating them, it was funny how [they] changed. We always had a great relationship with Kenny and there was competitiveness there. In the staging lanes we'd be betting dollars on who'd have the best reaction time or who'd win. Kenny was always professional and that's what we liked about him. He was also always there [laughs]. He ran just as many races as we did. We could always count on Kenny being there. At least we'd have some competition.
HT: What do you think Stephanie's biggest contributions to Honda performance and sport compact drag racing in general were?
JH: Just being real. She should be an inspiration for anybody who wants to do this. She didn't have some big company helping make it happen but she got out there and had the determination to do everything. She brought proof that anybody could do it. I remember one day Stephanie said, "Now what about all these staging games that all of these racers play with one another? What's the deal with that?" I was like, you know what, "We're not even gonna worry about that because you're immune to them." People would try to hang us out on the line, try to play all these stupid games with her, and all that would happen was she'd get impatient and drill them even harder on the tree. People would put themselves into a battle with her and they would lose.
HT: Any closing thoughts?
JH: Anybody who's ever gotten a chance to know Stephanie, I think they're really glad that they did because there was something about her that made you want to get up off of your ass and do something.
- First 7-second FWD Honda
- E.T. and MPH record holder: NHRA Hot Rod, NDRA Pro 4 Cylinder, BOTI Pro Import
- World's quickest and fastest FWD Honda
- NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car License
- NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster license
- USPA Class B skydiver