A fresh drag race season begins at Oahe Speedway in Pierre, South Dakota. Two cars are staged, anticipating the green light, ready to snap the throttle to barrel down the legs of a quarter mile. The motors are camming. The lights are staged. The tree runs down, and both cars blast out, like rockets into space. But halfway down, one car spins out into a thrashing fishtail, launching into a barrel roll and crashing side over side, three consecutive times — it finally settles to a stop.
This was an accident Carly Jo survived in 2013. She walked away, luckily without any injuries. But her 1970 Mustang was crushed on all sides – and for a moment, it looked as if the beloved life of “Ol’ Paint” was at its end.
Being raised around cars, even as a kid Carly Jo was no stranger gears and grease. Her dad had always had a knack for tuning. She says, “He’s always been a huge gear head and into the car scene. But I never really knew what drag racing was, until one day I saw a film called “Right on Track.” Apparently, this was the spark to put Carly — right on track. Fired up with a new passion, her weekends began racing the boys around the neighborhood on bicycles, to finally burning rubber in the local circuit of Jr. Drag Racing.
Like a natural, it didn’t take long for Carly to move up the ranks in Jr. Drags. Transitioning through 4 different dragsters and winning races around the local circuit, led her to becoming one of the fastest contenders, overall placing 6 track championships. By the age of 15, Carly had won the official “Wally” trophy — the NHRA’s most prestigious award.
Season after season, Carly was getting closer to racing “Ol’ Paint”: A 1970 Mustang coupe, that throughout the 80’s, Carly’s dad used to set the benchmark in the local street scene. Over time this car has packed a “laundry list” of street sleeper mods. But after many years of street running, her dad finally let this horse rest in it’s stable. At least until a day his daughter could take the reins and let “Ol’ Paint” ride again.
Fast forward to 2012, Carly Jo was ready to let “Ol’ Paint” loose. Now the Mustang was freshened up for the Pro ET class with a Chris Alston full tube chassis, fiberglass front end, 523ci big block, and sporting a paint scheme similar to an Indian warhorse, with patches of black, gold, and primer adorning its skin. This car was ready to run!
Out of the gate, Carly had no problem setting drag strip flight times in the low 10’s, then finally down to a 9.60 elapsed time — all while using a throttle stop. That season, Carly and “Ol’ Paint” posted countless number one qualifying positions, and took home several event wins. “Nobody expected me to do as well as I did.” she said. “It was an awesome feeling.”
But in 2013, the unfortunate circumstance took place and the rear tires of “Ol’ Paint” spun lose, sliding into a terrifying fishtail and massive barrel roll. “It’s crazy — I walked away with out a scratch — just some basic bruises,” Carly said. “The emotional factor of the event was more damaging than the physical element. All I was thinking was — I just ruined my dad’s car.”
Luckily Carly Jo was safe. But “Ol’ Paint” looked like a mess. The frame tweaked. Suspension shattered. Every panel smashed — all except the trunk and back glass. At this point, a complete tear apart and rebuild was at hand. So for the rest of the 2013 season, Carly and her dad’s crew rolled up their sleeves and went to work. It took several months to get the car straightened out and ready to drive again. Before they knew it, the 2014 race season approached and “Ol’ Paint” was finally ready go — but was Carly?
Gripping the wheel and blasting down the track at 140mph is a bold move — especially after such a dramatic crash. But Carly Jo remained determined. Kicking off the new season with a fresh car was all she could think about. She said, “Everyone was very impressed. That season, I came out swinging . . .The entire season was very exciting and I felt like I was back home.” Before long, Carly was at her original pace, hot on the gas, and running average 9.90s at tracks such as Oahe Speedway, Sturgis Dragway, and Douglas Motorsports Park.
That year, Carly and “Ol Paint” raced to several number one qualifying positions, and two event wins! The 2014 season went so well that she was able to land a major sponsorship by Champion Spark Plugs and backer Federal-Mogul Motorparts, thanks to the annual “Search for a Champion” contest. Carly was quick to express her gratitude, as she stated, “I feel so blessed to have [their] support, and to be representing one of the most popular brands in the automotive industry! I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity that they have given me! I’m ready to make them proud this race season!”
So, what’s next for Carly Jo and “Ol’ Paint”? She told us about some modifications this past winter, such as a new rear wing to tighten up the ride down the strip, and a fresh paint job to better display Champion Spark Plugs’ brand. “No matter what — she’ll always be “Ol’ Paint to me.” Carly laughed. Additionally, she mentioned running some new raceway events including an attempt to qualify for the Mile High Nationals in 2015. But with the determination this girl has, I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear about Carly Jo and “Ol’ Paint”.