Keith Shimada / Special to the Home News
Monday, Jan. 19, 2009 | 2:37 p.m.
Henderson resident Jessica Cherniack did not want to become the smallest funny car driver in the history of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
But with a 5-foot-1 frame, she never had the choice if she wanted to compete.
Cherniack, 26, earned the distinction at the speedway's Blast-Off Open Test Session for drag racers on Sunday, when she completed a full pass and received her funny car license.
With the license she is eligible to compete, which she expects to do in the California Independent Funny Car Association series this spring.
"It wasn't my goal to be the smallest, but just to be out here and drive it down the track safely is enough," she said.
Cherniack, who previously raced in the super comp drag racing class, decided to switch to funny cars after her father, Mike Cherniack, obtained one but didn't have a driver.
For the past month the Cherniacks, who own an auto repair shop in Las Vegas, have worked closely with tuner Spike Gorr to get the vehicle up to working speed.
The test session was an opportunity to work out the kinks and see if Jessica Cherniack has what it takes to handle the 200 mile per hour vehicle.
"These funny cars are scary cars to get into," Mike Cherniack said. "It takes a certain type of person to get in there and handle the speed."
After a few test runs, Jessica Cherniack said she felt comfortable in the vehicle, despite her size.
She hopes to improve her reaction time at the starting light and eventually move up National Hot Rod Association Races.
"Once you sit down and everything is adjusted to you it makes no difference if you are 6-foot tall or short," she said. "You don't have time to be scared. You just have to think about what you need to do."
Cherniack was one of about 30 drivers who took advantage of open test session on the speedway's drag strip. The speedway opened the strip for all drivers to test and tune their vehicles before the start of the speedway's drag racing schedule, which begins Friday with its first Midnight Mayhem event of the year.
The numbers for the annual test session were down from past years, drivers said, due to the economy.
The speedway has made changes to aid drivers in the tough economic times, such as consolidating local bracket events into one weekend.
"We want to reduce the travel time for some racers, so they don't have to take off work as much," said Chris Blair, vice president of racing operations. "We also want to attract racers from other states, making it so they don't have to travel to Las Vegas as many times a year."
Sean Ammerman can be reached at 990-2661 or [email protected].