Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photography by the FSC staff
Audrey Baize’s father, Junior, was racing before she was born, so it didn’t surprise her mother, Rochelle when he wanted to take her to the racetrack as soon as possible. She was a baby, and not even walking yet, when she experienced, for the first time, the sights and sounds of the sport her father so loved.
As the years passed, it became obvious that Baize loved it, too, and she wanted to go to the racetracks around their home in Louisville, Kentucky to hand her father wrenches and watch him wheel his car.
Before long, he was watching her wheel her car, first a junior dragster and then the 1969 Dart she currently races in NMCA Erson Cams Nostalgia Muscle presented by World Products, and he acted as her capable, and caring, crew chief every step of the way.
Baize is proud to have racing in her blood, and even more proud to have some of the same characteristics at the racetrack as her father, who continues to race in his own 1969 Dart. They both love competing, but they love the camaraderie they share with their fellow competitors even more.
Read on for more about Baize, who quite ceremoniously led qualifying for the first time, with an 11.75 on her 11.75 index, which qualified her to take part in the Testo Shootout at the 18th Annual NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Muscle Car Drag Racing in early May at World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois. She is a medical assistant who enjoys helping people, and she dates fellow Erson Cams Nostalgia Muscle presented by World Products racer Jacob Weigl, with whom she talks about racing even when they are not at the racetrack.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WATCH YOUR FATHER RACE WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?
I can remember watching him race in bracket categories at tracks near our home in Kentucky, including U.S. 60 Dragway in Hardinsburg, Ohio Valley Dragway in West Point, and Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, among other tracks. He still has the red 1969 Dart that he raced. I have a lot of good memories of going to the tracks with him. Starting at around five or six years old, I got to check his tire pressure and put him in the water box, and back in the day, my sister, Lesley, and I would go get water at the water spigot so he could cool the radiator in his car. We had a little red wagon that we would use to carry the water jugs. I loved being around the cars, and I loved helping my dad. It really made me feel like I had a purpose. I was very comfortable with the whole atmosphere, and I understood a lot of what was going on.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU STARTED RACING A JUNIOR DRAGSTER?
They were just kind of coming out when I was still too young to drive one, but we kept our eye on them. When I was eight years old, my dad asked if I wanted to drive one, and of course, I did. We ordered a brand-new Jegs junior dragster, and my dad went to Ohio to pick it up. It didn’t have all of the bells and whistles like some of the other junior dragsters, but that didn’t stop me from being competitive and I made it to a few final rounds. I just loved stomping on that pedal. I raced junior dragsters until I was 14 years old, and about a year after that, in the mid-2000s, I transitioned to the 1969 Dart I have now. Dad had raced it in the IHRA and at Chrysler events before that.
WHAT STEPS DID YOU AND YOUR FATHER TAKE TO HELP YOU BECOME ACCLIMATED TO THE DART?
I drove the car slowly around the pit area for a while, and then I got to make my first passes in the car. At first, I would work the gas and brake pedals and he would shift, but then I started shifting, too. That helped me get a feel for the car, and by the time we put a shift light in it, I was good to go. When my dad saw that I could do a burnout without blowing the engine up, he told me that whenever I wanted to drive it, it was mine. I was in high school at the time. It felt so much faster than the junior dragster, and there was a night and day difference. The cockpit of the junior dragster was so small, so I really liked having the extra room in the Dart. I thought I was hooked when I was racing in the junior dragster, but I was really hooked when I started racing in the Dart at all of the same tracks my dad raced at when I was growing up. I was bracket racing, and like my dad, I also did some special Chrysler races and Mopar races in St. Louis and Columbus and other places. The car was running in the 7.20 range in the eighth mile.
WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER NMCA ERSON CAMS NOSTALGIA MUSCLE PRESENTED BY WORLD PRODUCTS?
We were hearing about it through people at our local track, and from Andy Warren, who was telling us about the class. Then in 2016, we went to the race at Beech Bend Raceway, and each year after that, we added more and more NMCA races to our schedule. I loved the class right away. I love the nostalgia aspect of it, and how you don’t have to be fast to win because we run on an index. The NMCA family makes us feel welcome, and the NMCA staff thanks us for racing with them. We have come to know so many great racers who have become friends.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENTS OVER THE YEARS?
I have been the runner-up three times. The first time was at the race at Beech Bend Raceway in Kentucky in 2018, followed by the race at Route 66 Raceway in Illinois in 2019 and the race at Indianapolis Raceway Park in Indiana, also in 2019. Then, in early 2023, I led qualifying, for the first time, at the race at Worldwide Technology Raceway. It really meant the world to me to see my name at the top of the qualifying sheet. I know it’s just a pairing, but it meant a lot.
YOU ALWAYS SEEM SO RELAXED AT THE TRACK, EVEN WHEN YOU ARE IN THE LANES PREPARING FOR ELIMINATIONS. HOW DO YOU MANAGE THAT?
I am pretty relaxed by nature. I just try to do the same thing the same way at every race, and I try to take a deep breath before I stage my car. Leaving the index number up to my dad, who is my crew chief, also helps me relax. It is funny because I remember when I was little, I could tell that my dad liked having a minute to himself to get in the zone when he was in the lanes, so I would just wish him good luck and let him have a minute. I can appreciate that and understand that.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO RACE AGAINST YOUR BOYFRIEND, JACOB WEIGL?
We have been dating since 2019, and I will tell you honestly that when I go up to race him, I do my best and want to win, just like he was any other racer. I know that he feels the same way. We just race our race, race our lane, and whatever happens, happens.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO HAVE YOUR DAD AS YOUR CREW CHIEF?
It honestly means everything, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would be lost without him. He does all of the mechanical work. He tunes the car, loads it into the trailer, and gets everything together. He congratulates me when I do well, and he picks me up when I’m hard on myself. He is my number-one fan.
WHO ELSE SUPPORTS YOUR RACING PROGRAM?
First and foremost, my dad and I would also like to thank Dale Meers Racing Engines, who does the bottom of my engine so my dad can finish building it. I would also like to thank Wayne Bilbrey of Bilbrey Racing Transmissions, who builds our 904 transmission to go with our PTC converter, and Rick Fuller at R and R Performance, who did the chassis on the car and helps us with whatever else we need. I’m surrounded by wonderful people. I’m very blessed to be doing what I love with the people I love.
(Interview from the August 2023 issue of Fastest Street Car)