Cyndee
Schwartz

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Cyndee Schwartz is a wife, mother, grandmother and role model with a passion for drag racing. I caught up with her to find out all about Cyndee and her involvement in the sport...

How and when did you get involved in drag racing?

I've have been into cars all my life. It started when I was 8 or 9 years old and my dad called me out to the garage to help him work on his Jeep. I helped him bleed the brakes (I hated pumping the brake pedal, it was tedious), and I helped him with the front end alignments. When I got a little older, we started attending and competing in off road competitions like sand drags, hill climbs and obstacle courses. That got me hooked on the racing aspect.

What pushed me over the edge, and made me want to drag race was a friend and co-worker that shared my love of cars and everything "engine". He talked my husband and I into going with him to the Funny Car Fever event at Sacramento Raceway, and after that, I was hooked.

I entered my first drag race January 1, 2000 - Y2K.

What were some of the difficulties you faced in getting into the sport?

Probably the toughest thing for me was fear of the unknown, and fear of doing something "stupid". I knew I wanted to compete, but the other drivers seemed to be so much more talented, professional, relaxed, experienced... they scared me!

Another problem was funding. Starting out, you have no record of accomplishments, and really no way of showing your worth. You have to finance your own expenses and get some experience on the track.

Lastly, I needed something to race. Of course, this is a given, and when you have no money, it can be a huge obstacle, right?

How did you overcome them?

I made a decision that I had to start somewhere. In drag racing, you can start at the local level with bracket racing. Bracket racing has classes that range from street legal cars to pro level cars. In this type of racing the driver determines what the elapsed time (ET) is for the vehicle in the quarter mile, and writes that time on the window. When the vehicles are paired up at the starting line, the starting lights are staggered based on the ETs the drivers have written on the windows. So if a 14 second car races an 11 second car, the 11 second car's starting light doesn't go on until 3 seconds after the 14 second car leaves.

I knew that our local track, Sacramento Raceway, had a big bracket race every New Year's Day. Since I didn't have a "race car" at the time, I decided as a New Year's resolution I would go race the street legal class on New Year's Day. This solved the problem of not having something to race since I could race my regular car, and it solved the funding problem since entry fees are minimal, and parts normally don't break at this level. But, it didn't solve the fear problem.

On January 1, 2000, at my very first drag race as a driver, I did what I normally do when I'm scared. I started talking to anybody and everybody that would listen, and asking question after question. There were a couple of drivers in particular that were happy to answer my questions, and throughout the day kept an eye on me. When I was in the staging lanes, they offered advice on how to "watch the lights" and how to pay attention to the track conditions. They also kept me informed as to what was going on when other classes were running. Without them I would've been entirely lost.

How have you progressed since then?

Well, so far I have 5 career wins, 9 final rounds, and 1 semi-final. Because I love the adrenaline rush of racing, I'm always trying to push the envelope in regards to speed. Unfortunately, that has cut into my focus in regards to the finesse that is required in bracket racing, so I have less wins than what I would've liked at this point in the game.

In the past 9 years, I have gone from racing a slow 4-cylinder street car, to building and racing a modified S10 pickup. In 2006, I moved up to the Pro class, and have raced in the Super Pro class as well.

I've gotten over many of the initial fears I had due to the great friendships I've developed with other racers at the track. They are a second family to me, and we stay in touch often during the off-season.

Financing is a huge challenge as now I'm paying higher entry fees, and parts seem to break a bit more often. The faster you go, the more it costs.

Tell me a bit about the race truck...

My S10 pickup is my pride and joy. There are nicer and faster trucks out there, but this baby was built by my hands, and I'm really skittish about letting anyone else around it to work on it. I have about three close friends that I let into the engine compartment... and that's only when I'm totally at a loss, or I'm letting them show me how to do something.

Here are some specs on the truck:

  • Body style: 1985 S10 Pickup
  • Engine: Chevrolet small block 357 cu v8
  • Transmission: Powerglide
  • Fuel: Alcohol

This is a new setup for me. Up until last year, I ran a blown 266 cu Chevrolet v6 in the S10 that ran on C16 race fuel. About mid year, in the quarter finals of a race, I put a connecting rod through the block which of course tore the engine apart. At the time, the truck was only certified to run 11.0 seconds or slower in the quarter mile. My fastest official ET with the v6 motor was 11.03 seconds. I had two unofficial passes at 10.98 which is very, very rare in a v6.

I moved to a v8 engine due to the desire to run in the Pro Gas and Super Street classes without overstressing the engine. Since the truck is only certified to run 10.0 seconds or slower at this point, I have to leave the blower off. With the blower on, it would run in the low 9.0 second range.

What is your PB elapsed time? PB reaction time?

My personal best elapsed time with the v6 engine during a race was 11.03 seconds in the quarter mile. With the v8 engine, during test runs, I've hit 10.69 but it wasn't a full throttle pass.

My personal best reaction time during a race was .001 (one thousandth of a second). I've had perfect reaction times (.000) during time trials, but what matters is what happens during an elimination round...

What is your proudest achievement on track?

Winning and doing well on a race day is really cool, but to be honest, my proudest achievement at the track is when other racers, and race fans, bring someone over to meet me because they've never met a woman who not only races, but built her engine, transmission, and put it all together in a pretty awesome little truck. There are hundreds of women out there who drag race in all different classes. But there are only a few that built what they are racing, and do all the engine and transmission work. I've also had guys in their 20's bring their girlfriends by to meet me. This is a bit funny, because I always wonder what they are trying to accomplish by that...

How often do you race?

I was racing usually twice a month during the season, which runs from February to August for bracket racing. There are also additional races that occur in pre-season and post-season, so if weather was permitting, I would race at least once every month of the year.

With the last engine catastrophe though, I had to cut back to the point where I essentially took a year off to rebuild. My next scheduled race will be in February 2010.

Are you currently contesting any particular series? How are you going?

I normally race in the NHRA Summit Racing Series which is contested at each local track during the race season with a finals event at a centrally located track at the end of the season. This year was an off year for me due to the engine build, and I made the decision for 2010 to race in the West Coast Pro Gas Association Series, and some Pacific Street Car Association Series. If funds allow, I will also run the truck at select NHRA Lucas Oil Divisional races in 2010.

What is the greatest distance you've travelled to race?

The furthest I have travelled is to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is about 698 miles from my home. I love that track. They treat all of the drivers with respect, and each time I compete there, it is an experience to remember.

Do you have a local track?

I still consider Sacramento Raceway my home track. It is the closest drag strip at about 50 miles from our house in Colfax, CA. We also have Top Gun Raceway in Fallon, NV, which is about a 3 ½ hour tow, and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, CA which is about a 2 hour tow.

How much time do you spend working on the truck between race meetings?

Between races, I change the oil, reset the valve lash, and check all the major bolts and hose fittings. I also have to dump the alcohol out of the fuel system and flush it out with gasoline. Depending on what happened during the previous race, I make adjustments and repairs where they are needed. It takes at least 4 - 6 hours, and sometimes as much as two days to get the things done that need to be done.

Where do you work on the truck?

Well, this could be a sore point for my husband, but I've taken over our two car garage with my race truck. Of course, since I do most of the major work on the regular vehicles as well, he can't say too much about it. But he does remind me occasionally that he would like to share the garage with me... I just keep dreaming to have a shop one day where it will no longer be an issue.

What does a typical day at the track involve for you?

I've heard that the best thing a driver can do at the track is to keep to the same routine. From unloading the car, to working between rounds... do the same things each race. So my routine after arriving in my pit area is roll the truck off the trailer, unload all the necessities out of the back of the tow vehicle, walk around the pit areas to see who's there and who isn't, then go back and get to work on the race truck.

It takes about 15 minutes to warm up the engine, after which I drive it around in our "warm-up" circle at the back end of the pit areas to warm up the rear end. Then I bring it back and change the plugs out to the plugs I use while on the track. At this point, I get the truck through tech inspection, and wait for the time trials.

Once time trials start, no adjustments are made to the fuel or to the engine, unless absolutely necessary. Only repairs are done, simply because in bracket racing, you rely on the race car being consistent in behaviour and speed. You need to hit the right combination in tire pressure, timing, and fuel delivery on your initial pass. If you get a second pass, it's for working on the driving issues.

In between passes, and elimination rounds, you replace spark plugs, add fuel, check belts, hose fittings, and bolts - and keep an eye out for problems, such as oil leaks or pressure leaks. I get a bit of ribbing because I'm a bit anal between rounds of racing. I'm under the hood and under the truck for at least 45 minutes checking and re-checking.

I usually don't relax until I'm out of the race, either by elimination, or the race is won. I'm a little less tense once I make it through the first round, but I'm not totally relaxed until my day is done. That is when I'll spend the time to visit other racers, and sit with them in the stands to cheer on everyone else.

What do you like most about drag racing?

There is a lot to like about drag racing - the adrenaline rush, the smell of fuel and oil, the rumble of engines warming up, the excitement of the fans when someone blasts down the track after a smoking burn-out, the camaraderie with like-minded people, and being considered one of the family. All of these things are the best things about drag racing.

What do you like least about drag racing?

When tempers flare-up. Since this is a high adrenaline sport, there are those who can't, or won't, control their emotions. They have to be dealt with by officials, and it puts a tarnish on what otherwise would be a great day. Something just as bad would be listening to complainers... the ones that are never happy with the track, the announcers, the track personnel, other racers... etc. etc. For myself, I am thrilled to be able to do what I do! I get a little impatient with those that try to spoil it by complaining about everything.

What are your future drag racing aspirations?

For 2010, my focus is to run in the WCPG D-gas class which is a 10.60 index. Due to the economy and my finances, I will probably stick with one race per month during the race season. However, those races will give me and my associate sponsors pretty good exposure since the races are run at combined events where the stands are normally pretty packed with fans.

For 2011, I will put the blower back on the motor and move to running Super Gas at the NHRA Lucas Oil Divisional races. Hopefully I will be able to build enough points to run at a few National races as well. I will also continue my bid in WCPG but this time I will move to C-Gas which runs on a 9.60 index. That's as far ahead as I want to look for now.

What is your day job?

Currently, I'm a software test engineer for Sage Software in Rocklin, CA. I've been working for Sage Software for almost 15 years now. They have been really good to me and I'm grateful to be employed during this economic crisis.

What do you like to do to relax?

Okay, don't laugh, but my favourite relaxation thing to do is baby-sit my four grandchildren. They range in age from 14 months to 10 years old, and they take my mind off of all the worries, stress, and conflicts of the regular working day. They help me keep perspective on life, and their love keeps me on track. I also love to spend time with their parents - my son and my daughter-in-law. I can work in the garage with my son, or work on scrapbooking with my daughter-in-law, and it's great to be able to be close to all of them.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Remember always that racing is supposed to fun. When it stops being fun, it is time to step back and look at what you can do to change the situation.

What advice would you give to others wanting to break into the sport?

Start at the local level. Most tracks - if not all - have a "street legal" class that allows anyone to compete as long as certain safety criteria are met. Street legal entry fees can be $15 or less at most tracks - which is less than the cost of going to the movies! Most likely your local track has a website that has all the information you need to compete at their races. Another thing you need to remember is when you finally compete in your first race, don't be afraid to ask questions, and definitely do not assume that you know everything you need to know. Ask!

Who do you receive support from?

I get different types of support from different companies - from discounts on engine parts, oil, coffee (fuel for the driver!), shirts, energy chews, and other items.

Here is my current list of sponsors:

Mafia Motorsports, Christopher Bean Coffee, Livewire Energy, Inner Cooler, DragonFire Racing, ARS - Aluminum Rapid Shelters -

E&J Engineering - Custom Drivelines. I also get additional help from Summit Racing Products, and Riebes Auto Parts.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

First, I'd like to thank Girlracer for the exposure they are giving women racers. I don't think I'm speaking just for myself when I say that it is really appreciated!

Second, I'd like to thank each of those companies listed above for all the discounts, the encouragement, the shoulder to cry on when things don't go so well, and the cheers when things go right.

Most of all, I want to thank my dad, my husband Kris, my son Robert, my daughter-in-law Becky, and grandkids Isabel, Miranda, Lewis, and Mirabel, for always being there for me and encouraging me to keep building and keep racing. Thanks guys...

And thanks to Cyndee for answering all our questions and for providing inspiration to women all over the world who are chasing their dreams!

Source: Chelsea Woods for Girlracer Magazine www.girlracer.co.uk

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