DI CLASSIC: Change is Good for Lizzy Musi
Born and raised in New Jersey, 23-year-old Lizzy Musi moved south late in 2012, as her father, doorslammer legend Pat Musi, relocated his family-owned-and-operated horsepower factory to Mooresville, North Carolina. Though not quite ready to declare herself a newly minted southern belle, the second-generation racer says she’s happy with the change in scenery.
[Editor’s Note: this story originally appeared in DI #84, the Hottest Issue, in February of 2014.]
“The weather is definitely nicer, especially in the winter, and I like the southern-type attitude, a lot of people are very friendly,” Musi says. “But what’s really cool is there’s so much racing going on down here; it’s incredible. We’ve got Mooresville Dragway about 12 miles from us and if I walk out of my house sometimes they’ll be racing or testing there and I can hear the burnouts. Or sometimes I’ll be standing outside the shop and hear the other race shops near us running their dynos. I just think that is so cool.”
With her dad stepping away from front office duties to concentrate on building horsepower out back, Musi has largely taken over day-to-day operations at Pat Musi Racing Engines (PMRE), which counts among its clients Pro Nitrous veterans John Hall, Tommy Franklin and Robert Patrick, as well as 2013 ADRL Dragstock winner Jason Harris and defending NHRA Pro Mod World Champion Rickie Smith.
“It’s really a family effort, a family team here,” Musi explains. “I handle mostly the parts and part orders and invoicing and e-mails and all that; my sister and my mom do the paperwork stuff and my dad gives me the orders. So it’s basically like a big teamwork deal.
“It’s busy and it’s crazy, especially when my dad is gone helping customers. He goes all over the world and it’s a lot of work when he’s gone. A lot is going on at once. Sometimes we need more people, but most of the time we can handle it. We’ve just got to get the work done. Phones are ringing, you’ve got to get this down to shipping, you’ve got to order this, you’ve got to do that, you’ve got to get this. But I can’t complain, because we’re busy and that’s a good thing.”
Business-wise, the move couldn’t have worked out better and Musi is dedicated to maintaining the momentum while juggling the demands of her PMRE duties with a rapidly developing driving career.
“I think overall through last year, we had a great year. We had a lot of people running good and a lot of great customers, a lot of new customers, so it was a phenomenal year. We’re running fast and I think we’re on our game, so we can’t stop now,” she says.
“That’s really what I learned from my dad. He works day and night. If it’s Christmas Day, he’ll be working, plumbing a manifold or doing something on the motors; he’s 24/7. That’s what inspires me the most about him; he really has heart in what he does and he gives heart to all his customers. Anything they need, he’ll be there for them. That’s what means a lot to me and it’s what I want to bring to the business, too.”
For the last couple of years, Musi has been bringing that same sense of dedication to the track. Five years removed from making her last competitive drive down a drag strip—at 16 in a Jr. Dragster, no less—Musi made her Top Sportsman debut at the 2012 ADRL season opener in Houston, where she proved to be a quick learner, qualifying team owner John Lee’s 1969 Camaro fifth and even winning her first round of eliminations before suffering a surprising spinout at the end of her burnout that disqualified her from round two.
“I’m mad, but I’m also embarrassed,” a visibly upset Musi admitted at the time. “Something happened with the chip that’s supposed to control the RPMs for the burnout. I don’t know if it wasn’t turned on or something went wrong with it, but I heard and felt the engine just keep going up and I tried to ease out of the throttle, but it just got away from me. I was mad because I wanted to go a lot farther.”
Then came the incident that for a brief time made Musi one of the most famous drag racers on the planet. While qualifying for just her second Top Sportsman race at Tennessee’s historic Bristol Dragway in April 2012, her car crossed over from the right lane and wound up on top of the left guardwall where it made a perfect pirouette before taking out the top-end TV camera as it ended up on the wrong side of the wall. That the camera caught all the action—even after its operator jumped over the wall to safety on the track—made for the perfect viral video.
Within days, Musi’s name and likeness made the rounds worldwide. The crash video was an instant hit on YouTube.com, quickly racking up multi-million views and leading to coverage from several mainstream television, print and online news outlets, including Fox News, USA Today and The Daily Mail in Great Britain.
“To be honest, I’m kind of glad that’s all died down. It was fun at the time doing all those interviews and appearances; it really was a great experience, thankfully because no one got hurt, but I don’t want to only be known as, ‘that chick that crashed,’” Musi says. “I want to win races and championships and be known for that eventually, instead.”
Needing a replacement ride for Musi, Lee soon picked up a former Dewayne Silance-owned ’68 Camaro from Jerry Bickel Race Cars just a few weeks after the Bristol event. At the ADRL race in St. Louis that June, Musi made a then-career-best 4.15-seconds pass in the new car to qualify fourth, then went on to win two rounds on race day. More important to her, though, the weekend’s performance made a statement.
“I know after what happened in Houston and then the crash in Bristol, some people were wondering if I could drive a car like this, so it felt really good to make some runs like that and get that all behind me,” she says.
With a much more stable car to work with, Musi and team then set about building experience and becoming one of the consistently quickest entries in the ADRL Top Sportsman ranks, typically qualifying their bright red, Edelbrock-backed Camaro in the top five and dialing in with 4-teens for race day. As her rookie year came to a close, Musi reached the semi finals for the first time in the season ender at Dallas and finished an impressive eighth in points.
Then came 2013 and she picked up right where she left off, qualifying a career-high second at Rockingham, North Carolina, to start the season, followed by a third-place start at the next event in Cecil, Georgia, before the race was canceled by rain. Regardless, the tone was set for Musi, who made another second-place start at Cordova, Illinois, followed by her first number-one-qualifier award at Richmond, Virginia, where she again made it to the semis and left the track on top of the Top Sportsman points list.
The second half of the season began late in June at Martin, Michigan, where Musi once more started from the number-two slot and reached the semi finals, but after ADRL took the month of July off, she came back in August at Memphis with an off weekend that resulted in a first-round exit after qualifying sixth.
After that came an also disappointing return to Rockingham, where Musi redlighted away her chances in the opening round of the special-event Battle for the Belts before qualifying number four for ADRL’s prestigious Dragstock event, but made another early exit from round one. Regardless, she counts that event as one of her most memorable of the 2013 ADRL tour.
“I’ve got to say Rockingham is probably my biggest fan base out there. I mean, I had a pretty long line when I sat out there and signed posters,” she recalls. “I really love the fans; no matter how we do (on the track), they just make my whole day, my whole race. I just love talking, being able to talk to them and interact with them. They’re like the most important thing to me. Really, I love them. It’s a joy to be out there and just associate with them and give them attention because without them, you know, where would we be?
“They still bring up the whole blue car thing (from Bristol), but I think this past year kind of made up for that whole deal,” she adds. “So it’s good to hear that. Now I can hear more about me doing good than that whole incident.”
And while it’s always heartening to hear from young girls and women who gain inspiration from her on-track results, Musi admits she also gets plenty of attention from male fans, both trackside and online, but says it can be difficult to deal with at times.
“It can get a little crazy,” she says. “Some people are like, ‘Why don’t you write your number on the poster, too?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh God, no!’
“Then on Facebook, I get ‘Do you want to go on a date?’ and these messages, I can’t even answer them; sometimes my inbox, my Facebook inbox is overwhelmed. So I just let it go right now. Then there are some that are like, ‘What would it take for a guy like me to go out with a girl like you? Please respond to me.’ I mean, there are some pretty desperate ones. And I don’t want to be mean or anything; I just don’t know what you do about the situation. I mean, I’m really not the kind of girl that wants to strut her stuff or something like that. I’m just me. That’s all.”
In her personal life, Musi says she’s dated a couple of fellow drivers over the last few years, but nothing serious and nothing lasting, something that’s as much by design as chance.
“I think it’s just because there’s a lot going on for me right now. I kind of really need to focus. Even my dad sat me down and said we need to focus on this business, focus on the racing, because right now we are doing really good and we’ve got to keep focusing to keep things going,” she says.
“It’s a lot on me. The personal life, I like to go out—or I would like to go out and socialize and stuff—but we want to be successful and be in this racing, so you kind of have to make it a full-fledged deal, give all your attention to it. It’s a little hard on me sometimes, but honestly, if I could be at the track every day I would. It’s just an enjoyable environment to me. I love being there.”
Leaving Rockingham, Musi had slipped to third in the season standings, but less than one round’s worth of points out of the lead and essentially left to battle with four other drivers for the championship at the final race of the year in Houston. Unfortunately, disaster struck.
“The last couple of races we were fighting transmission problems, so it was kind of iffy on what was going to happen. We should have taken that trans out and checked it out, but that’s our mistake and we fought that part of it and we learn from our mistakes,” Musi explains.
“But it was a bummer that we fought that problem because we came out there pretty strong at the last race. We actually went testing and we made three passes in it and it went dead straight down the track. I mean 4.06, 4.08 and a 4.09 and I was like dead on the tree. I had a .010 light, a .012 and a .009 light, so I was like, ‘Wow, this could be the race right here; we’re on top of it!’ And then we go out there for first qualifying round and the car just zinged in high gear. It’s crazy. I don’t know. It was just a shocking thing. It just bounced out of gear and just like that it was all over.”
With rain cutting short qualifying in Houston, just two rounds were completed to set the fields and unable to make repairs in time, Musi missed out on eliminations and finished the season a disappointing, but certainly respectable fifth in points.
“I had a great team behind me and I want to thank John Lee for giving me that. We did our best. In the racing industry, anything can go wrong motor-wise, car-wise. You know you’ve just got to be on top of everything and I think we did really good overall,” Musi says. “It was definitely kind of a bummer at the last race when we had some transmission problems that cost us that race, but other than that, I think overall we had a good year.”
With the 2013 season over, Musi says she and Lee mutually agreed to part ways, primarily because she had the opportunity to step up this year to Pro Nitrous with the newly formed Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA), piloting the same 2009 Dodge Stratus her father last drove in 2011 for car owner Frank Brandao. Still, she knows she’ll miss her Top Sportsman days.
“That class is a blast. All the people that race in it, it’s like one big family,” Musi states. “There are a lot of heavy hitters in that class; Ronnie Davis, Aaron Glasser, William Brown, Bruce Thrift, all those guys, they’re great guys. If you need help, they’re there for you. We all help each other out and I think it’s more enjoyable when you know you’re close with the people you race with, that you like racing with them. When you’re on track, you feel more comfortable racing. So it’s almost like a joy. They make it more fun.
“But Top Sportsman is a really tough class, too. I mean, you have to be dead on your reaction time and your dial in, so you’ve got to be majorly consistent and it just makes you a better racer. It’s a very competitive class. So I really enjoyed racing in it. I learned a lot.”
Musi won’t be alone in representing the family business with the PDRA this season, too, as little sister Tricia will make her race driving debut in yet another of their father’s old rides. Twenty-one-year-old Tricia will enter Top Sportsman competition in the 1997 “Popeye” Firebird, now owned by Pennsylvania’s Don Ream.
“It’s going to be a pretty busy deal going on. She’ll be running the fuel injection on a Musi 632 engine, almost a similar setup to what I ran and I’m excited for her with that,” Musi says. “It’s going to be cool to have her out there; we need more girls out there racing.”
And there’s still a chance Musi’s own Top Sportsman days aren’t quite over, as she reveals she may enter a couple of NHRA Top Sportsman events this season, “just to get some quarter mile runs under my feet.” For the time being, however, her focus remains on making the transition to Brandao’s Jerry Bickel-built Stratus, outfitted with an EFI Musi-built 903 cubic incher under the hood that’s backed up by a Bruno automatic transmission carrying a Marty Chance torque converter.
“My dad is really the one that put that deal all together. He brought it up to Frank (Brandao) about me maybe driving the car and Frank was all gung ho about it, so I’m really grateful that he wants me to drive his car. I’m really thankful for that,” Musi says. “And we have a couple of sponsors that stepped up to the plate to help us, too. Edelbrock again wants to help out this year and then we have Lucas Oil that my dad had the previous years when he raced, so I think it’s going to be a really great deal.”
Still, Musi realizes there will again be the naysayers, people questioning whether she’s ready to step up to the quicker, faster Pro Nitrous class, wondering if she’s capable of facing hardcore professional drivers, maybe even whispering behind her back that she only got the ride because of her father. She doesn’t care.
“You know what? I’m going to do what I’m going to do, I’m going to listen to what my dad tells me to do, take it step by step, not going to jump into anything. I want to make sure I’m comfortable and ready to go. So we’re actually going to do some testing for a couple of weeks down in Florida when he comes back from Qatar, which is late February.”
First, though, the Stratus had to be adjusted by Bickel’s shop in Moscow Mills, Missouri, to fit Musi’s much smaller frame than her father’s.
“I feel like a little shrimp in my dad’s car,” she says, still referring to it as “his” car. “I had to send out the gas pedal to Bickel and it looks so funny now because they put an extension on it. They made a whole new pedal for me so I can reach it, and then they have an extension on the steering wheel for me, too. So I feel like a little midget in there, but they did a great job and it’s comfortable for me now.”
And though recognizing the intimidation factor of racing against the likes of past Pro Nitrous champions and race winners, Musi says she’s found a level of comfort in the seat and looks forward to the challenge.
“No question there’s some major heavy hitters in that class; it’s going to be pretty crazy,” she admits. “But it’s going to be so cool running against those people. I grew up watching them race, so it’s going to be really cool to have a chance to run against them.
“And without a doubt I definitely feel more comfortable in the car. It’s like, when you’re at the track, you’re at the track, but when you’re in the car, it’s a totally different ballgame. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me I feel like when I’m in the car nothing else matters; everything is blanked out. It’s just total focus on getting down that track, doing everything that I need to do in the car and being consistent in everything I do.”
Realistically, Musi says she’s mainly looking to gain experience this year, but with a car her dad ran 5.92 at over 241 mph in 2011 at Budds Creek, Maryland, she knows the potential is there to make some noise—and maybe break a few hearts along the way.
“Seriously, I want to do good runs, make some good passes, get some good reaction times, qualify and maybe go some rounds at a few races. I would love to win, absolutely, but I think overall for this year, it’s just about taking my time because it’s a whole new deal. I have to get used to everything all over again,” she realizes. “I want to make some fast runs. Then let’s see what happens.”