Amanda Shepherd - My 1st Top Fuel experience!

THE JOURNEY STARTS FROM HERE!

What I am about to write cannot be described in any words used from this worlds vocabulary, however I will try my hardest!

On October the 14th, 2006 was the day that I step up the ladder and become one of the women in Australia to experience the wrath of a Top fuel Dragster, and I can tell you now, they are AWESOME!

Weeks before my Brother Mat, Dad & Mum worked out an “instructions list” for me. It had all the steps that needed to be taken from when we start it in the pits to when I am out on the start line. It was the best list and I went over it a million times. I then would sit on the train going to work, close my eyes and go through the whole run in my head. People must have thought I was crazy!

During the week leading up to the event, I had spoken to a number of people and gotten some great advice. The main point was that wherever you look, the car will go. You have to try and pick where you are on the track using your “peripheral vision” and if you look at the markers in the middle of the track then the car will go there.

My Dad had some great advice as well. His main point was “If in doubt, get the parachutes out”. He drummed this into my head so it will be second nature when I’m driving. He also advised me that if the butterflies get too bad, to stop, take 3 big deep breathes in and swallow them. That should calm me down.

I also remember him saying that Graeme Cowin once told him “If you see the green on the Christmas tree, your too late”.

Dad and I jumped onto the internet on Thursday night. We checked out Dragmania and Dragster.com.au and Wooly had posted a comment on there saying that I was attempting my licence on Saturday. The amount of support and responses that I got from that comment was unbelievable. It means a lot to know that I am being supported by so many great fans and thankyou very much for being behind me all the way. Its awesome!

On the Friday night I stayed at home so that I could go to bed early and get a good nights sleep ready for the day ahead. Little help that was. The nerves were taking over by this stage and prevented me from getting any shut eye whatsoever.

On Saturday morning I woke up and I had never felt as nervous in my whole entire life. I will admit that there was some pressure to perform well. I never let it get to me though, but it was definitely in the back of my head.

We got to the track and started unpacking the car. Once it was all unpacked and up on the jacks the boys got it ready for the methanol start up and my brother Mathew adjusted the tune up and prepared it for me. While this was happening, I was at the back of the trailer reading over my notes and pretending like I was in the car and actually about to race.


Then I had to do my blind fold test. I put my helmet on and gloves and sat in the car and closed my eyes. The official then told me to find the brake, Fuel Shut off, the Kill Switch and the parachutes. I will admit that I felt 100% comfortable in this car and confident that I new where everything was because I have grown up around it and worked on it. I have also sat in it while it is started on methanol about 30 times. When I did the Ken Lowe Drag Racing school I was far more nervous during the blind fold test because I had never driven his car before. It was all so new to me but I still had to identify where everything was located.
Thankfully I passed my blind fold test on both occasions.

It was about 11.00am and it was time to start the red beast on methanol. We started in the pits. My brother would say “we are clearing it” where I just sit and don’t touch anything. Then he would say “we are starting it” and he would ask me if I was ready. Then all of a sudden she fires up.
Whilst it was running on methanol, my job was to find reverse and forward gear. Dad stood at the front of the car and told me what way the wheels were spinning. I would put the clutch in and brake hard, then flick the lever into reverse (its really confusing because to get forward gear you have to push the lever backwards, and to get reverse it goes forward). I did this 3 times and then just let the wheels spin. Mat then shut it down and when the engine shut off I braked to stop the wheels from spinning.
Mat told me that it was all good and that we had to get the car ready for the Nitro warm up.
I had only ever started the car on Nitro twice before in QLD at the recent Nationals. It was such an experience. Its totally different to methanol.
Mat once again lets me know when we are going to start it. When I hear him say this I put my foot on the clutch, push it all the way in and brake hard. Then when I heard the engine start, I wait for about 1 second and then I pull the fuel on just past ½ way. I then sit and wait still with my foot on the clutch and brake on hard. (The only time my foot isn’t on the clutch is when I do my burnout, and take off).
Mat then taps me on my left shoulder which means I pull the fuel on all of the way. He then taps me once again on my shoulder which means I take my foot off the clutch and put it onto the foot rest (still braking hard). When you take your foot off the clutch, the car just wants to go. So I have to make sure that I pull the brake extremely hard before I take my foot off.
Then when Mat is finished making adjustments to the engine, he stands in front of me and gives the “Shut if off” signal. I take my foot of the clutch and let go of the brake and push the fuel shut off lever to “off”. Then I brake hard to stop the wheels from spinning.

Mat told me that the car is ready and both Mat & Dad told me how perfect that was.
Dad then yells to everyone “Allright guys, get ready to go out now”. He then turns to me and says “Ok go and settle down, take your time and put on the fire suit”.
This is when the butterflies come back. They seem to leave when im sitting in the car starting it, but when it shuts down they come racing back.

Around about now I could see that my Mum was as nervous as ever. I asked her to come into the trailer and help me get ready. First I put my socks on, then the first suit. Next on are my new red racing boots that I got for my 18th birthday in May (the best birthday present a girl could ask for). I then went and packed up the car with my helmet, neck brace, neck strap and gloves. While the boys were getting the car ready, I sat in the trailer and went over my notes one last time.

It was a great feeling to know that everyone was there to support me from my family, friends, boyfriend and of course all of the officials, down to the ever so dedicated fans that still came out to support and encourage me in the 39 degree heat. You gotta love em.

Before I got into the car to drive it out into the staging lanes I gave my mum a great big hug. She told me to take 3 deep breathes in and swallow them hard. It worked. The butterflies eased for about 5 seconds.

Mat (my brother) was really good at calming me down as well. Dad was hopeless because he was as wound up, yet nervous and still on as bigger high as I was. Mat told me that everything would be good and as long as I listened to him and focused then it should all go to plan.

Mat asked me “what was I nervous about?” I said im more nervous about the fact that im going to do something wrong and then get all flustered, lose concentration and focus, and then not be able to do the run correctly. He said that I would be fine and if something like that did happen, to stop, think about it, breathe in deep and then re-focus.

While I was being towed out into the staging lanes, the one thing that was going through my mind was the run. I was trying my hardest to focus on what I had to do and where everything was and refreshing my memory from reading my notes. I was starting to feel my heart beating very solidly now.

Mat usually puts Dads helmet on while he is in the car, but we did mine before I got in. I put the balaclavor on first then on went the helmet. While Mat was doing it up, I closed my eyes and re-focused again taking a deep breathe in to calm me down a little bit and stop my heart from feeling like it was going to beat out of my fire suit.
Next was the neck brace, then the next strap. I then stopped and had some photos with the best family in this whole world… My Mum, Dad & Brother!

I then got into the car (always from the left hand side) and sat down. Mat then strapped me in. You have got no idea how tight the straps are. When i was getting fitted for it at home in the garage, the seatbelt straps have to be done up so tight that you cant move. That is the aim but I wouldn’t have believed how tight they had to be until I was in there.
Because I was so worked up and pumped ready for the race, I didn’t really take that much notice as to how tight the straps were at this stage. Then on went my new red gloves that Mum & Dad ordered for me. I had to wear very thin white gloves underneath my red ones to make them fit just that little bit better. Mat asked me if I wanted him to talk to me, or if I just wanted to sit in there while being strapped in and think about it. I was too nervous to talk, so I just sat in there looking straight down the ¼ mile thinking about what I was about to experience.
I then look at Dean who is standing In the middle of track showing me where I was to do my burnout.


The first part of the Top Fuel licence test is to do the burnout launch procedure, which I did. And while I thought it was so awesome, it did not prepare me for what was to follow.

Mat then asked me if I was ready. I gave him the nod yes!

He then says “we are clearing it”. By this time the butterflies are there, but im not thinking about them anymore. All im thinking about is what I have to do.
My foot is automatically on the clutch already and my hand is holding the brake.
Mat then starts the car and I pull the fuel on to just past ½ way. I sit and just wait while Mat turns the computer on and gets ready. The vibrations and sound from just sitting there were incredible. Being on the start line while one of these starts is nothing compared to being in one.
Its amazing how once that engine fires you don’t notice anything but what’s in front of you… the ¼ mile.

Mat gives me the signal to start rolling forward slowly. I let the clutch and brake out a little bit and roll through the water. Then Dean signals me to start my burnout. I take my foot all the way off the clutch and punch the throttle hard. During the burnout you have to try and keep it in the middle of the track but its so hard. It feels as though you are trying to drive on ice. Its slipping around everywhere. The burnout was awesome fun. You don’t notice how loud the car is because you are so focused.
I finish my burnout and pull up with the clutch in and brake. I select reverse gear and get it straight away. Then Mat appears in front of the car and starts directing me where to go and puts me into the centre of the track ready for take off. While he is doing this I am “riding the clutch” so to increase my speed I let the clutch out a little bit and visa versa.

Mat then crosses his arms which means I stop. I put the clutch in and brake hard. I put it into reverse. The first time I did this I was pushing the lever and thinking why isn’t it going into reverse, and then I remembered that backwards is forward gear. So I eventually got it. Then I just sat and wait. You cant even notice that you are breathing. You forget everything accept what is going to happen next. When I was waiting for Mat to bring me into stage the car rocks you from side to side. It’s the best feeling.
I slowly creep forward and stop when Mat tells me. He then goes behind and fiddles one last time with the engine, and then gives me the signal to go in. Before I did anything, I stopped and breathed in deep and thought about what I was doing.
I slowly put the first light on. I pushed myself back into the seat, pulled my visor down, put it on the high side (fuel on all the way) let the clutch out and put my foot on the rest, and then gently creeped forward to put the 2nd light on. When I saw it go on I was so pumped waiting for the light. The car just wants to take off when you take your foot off the clutch so you have to brake so hard. When your sitting there waiting for the lights, you are so pumped up and ready for it that if something jumped in front of you then you would go. And there it was. The flash of amber. I was off. I punched the throttle hard with all that I had and took off.

The impact of the take off was incredible. You are just gone. Its as if its going to keep driving on forever. Its an awesome feeling. The engine just screams at you when you hit the go pedal. I’m trying to find words to describe it, but because I have never experience anything like this before I cant compare it to anything so you can understand what it feels like. It’s the best feeling in this world.

I remember doing the launch and feeling what I felt on the first run. But then all of a sudden its as if the car just took off again and it just went. The force and speed of the car totally threw me off because I had never in my whole life experience that before. I couldn’t see the markers in the middle of the track because everything was shaking and the vibrations were so enormous so I got off it after I felt it kick in. I never expected what I felt and I never knew it was possible to feel that. You know when your on a rollercoaster and go down the massive hill in the cart and you loose your stomach and feel very very light, well that’s what it felt like in the car. That’s the only thing that I can really compare it to. It was 100 times more powerful and was such an awesome feeling, but I will be honest, it scared the pants off me.


Before I had pulled up down the bottom end I was already taking my seatbelts off. The adrenalin that was going through my body was unbelievable and I couldn’t stop shaking. I got out of the car and I can’t even remember what I was saying I was just blurting out words and screaming and jumping in the air with excitement with the officials and they must have thought I was a crazy woman.

I saw the tow truck coming down and I got so excited. The excitement that was running through my blood was unbelievable. I didn’t know wether I wanted to cry, laugh, or scream because i had never experienced that before and I didn’t know how to react. I had mixed emotions coming from everywhere.
When the boys got out of the car i took them through the whole run and what I thought of it.
When I was explaining it Mat & Dad could relate to it and they understood the fact that I can’t find any words to describe it to people that haven’t experienced this.

My Mum & Dad were so proud of me and my Brother gave me the biggest hug and told me how proud of me he was as well. I was just so thrilled to think that I had just done my first drive down the ¼ mile in a Top Fuel Dragster. My mum couldn’t believe what I had just done either.

Dad let me sit on the roof of the roll cage and wave to the crowd like he does after a run. It didn’t feel like I had just driven it because it was all too good to be true so it felt so surreal.

I went and thanked all of the officials and we looked at my time card and I cut a .099 reaction light. We were so ecstatic.

Mat & Dad try to prepare you for the run, but I can tell you now, that nothing in this whole world will ever get you ready for your first run in a Top Fuel Dragster.
I couldn’t and still can’t believe the way that it made you feel. Its like nothing on this earth and Dad is right when he says that they should build a Fuel Car with a passenger seat because you would all be blown away.

I’m hoping to complete my licence in January some time and then with any luck find a sponsor who wants to back me so that I can then become competitive and eventually pull to the line up against my Dad … and show him who’s boss!
Once again I would like to thank everybody, from my Dads awesome pit crew who worked so hard in the horrible heat to my family and the fans who supported me and encouraged me on the weekend. I appreciated every bit of support that I got and I thankyou all. I can guarantee you haven’t seen the last of me.
Dad is a legend for letting me drive his car and I couldn’t have completed my run without my brother, and my Mum gave me all of the support, re-assurance and hugs that I needed. Thank you all because without you, my dream wouldn’t have come true.

Signing off...
Amanda Shepherd!

 

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