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Life's a Drag for Vandalia Youth

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By Seth Whitehead

Brandy Protz can vividly remember her first time behind the wheel.

"I was scared," Protz admits, "but right after, I wanted to do it again."

The Vandalia Junior High School seventh-grader's experience wasn't at all that unusual -until you consider she was only 9 - and that she was driving a 1993 Spitzer Chassie at Coles County Dragway in Charleston.

Protz first got the urge to do so when she was just 6.

"I remember seeing junior dragsters, and I thought I might want to do it," Protz said. "Then when I turned 8, that's when I actually could, but I was scared of the noise."

Protz got over her fear a year later, and she went on to place in the top five in her first career race.

She has been hooked on drag racing ever since.

Protz started racing regularly in the junior division at Coles County Dragway in Charleston shortly thereafter, and is coming off her most successful season to date.

Protz recently finished fourth in the dragway's 10-12-year-old junior points standings, winning a career-high four races.

Her body of work easily qualified her for the NHRA Division 3 Junior Dragster Finals in Terre Haute, Ind., for the second time in her career.

And though Protz was disappointed with last weekend's showing at the three-day event featuring top junior racers from five different states, she is looking forward to bigger and better things in the coming years.

By the time her classmates are stressing about going over 50 mph in driver's education, Protz hopes to be approaching 100 mph in her dragster.

"I'm hoping to get a bigger car with a bigger motor this winter, so I can go faster," said Protz, who will be able to move up to the 13-14-year old age division next year, where drivers regularly go 90 mph.

Protz understands why some might find such a hobby to be a bit peculiar - and not just because of her age.

"People used to ask me why I do it, because I'm a girl," Protz said. "But now it's getting more normal, because more girls are starting to do it now."

It helps that racing has been a Protz family affair since she can remember.

Brandy's grandma and grandpa, Jackie and Bill Protz, have been involved in the sport for a number of years. In fact, Jackie still races at Coles County, while Bill does mechanical work.

Brandy's father - VCHS Principal Randy Protz - races in the Super Pro division at Coles County and shares a trailer with his daughter.

Brandy's mom, Brenda, has also raced at the track.

Since Brandy became the third generation of the Protz family to take up drag racing, she's had the experience of racing at the Indy 500 complex and Gateway International Speedway near St. Louis.

"That was really cool, because I knew that professionals race there," Protz said.

Professionals such as NHRA racer Hillary Will, who is one of Protz's idols.

Will, like Protz, got her start at her local drag strip at a young age. She, too, was nervous prior to her first race, only to get hooked on the sport immediately thereafter.

Protz hopes to have even more in common with Will - who has gone on become the fastest female driver in NHRA history (334.64 mph on a quarter-mile track) - down the road.

"I just want to keep going faster and, hopefully, be in a professional car one of these days," said Protz of her future plans.