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DI 30 Under 30 2022: Aria Connolly

Tara Bowker photo

When grudge racer Aria Connolly and longtime boyfriend JoJo Marafino felt the no-time world shifting a couple years ago, they decided to make a move of their own. Connolly jumped over to Cecil County Dragway’s X275 program for a brief stint in 2021 before leaning in to the PDRA’s fledgling new Super Street class. There, Connolly found both a welcoming environment and a thrilling challenge as she and Marafino make the switch from radial tires to slicks.

“We faced any challenge you possibly could have,” says Connolly, who hadn’t raced on slicks for about eight years. “We thought we were just going to bolt on some slicks, leave the setup the same, go out there and go, I don’t know, 4.50s and wreck the class. But it was the exact opposite. We went out and we tested probably four or five times. Every time we went out and tested, there was no progression. It was spin, spin, spin, spin, spin.”

When the class made its debut at the PDRA North vs. South Shootout at Maryland International Raceway, Connolly qualified second out of seven cars and reached the final round. At the next race, she qualified No. 7 out of 13 and bowed out in the second round.

Connolly’s biggest challenge of the season came at the third race of the season. On a Thursday test pass, Connolly’s nitrous-fed “Mz. Hyde” ’89 Mustang broke traction, got sideways, and nosed into the wall.

Between the various challenges of repairing the car with a limited budget and limited manpower, as well as the morale hit from reading negative comments online, Connolly admits her resolve was tested in the days following the crash.

“I had a month where I felt sorry for myself and I didn’t want to do it,” says Connolly, who gave a shoutout to supporters Team Z Motorsports, Menscer Motorsports, and Diamond Pistons. “But once the car was back together and we had that first startup, my whole mindset changed. I realized that I’ve worked really hard to be in the position I’m in and I’m not going to let irrelevant people tell me that I don’t deserve to drive what I drive.”

Connolly and Marafino rolled into the PDRA World Finals with the goal of at least making clean passes and dipping into the 4.80s. The Long Island native did just that, laying down a 4.832 in the third qualifying session and a bittersweet 4.800 in the final session.

“I was like, ‘This damn car just couldn’t give me a .79 with a 9. Had to go .80 flat,’” Connolly laughs. “But that’s perfect Mz. Hyde fashion. It made every sleepless night, every moment in the garage, any tears, any second guessing, worth it right there to know, all right, we’re going to be competitive next season. We know what changes we have to make to be a real front runner in the class.”

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Along with Connolly’s on-track goal of chasing the first-ever PDRA Super Street world champion in 2023, she seeks to serve as a positive role model for other young racers.

“There’s this stigma in the racing community that you have to be this pretty girl to be successful in racing,” Connolly begins. “I want to smash that stigma. Just put the hard work in and learn how to do everything. That’s a big thing to me, to be able to do anything and everything that a crew guy could. I feel like it’s a really big advantage and a really big, positive message that the younger community needs to realize, that if you put the work in, you’re going to get the reward no matter what.”

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