The youth movement in Pro Stock would be difficult to ignore, and after earning her license this week, 17-year-old Sienna Wildgust is eager to throw her hat in the ring and make NHRA history. The third-generation drag racer plans to make her Pro Stock debut in Gainesville.
Wildgust began racing when she was 8 years old, and a natural competitive edge was honed and further sharpened as a hockey player. The Ontario, Canada, native moved on to bracket racing a '68 Camaro just as the calendar flipped to her 16th birthday, and she already had her eye on Pro Stock.
"I was trying to convince my dad to let me race my sister Avery's car when I was 7," said Wildgust at the 2023 NHRA U.S. Nationals, where she first made her intentions public. "I've always wanted to make a career out of drag racing, and I really wanted to drive a 'real race car,' as some people would say. I was more drawn to Pro Stock and how they worked than I was to anything else."
At that time of that statement, Wildgust and her father, Pro Mod racer Scott Wildgust, already had dibs on the Pro Stock car that Camrie Caruso was racing in the class. As Caruso's new steed was nearing completion at Jerry Haas Race Cars, Wildgust was having her seat poured and scouting sponsors, despite never having made a pass. She just knew what she wanted, and she was approaching it with an enormously sweet and genuine smile complemented by undaunted enthusiasm.
"My dad always says, 'be humble and kind, and everything else will just flow,' " said Wildgust. "That's what I'm trying to do."
A connection with Eric Latino, who raced in the same class as Sienna's father in another series, opened an early door of opportunity, and when the co-owner of multitime world championship team KB Titan Racing (KBT) and the Wildgust family got to talking, a plan forward began to take shape. Shortly after her 17th birthday, Wildgust spent the month of July at the KBT shop for a behind-the-scenes look at the program, getting to know the team and gleaning as much knowledge as she could from the talent surrounding her.
KBT's Dallas Glenn, the 2021 NHRA Rookie of the Year and the points leader coming into the Countdown to the Championship last season, became an immediate ally and talked Wildgust through the intricate aspects of the job. Wildgust spent much time in the practice Tree simulator at the shop, which is equipped with a clutch for more realistic practice sessions, and most helpfully, she was able to pilot the burnout car, which is equipped with a ton of horsepower and a Liberty transmission for a more in-depth experience.
In late November, the group traveled to Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida for Wildgust's first of three test and licensing sessions.
"Learning in the burnout car definitely helped me," said Wildgust, who followed the methodical process of repeating each lesson over and over again before moving on to the next step, inching further and further toward making a full pass. "Driving a Pro Stock car for the first time — there was definitely a learning curve, because there's a lot going on. Dave Connolly and Dallas Glenn helped me so much. The whole team was so calm, they never got excited, even if I messed up. They stayed super calm and kept my confidence up.
"We [started by] doing two burnouts every time we'd go up, then two burnouts and a launch, then half-track, go through first and second gear. Really, I was just learning how to actually drive the car, when to lift, how to steer through the first couple of gears. When I was finally able to get it into fifth gear, it was what you dream of. It was everything I expected."
Wildgust plans to continue testing in the car that is now her own ahead of the Gatornationals, and when she rolls through the waterbox and makes her first burnout at Gainesville Raceway, three months before her 18th birthday, she will become the youngest female in NHRA history to race Pro Stock at a national event. Tanner Gray, the 2018 Pro Stock world champion, paved the way for the younger crowd in the modern era when he battled for a rules change and was able to make his national event debut at the age of 17. Mason McGaha, a December baby who missed the cutoff of turning 18 in the same season in which a driver debuts, joined the fold shortly after his 18th birthday. It should be noted that in 1988, Miami-based Jo Nunez entered the class at the age of 16, prior to the establishment of the now-revised rule that drivers must be 18 or over in order to compete at a national event.
"It's kind of crazy, the idea of being part of history," said Wildgust, who will race in the class alongside reigning and six-time champion Erica Enders and 2022 NHRA Rookie of the Year Caruso in the new year. "There are only three females in Pro Stock right now. Me being the youngest, I look up to the other two. They've both broken so many boundaries in so many ways, and if they can do it, that gives me the confidence to know that I can do it, too.
"This is all really exciting. The best part so far has been being around my team and learning from them. I'm so thankful, and I love every single one of them, the way their energy levels are always up, and they're all so nice. What I'm most looking forward to is the level of competition in this class. It will be a challenge, but that's the fun of it."
Photos courtesy of Tamara Langner/KB Titan Racing