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Education

‘Little girl’ from USF is ‘brutal’ as drag-race driver

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Published:   |   Updated: December 27, 2013 at 06:35 PM

SARASOTA — Kat Moller is on a fast track to her dream career.

A very, very fast track.

Moller, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of South Florida, will be spending much of 2014 perched in front of a 5,000 horsepower General Electric J-85 jet engine, blasting down drag strips around the country at speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour.

“I grew up at the racetrack with my dad,” said Moller. “I knew it was something I wanted to try out. Once I got in the car, I knew it was something I wanted to make a career of.”

She took a big step toward that goal in August, when she landed the job as one of four drivers — all female — with Larsen Motorsports for its national Nitro Jam drag racing series.

She’s currently in training, earning her certification to race at such a high level, and helping to test the Larsen fleet at its headquarters near Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. The Nitro Jam tour starts in March.

“I’m learning from the best,” she said.

Still, she has spent a significant amount of time learning by doing.

Moller started racing at age 11. From junior dragsters, she graduated to a Sportsman Mustang, then her dad’s Super-Pro dragster. “I was racing against people who were a lot older than me at the time,” she said.

That’s not likely to change anytime soon. Moller is believed to be the youngest female jet drag racer in the world.

Her home track is the Bradenton Motorsports Park near her home in Sarasota, where she earned “a little trophy collection” for her bedroom.

“She grew up in the racing environment, and she took to it immediately,” said her father, Tommy Moller, who runs the Corvettes West body shop in Sarasota and is an offshore powerboat champion. “It didn’t matter what car I put her in, it wasn’t fast enough. She constantly wanted to go to the next class and go faster.”

When Elaine Larsen put out the call for drivers to join the Larsen Motorsports team, she singled out Moller from more than 370 applicants.

“When you see her in real life, she’s this sweet, innocent little girl,” Larsen said. “Then you see her in a race car, and nothing could be further from that. She’s brutal.”

Sweet and innocent doesn’t cut it when you’re driving a $120,000 vehicle whose engine, designed for a Northrop T-31 Talon aircraft, is sucking two gallons of fuel a second and pulling 5Gs in the cockpit at the green light. Moller said she has a healthy respect for any racing machine, but by starting slow in the juniors, “my fear just kind of went away.”

She’ll be back in class at USF in January, and has worked out her class schedule to accommodate the travel that will be necessary come March. She’s majoring in mechanical engineering and hopes to apply what she learns to her racing career.

While she’s open to racing other vehicles in the future — Top Fuel dragsters are typically considered the pinnacle of the sport — Moller said she is thrilled to be a part of the Larsen team. She has a three-year contract.

“I just want to take the time to experience this,” she said.

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

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