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Los Angeles Times Interviews Dr. Williams About Why Women in NHRA Have Gained Traction in Race Against Men


The cars are rockets on wheels, nitro fuel feeding flame-spewing 10,000-horsepower motors that generate six G-forces and speeds of more than 300 mph in a matter of seconds.

With thunderous engine roars and earsplitting tire squeals, drag racing literally screams machismo. Yet it is arguably the only mainstream sport in which women compete head-to-head with men and more than hold their own.

Leah Pritchett, 29, of Redlands will be out to defend her top-fuel title at the season-opening National Hot Rod Assn. Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona beginning Thursday and running through Sunday. Also racing will be Erica Enders, 34, of Houston, who won pro stock world titles in 2014 and 2015; and the Force sisters, Brittany, 31, and Courtney, 29, of Yorba Linda. Brittany was world champion in top fuel last season, and Courtney finished third in the funny car standings.

"I'm not going to say women are absolutely dominating this sport; none of us would have the success we're having without the males who believed in us," Pritchett said. "But we knew we could do it if we had the opportunity."

Top competitors display quick reflexes and exceptional hand-eye coordination, vision, focus and courage in holding a 330-mph top-fuel dragster or funny car straight down a 1,000-foot strip, or a 213-mph pro stock car along a quarter-mile path.

Most races are won at the start, where drivers must expertly time a descending lighting column — called a Christmas tree — to beat their opponent off the line.

Though a certain amount of athleticism is required, drivers need not have the physique and strength of an NFL linebacker, the height and leaping ability of an NBA forward or the acrobatic versatility of a Premier League midfielder.

"Honestly, the car doesn't know if you're male or female," said Brittany Force, the daughter of 16-time NHRA funny car world champion John Force. "That's what it really comes down to."

Dr. Vernon Williams, a sports neurologist at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, said studies suggest that men "in general" have slightly faster visual and auditory reaction times than women, but the differences are negligible and can be mitigated by other factors pertaining to the sport.

"It's not like football or basketball or soccer, where there is going to be significant physical advantage in most situations for men," Williams said. "When you're talking about neurological contributions to performance like concentration, vision, reaction time, speed of mental processing, you wouldn't expect there to be as much of an advantage as there is from physical contributions … like strength or height or power."

Read the complete article here.