TROY — While Monica Roberts may not own a state driver’s license, she has already spent half her life behind the wheel.
Only 15, Roberts can reach up to 115 mph on the drag racing track. Despite her age, the Troy High student has already enjoyed a decorated career, racking up 86 trophies at last count.
Her latest earned keepsake is her most prized possession. In what she described as the biggest win of her life, Roberts won the National Hot Rod Association Junior Drag Racing Western Conference Final in her age bracket June 16 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For her efforts, Roberts took home a “Wally,” which is a 1-foot brass statue of Wally Parks, a pioneer in motorsports and the founder of the NHRA.
“I wanted a Wally since I was 9 years old,” Roberts said. “As I got into drag racing, I really started to understand how special a Wally is. A conference final is where they hand out a Wally, and it is the most prestigious trophy handed out by the NHRA.”
Among her crowded case and mantle, Roberts has several Wally titles she earned when she was younger, but with those the circuit’s founder is only memorialized on a plaque. Roberts was intent on earning the full-size trophy, the same memento awarded on the professional level.
“They have Wally races for kids, and I’ve won that before, but you only get a plaque for the state championships,” Roberts said. “A conference final is like the Wally they gave to pro; it is a lot bigger and everybody wants one. You only have two shots at it: in the two conference finals.”
Earning the prestigious trophy warranted a call from Troy High Principal Remo Roncone, something Roberts described as a surreal experience.
“The principal called our house, and I wasn’t in trouble!” Roberts said. “He usually doesn’t call your house unless you’re in trouble, so I thought that was really cool. He congratulated me and said the whole school was proud of what I had done.”
Roberts maintains a 4.0 grade-point average at Troy, and she said all of the work that goes into racing greatly aids her in the classroom. She participates in theater and color guard in school, but she does not represent the Colts in any team sport, instead enjoying the solo experience on the racetrack.
“Doing this teaches math and science, and I really enjoy those subjects in school,” Roberts said. “What I like most about racing is that it is an individual sport. I like the team stuff in color guard and theater, but I really like having it just be me and the car, not having to rely on anyone but my dad.”
Her father, Wayne, is an accomplished drag racing veteran with more than 25 years of experience. He accompanies her to every race, with Roberts calling him the reason she picked up the hobby.
“My dad is really big into classic cars, and when I was a kid he shared that with me,” Roberts said. “I love working on cars with him and going to the track. I love the atmosphere at the track with all of the other drivers and cars, but I always know that my dad is there cheering me on.”
Her mother, Brenda, travels to many races as well and admits to being nervous in the stands. She vividly recalls a wreck when Roberts was 8 years old that sent the car airborne, but she believes the sport has brought out the best in her daughter.
“To be honest, the risks for me are not near as huge as the rewards for her,” Brenda Roberts said. “She gets to bond with her dad. She applies learning from her classes in school and learns way more than she would just taking a test. There’s less broken bones in this than in gymnastics, and she loves racing and is really, really good at it.”
After beating out an 82-car field in the Western Conference, Roberts will attempt to do the same in the NHRA Junior Drag Racing Eastern Conference Final July 20-22 in Bristol, Tennessee.
“Bristol has always been a really tough track for everybody,” Roberts said. “In the mountains, it rains a ton and is super humid. Right after it rains all of the humidity is gone, so it can totally change your car in less than 30 minutes. It is very tough to predict.”
Regardless of the outcome, her mother is proud of her daughter, already a champion who is learning valuable insight for the future.
“In just a few seconds, you are a champion or a loser, and that is a great life lesson that a parent or teacher cannot teach,” Brenda Roberts said. “We’re so proud of what she has done and know she will have a great chance to keep winning.”