Erica Ortiz breaks gender barriers and speed records to cross the finish line as a Latina pro drag race car driver.
LatinaLista — Florida-native Erica Ortiz has always had a competitive streak. It’s what fueled this Cuban/Puerto Rican’s dreams of athletic success throughout her school years.
Yet when a serious car accident sidelined her dreams of playing college sports, she had to find something else where she could channel her winning athletic instinct.
She found it — drag racing.
“I did not grow up around drag racing, in fact, my parents could hardly change a tire. I had a love for cars, and when I graduated high school, I bought a Mustang GT and started reading magazines about the performance, engine, etc. It was my ‘daily driver’ (personal car) and I decided to take it to the local drag strip and try my hand. I was instantly hooked.”
Finding the perfect sport that let her stay competitive without subjecting her still healing body to the usual physical demands of most sports, Erica started frequenting a local performance shop
Before long, she got a job at that same shop and was on her way to building her own race car, as well as, her future career.
Over the months, Erica soaked up as much of the industry as she could. In addition to working at the performance shop, she attended races with her co-workers.
At night, she stayed in the engine room learning the mechanics of the sport and practiced handling the wheel at the local drag race track during “street” nights, nighttime races opened to the public.
In 2000, Erica entered her first official race. She drove her car from Orlando, Florida to St. Louis, Missouri and entered her car against 181 cars at the World Ford Challenge.
Placing second in that first race stoked Erica’s competitive streak. She made her car faster and continued entering races. She won the 2002 Gainesville True Street event and finished second for the championship during the 2003 season for drag radial.
In 2004-2005, Erica took time off from racing to create Horsepower & Heels Racing Group. She also devoted time to building her first pro car.
The car took her to second place in the PRO series — a remarkable finish since she was only a rookie.
Erica’s standing in the PRO series solidified her biggest accomplishment to date — turning pro at the age of 26.
However, turning pro has not meant that Erica has finished achieving the goals she has set for herself. In fact, she has discovered that the real work is only beginning.
“After I turned pro, I have basically had to manage and operate the team myself. I drive the car, I work on the car, I promote the team, I look for sponsors and I don’t have much help.
Captaining an all-female team, Erica and her crewmate, Debbie, work with a fraction of the budget of their competitors but still manage to stay competitive. But the small budget keeping her operation afloat takes its toll on the young racer.
Erica flanked by her crew.
“Getting the funding to be able to progress and stay competitive is an ongoing challenge. I work tirelessly trying to better the team…I work two jobs, work on the car and do all the promotional work to try and land that big partnership that will allow us to get out there and be competitive.”
Initially, Erica didn’t spend much money on realizing her dream. Since she was racing at the local dragstrip in her own “daily driver,” she only had to pay the required $20 fee a night to race.
Admitting that she goes through tires at a quicker rate than most people normally do and puts extra wear and tear on her only car, Erica says she makes sure to keep up with regular engine maintenance such as oil changes and refreshing the spark plugs.
“Slowly, I worked on the car and made it faster until I bought a ‘purpose built’ racecar. In 2006, we were running on a $30K budget against competitors spending $300K and still we were able to finish in second place.”
But Erica admits that she and her team are anxious for the day to arrive when they can find the required funding to help them really showcase their true capabilities.
In the meantime, Erica continues to strive for her ultimate dream — to be a full-time driver for a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) team in the Nitro categories or Pro Mod/Stock.
She currently holds a NHRA Competition driver’s license for Advanced ET, which means that she is qualified to navigate the Â¼ mile in less than 7 seconds and at speeds greater than 200 miles per hour.
To share her accomplishments and show people what the life of a drag race car driving Latina looks like, Erica created a web site and MySpace page for her Horsepower and Heels race group where she shows Latinas everywhere that to achieve your dreams you only need to hazlo.
Erica shares three tips in crossing the finish line to accomplish your dream:
1. Do one thing every day that will help you reach your goal. No matter how small, I do at least one thing for Horsepower & Heels every day to try and reach my dreams. Whether it’s reading industry-related articles, learning new technology, seeking new networking contacts that may lead to a sponsorship, I keep my dream in my sights at all times.
2. Start small and work hard. It’s easy to get discouraged when you are a minority in a sport, but don’t get discouraged…everything is achievable. Ask questions and learn. You’ll make progress you wouldn’t have dreamed possible. Find mentors. I’m always grateful for finding people I look up to who can share wisdom and information on how to achieve your goals.
3. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you.