Rebekah Mercadel, or Beka to her friends, is a New Orleans native who now hangs her hat in Texas thanks to Hurricane Katrina.
She is also a junior drag racer and pilots a Top Alcohol Jr. Dragster for Mercadel Motorsports. She is one of about 8,500 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) junior drag racers and one of a very few licensed minority top alcohol junior drivers in the country.
With her dad and crew chief -- Michael, mom, Kelly, and brother and sister, Gabrielle and Joshua – Beka has a solid base to explore her drag racing dreams. The family team has been lighting up the asphalt from Florida to Texas racing at 30-40 events a season.
While the tragedy of Katrina slowed her racing efforts as her family was forced to temporarily split up for nine months, sending her dad who is employed by American Airlines to Dallas/Fort Worth, while the rest of the family stayed in Springfield, Illinois with family.
“My wife and I were more worried about our children’s mental state than our home in New Orleans,” said Michael. “Gabrielle (12), and Joshua (9), seemed to have taken things a little better than Beka. Even though racing was not high on the priority list, we knew a few weeks after the hurricane that this is exactly what Beka needed. That cockpit was the only normal thing to her, and we had to get her back into her race car.”
For Beka nothing was more therapeutic than getting back in her race car.
many girls get to drive a race car from ZERO to 85 MPH in just seven
seconds?,” said Beka. “Besides, there’s not a sport out there that you
can’t get injured in (i.e. gymnastics, volleyball, softball, basketball
etc.) It’s especially cool beating the boys!”
Katrina, in a way, has made Beka more active in her community and raised her awareness of what is going on outside of school and drag racing. Recently, the entire Mercadel racing team took part in the 2008 Walk Now for Autism event presented by Autism Speaks at Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Part of the event was so that Beka could unveil her new paint scheme dedicated to autism awareness.
The paint scheme was done in honor of her little brother, Josh, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.
How did you first get into racing?
I first got into racing through my dad's love for the sport. When I was eight, I went to a pro race in Pomona, California and there I saw a jr. dragster. I asked the owner a few questions and I knew that jr. drag racing was a sport that I wanted to pursue. When I turned ten years old, I got my shot! In only my second event ever, I made it to the semi-finals. I was hooked after that. However, it did take me one crash and two-and-a-half years to win my first event. So in the first three years I won only three events. In the last three years (including the one year off because of Hurricane Katrina) I have won 18 events!
What and where are you racing this season?
I am racing a 2002 halfscale jr. dragster, mostly in Kennedale, Texas. I do travel but not lately. We are currently looking for marketing partners to help fund our racing season.
Do Hillary Will and Ashely Force's successes at the top level of the NHRA make you hopeful about your racing future?
Yes, Hillary Will and Ashley Force's successes make me hopeful about my racing future because both women have proven to the world that racing is just as much for women as men. Their accomplishments inspire me to break records when I reach the level of top fuel drag racing.
Is this what you want to do in the future?
Yes, I want to be the first minority top fuel female driver.
How hard was Hurricane Katrina on your family and your racing?
Hurricane Katrina was very hard for my family and I because that was where I lived my whole life and for a hurricane to move me to an area that I am not used to, things were very difficult for myself and my family. Racing, however, was not a problem because we brought my dragster with us when we evacuated and that was my only keepsake from New Orleans so I was very excited to get back into racing as fast as I could.
You've relocated from New Orleans, where are you living now? Are you able to travel to all the races you want to compete in?
I am living in Fort Worth, Texas. Generally, yes I am able to travel to all the races I want to compete in but lately with the rise of fuel prices it has been difficult for my team and I to travel.
Tell us about your Autism Awareness car and cause?
My Autism Awareness car was an idea I had because my younger brother has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. I decided to dedicate this season of racing to him and all the other autistic children in the world. My dad worked really hard on coming up with a paint scheme that would represent autism and hope to find a cure which would be universal to all the families out there that share this disorder. The puzzle pieces on the body is the symbol for autism and shows the process of the pieces blowing away which represents racing to find a cure one piece at a time.
For information about how to help Beka with her racing dreams through sponsorship opportunities please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Linda Przygodski