By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Ever since she was a young girl Tatiana Weiss has felt the need: the need for speed. And that burning desire is what has drawn her to the race tracks at Irwindale and Fontana, where she has fast become immersed in the ultra- competitive world of drag racing.
Weiss, who works for local residential real estate broker Michael Edlen in the Palisades Village and has been an intimate part of the community for two decades, is happiest when she’s behind the wheel with her hair on fire and her pedal to the metal.
“I grew up watching the Rallye du Liban (Rally of Lebanon) and Grand Prix de Monaco (Monaco Grand Prix),” she says. “I’ve always liked driving fast in the mountains. As a teenager, I even crashed three cars that way before I was 18 (I started driving at age 14). I was very lucky to have patient parents. However, I always craved American Muscle.”
Born in Beirut to a Lebanese mother and an Italian father, Weiss was three years old when her family moved to Belgium for three years, then to Greece for another three years and then back to Lebanon for several years. When she was 17 they emigrated to Los Angeles after years of urging from aunts and an uncles who lived in the USA. A tough immigration process followed and, upon starting a new life here, she met Edlen. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I’ve worked with Michael for 23 years,” she says. “I went to law school at night a couple years after starting with him, then stayed after passing the bar exam. I manage the team’s escrows and contract negotiations and I serve as a legal and strategic resource for his other agents to consult with. I love the Palisades, I enjoy the local library book sales, the Fourth of July parades and Junior Women’s Club home tours.”
It was in law school where she met her husband Andrew, who shares Tatiana’s passion for fast cars and now serves as her manager, support staff, pit crew and errand boy.
“A few years ago [in 2017] we went to Nebraska to see the total solar eclipse and when we were at the rental counter in Lincoln they said you can have the Dodge Journey or Dodge Challenger Hemi,” Andrew recalls. “We got the Challenger and drove some highways and backroads really fast. I got it up to 127 [mph] at one point. Then we both got new cars on the same day and hers was a Challenger. We raced each other a couple of times and she fell in love with it.”
Tatiana remembers the rush of exhilaration and decided that the time is now.
“I bought a 2018 Dodge Challenger Scat Pack, which is 485 horsepower with a V8 engine and built to drag race. I joined a couple of Challenger car club groups on Facebook and discovered where and how some race their cars. In July 2019 I dove right in head first and started drag racing at Irwindale’s 1/8-mile strip. I was instantly hooked!”
Since then she has made quite a name for herself with her charisma, spunky attitude and as a woman in a male-dominated sport. She already has more than 1,000 Instagram followers.
“There are a few other female drivers at both Irwindale and Fontana and my husband and I have befriended most of the ones I’ve met,” she says. “I’m a big proponent of empowering women and girls, especially in non-traditional roles. I therefore make it a point to introduce myself to any females I see in the staging lanes getting ready to race. For the most part all the drivers and spectators are very supportive of one another and everyone of all ages and demographic groups is excited by the female drivers because we’re rare.”
Andrew concurs and has seen firsthand the warm reception his wife receives at the speedway.
“The track is an escape for her and fans love the female drivers since there are so few of them,” he says. “Bob Beck is the public address announcer at Irwindale and at first he was referring to the guy in the gray Challenger so one day I told him ‘That guy is my wife!’ Now every time she races he says ‘Here’s Tatiana!’ Another time I was in the grandstands next to a group of girls who had a male friend racing against her but when they found out that she’s a woman they started cheering for her.”
Weiss, 47, enjoys the competitive nature of racing and has upgraded to a faster car.
“There’s the National Hot Rod Association which governs the tracks and organizes several professional race events a year,” she explains. “We’re the amateurs but the pros start the season in Pomona in February and close it in November. There’s bracket racing which allows you to accumulate points for your ‘home track’ and there’s ‘heads up’ racing too. Those races that are often bet on. There are several companies that organize about one or two events per season at different tracks. I’ve won many races while practicing and a few while bracket racing. There are several divisions in the NHRA for pros (not my level). Most of the prize money has been informal bets either with spectators or the family and friends of a fellow racer. In February I bought a top-of-the-line Dodge Challenger that remains street legal: the Hellcat Redeye that has 797 horsepower. I’ve started modifying the car and I’ll be adding power to it as well. The annual cost of maintenance is several thousand dollars and that mostly goes toward racing tires, which don’t last long. There are also modifications to the engine and drive train.”
More so than in other forms of auto racing, the start of the race is critical for dragsters. The drivers refer to it as “reaction time.”
“Yes, drag racing is a different skillset as it requires consistency and doing everything exactly the same at the start of each race, from setting up the car, to the burnout, to the staging and the run down the track,” Weiss says. “Staging well sets you up for a good reaction time at the ‘tree’—the light that starts the race. Bracket racing especially, which is what I’m most interested in, is about consistent reaction time and consistently running your time. You’re therefore not looking to beat the other guy by more than a bumper length, you basically run the time (or bracket) you said you would and can win. So you’re really racing yourself but this consistency, this skill set is tough and requires practice or ‘seat time.’ I won five rounds of a bracket race elimination last fall, losing the sixth in semifinals and yet I lost in first round eliminations this spring versus a veteran. I’ve learned that it’s a sport won and lost in my head!”
Weiss, who lives in Playa Del Rey, can take care of herself and her car just fine. She drives to the track, swaps out all four tires there (the front are smaller and lighter, the back are fatter and stickier) and is ready to take on all competitors, many of whom have way more experience. Her license plate reads GRRRWLR and she has the racing gear to match.
“It’s more than just the speed and the rush that you get, it’s the whole atmosphere,” she confesses. “My car will go 200 miles per hour but on a quarter-mile strip before modifications it’s like 126 to 127 at the end. There are two components… the tree and elapsed time. The tree is 1-2-3…go! but it’s really 1-2… go! It’s all timing, you have to get it just right. Beating someone at the tree earns you points and it’s a huge thrill. A perfect reaction time is .000. My best is .005. If I react on the second yellow, then I’m red-lighting. Your elapsed time is your ‘ET,’ which is how long it takes you to cover the quarter mile. My current car stock is running at 10.8 seconds. Because of COVID-19 I only took it out once in the quarter mile and I wasn’t even mashing the pedal because I didn’t want to lose control. You don’t win them all, but win or lose when it’s a close race it’s very thrilling. In January I lost a best two-out-of-three series to a veteran driver by .001 of a second. That’s how tight it can be.”
Being in a place like Southern California where the weather is more predictable Weiss can enjoy her hobby year-round and eventually, as her car gets faster, it will no longer be street legal so she will have to invest in safety features, like a roll cage and parachute, to meet NHRA guidelines.
“It’s such a release being at the track, it’s like taking a timeout from the world,” she says. “Since I started racing last July it has cost me a lot of time and money but it’s so much fun.”
Weiss has not raced against a woman yet but is glad to be in the ‘sorority’ of female drivers ranging from teenagers to senior citizens. She says wearing pigtails and braids is necessary when taking your helmet on and off all day.
“I haven’t gone head-to-head with a female yet as we’re all in different categories, but I know there are a handful of great women at Irwinwdale,” she says. “There’s a 19-year-old girl taught by her dad and a 50+year-old who decided to try it after seeing me race.”
Compared to other racing circuits like NASCAR, IndyCar and Formular One, drag racing is fairly inexpensive.
“Part of the appeal is how easy it is to get into drag racing,” she says. “For other types you need to start with a million dollars. I’ve considered taking my car to the oval at Fontana. I have a budget for this car and the expenses are never-ending. Within a month of buying it I put $10,500 into it to make it structurally stronger. If I get faster by one second per quarter mile, which is my goal, it’ll be at 140 miles per hour at which point I’ll need those NHRA requirements. I already got the fire suit. My team is MPR Motorsports which was started by the guy who works on our cars and modifies them. Normally the drag season starts in March, runs through the fall and includes drivers of all ages. There are kids in their 20s driving imports, then there’s that gap which I’m in, then those in their 50s and 60s who are retired. There’s Thursday Night Thunder and weekend races so before the tracks shut down I raced about once a week with 10 to 15 runs.”
Weiss picked No. 9333 for the car at Irwindale and her dedicated NHRA number (used at Fontana) is N733: “The ‘N’ is for my mom Najat, the ‘7’ represents my division and the ‘3s’ are for me and mom, because that’s our lucky number. The 9333 is for my mom as three threes equal nine.”
So far the numbers are proving lucky as Weiss has not been in a serious accident in racing. She hopes to keep it that way while she continues burning rubber and leaving scorch marks on the strip.
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