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DI 30 Under 30 2023: Madison Payne

She caught everyone’s attention in 2022 when she defeated motorsports icon Tony Stewart in the final round of Top Alcohol Dragster at the NHRA Nevada Nationals to claim her first win, but that isn’t what Madison Payne should be known for. The third-generation racer’s accomplishment that day was tremendous, but it’s only an indicator of what’s to come. With one of the most successful and driven racing families behind her, Payne is equipped to continue a strong charge well into the future.

[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #185, the 30 Under 30 Issue, in Nov/Dec of 2023.]

 “Vegas was my proudest moment – not because it was Tony Stewart, but because the week before I’d been to the final in Dallas and come up short,” says Southern California native Payne. “We managed to get there again, but I remember how many eyes were on that race. It was only my second national event final, so to be able to win that race instilled a lot of confidence in me that in those high-pressure situations, I wasn’t going to choke – and I hope it stays that way. Even though I won on a baby holeshot, it was a holeshot, and that gave me a lot of confidence. It was also really special for me because Vegas feels like a home race. My grandparents, my family, my uncle, they were all there. I’ve always wanted to win Pomona, but Vegas is close.” 

Although this season – her first full pull in Top Alcohol Dragster – has had its ups and downs, Payne accomplished something that every NHRA racer dreams of when she claimed a coveted U.S. Nationals Wally. Her grandfather, legendary racer and innovator Brad Anderson, won Indy multiple times, as did her father Jay Payne and uncle Randy Anderson, both multi-time champions. 

“It was one of those moments where it just didn’t feel real,” says Payne, who reached the final at Maple Grove Raceway at the very next event. “When I won, everyone around me was screaming and having a blast, but all I could do was smile. I was in a state of shock. My dad won Indy four times, and I was there for all of them and remember how big of a deal it was. He was the guy, in my eyes, so to be able to win Indy like he did – it felt so weird. I didn’t feel I was on the same level as the rest of my family members who have won Indy. I mean, I hold them in such a high regard that it didn’t really make sense that I had won it. It was really cool, but it probably took me three weeks to get a grasp on it.” 

Payne, who races Super Comp as well, was slated to debut a Top Sportsman car this season, but the project was put on hold when her grandfather found one last thing he wanted to work on in the engine. If everything goes as planned, Payne will have her license before the 2024 season and race next year with her grandpa. She also plans to continue learning and growing in the alcohol car with team owner Duane Shields. 

As for the future, family has played a large role in Payne’s growth behind the wheel, and that will continue to be true. 

“People give me a lot of grief and make jokes about my parents being hard on me,” says Payne, whose mother is notoriously boisterous Shelly (Anderson) Payne, who raced successfully through the ranks to Top Fuel and understands the ins-and-outs of race cars like the back of her hand. “What they don’t realize is that I have an unfair advantage, with all that my family has accomplished at such a high caliber. I get so much knowledge and information from them. Yeah, I get critiques, but they’re honest, and it really helps me. I’m very fortunate.”

This story was originally published on February 19, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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