Tire smoke slowly clears in the moment of between yellow staging lights and launching down a drag strip. Subtle anticipation lingers while the Fox Mustang is locked in place. Holding the engine RPM’s at the rev limiter, the lights flash down to green. The rear slicks grip and the front wheels loft up towards the sky as it barrels down the drag strip to a 10-second quarter mile pass through the finish. For NMRA racer Sondra Leslie, it’s is just moment is a normal day at the job.
Though she’s no stranger to racing. Growing up in Munster, Indiana, she was practically raised in a family of racing gear heads with her father, John Leslie Sr. being the largest influence. She says, “He showed us kids the way around a car, the basic mechanic skills . . . So from a very early age, I have always been a gear head and very much into cars!”
Over the years she spent her weekends lending a hand at race events working the pit crew chores for her father and eventually her older brother, John Leslie Jr.’s race team — until one day she thought, “ I need to be in a race car myself!” So — I sought out to fulfill my dream of racing my own car one day.” She says.
That’s when her long time friend and NMRA racer Ken Bjonnes, stepped up to offer to lending a hand. She says, “Ken caught wind that I had the desire to race myself. He handed me the keys to his 2005, Mustang and told me to go race it.” From there out, she raced the blue S197 in the NMRA “Super Stang” class while gaining the support from her family and tuning knowledge from Ken.
With ambitions to win, she pushed through her first year of racing in 2010, trailering and driving the car to various NMRA circuit events and all was going well until one major mishap. “After a local event, I let someone else put the street tires back on the car and I didn’t check myself to see if the lug nuts were torqued. While driving back to the hotel that night with my sister in Milan, MI, one of the wheels fell off and went into a farm field! It was the scariest and worst moment ever!”
Both she and her sister were safe and the car came out unscathed, so with a lesson learnt and a sigh of relief, Sondra pushed on and ended up winning the NMRA “Rookie of the Year” award for the season, and finished with a top ten in points for the “Super Stang” class.
Continuing over the next few years, she stayed in the NMRA “Super Stang” class, and eventually picked up with her own Mustang, a 2006 supercharged V6, that she raced until finally purchasing her latest car in August of 2016, from her crew Chief Derek Craft.
Starting out as a stock, 1985 notchback chassis, the white Fox Mustang was sent off to have a roll cage and suspension upgrades installed, and then fitted with a naturally aspirated 5.0 liter Coyote engine built by MPR Racing Engines. The power backed by a Joy-built C4 transmission that pushes the torque out to a set of 10-inch, Mickey Thompson Pro-Drag Radial slicks.
With any given run, Sondra can easily pull up a two-foot wheelie and mid 10-second quarter mile pass. But it takes a lot mechanical know-how to keep things in top performance. “I know my way around this car pretty well.” She says. I’ve done a number of gear swaps, converter swaps, and have taken have taken engine apart when I hurt the engine pretty badly a few years back.” I try to leave the major stuff, like engine building to the professionals but anything I can do myself — I’m doing it. You won’t learn unless you get hands on. If I make a mistake, I simply try again.”
Stepping into the Fox body chassis is proving to be a positive move for Sondra. So far during her first season in 2016, she’s placed event runner up during the Wyo-Tech Summer Nationals event in Maple Grove, Pennsylvania. Although it’s a great accomplishment for only a handful of events, she’s already planning on big numbers for the Fox.
“I’m ready to throw a power-adder on this thing and make some boost!” She says. “I’ve enjoyed running NMRA Factory Stock and learning the in’s and outs of a naturally aspirated engine, but I’ve never seen myself staying NA forever.”
Overall, racing is a learning experience on any level and with the advice and support of her family and friends, there’s a lot that can still be accomplished for Sondra. “I know I’ll learn and become a better racer from what they share with me.” She says. “Taking what they suggest and say seriously, as made me grow as a racer and helped me get my race program to take off to new heights, and of course, help from my sponsors have pushed my race program forward and got me to where I am now as well.
We all know how expensive this hobby is, and without the help from everyone, I couldn’t do what I do!”