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DI Interview: Jet Dragster Pilot Elaine Larsen Reflects on 20 Years of Racing

Photographs by Dominic Agostini and Loghan Ashline

Elaine Larsen made her very first pass down the dragstrip at Palm Beach International Raceway 20 years ago, and the celebrated jet dragster pilot has announced that the time has come for change. The 2022 season will be her final tour behind the wheel as the primary driver for Larsen Motorsports (LMS). Don’t worry, though, Larsen isn’t going far.

The Florida resident will remain a vital part of LMS, the company she founded with husband Chris, and Blazing Trails, the 501(C)3 non-profit she founded to connect students to non-traditional careers through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics).

[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #176, the Women of Power Issue, in May/June of 2021.]

Throughout her career, Larsen his tutored many young jet dragster drivers while also campaigning her own car to two championships, and now she’s gearing up to focus more of her energy on driver development, leadership, and business.

Recently, Drag Illustrated sat down with Larsen to discuss the new role and look back at some of her most treasured accomplishments.

What made you decide to step away from full-time driving? 

The decision was a culmination of many things, but the main reason was to make room for the new generation, and so that I could focus on growing the team. When you’re the driver, there are a lot of things pulling on your time. Now, 100% of my time can be dedicated to pursuing the new generation of high-performance vehicle specialists.

Was it an emotional decision for you?

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It’s an emotional decision every single day. I love being in the car, I love the feeling of power, I love how people look at me as I get out of the car. I’m torn, and it’s really hard, but I also know that I still have a lot to give to the sport, and I can give more on the outside of the car.

A large part of your career has been about developing new talent and providing opportunities for others. What would you consider your success stories? 

Every single person that we’ve licensed as a driver or cultivated as a design or fabrication engineer or member of the crew is a success story to me. The driver is just one person on the team; we’re cultivating the entire team. The success story happened on our last lap at Palm Beach International Raceway. It was the last time we were going to make a pass down that track before they close. I was in the car and looked out at the kids who have given their blood, sweat, and tears to be part of this. They feel it. They’ve got VHT stuck to their arms, and they’ve given up everything to be part of the sport that I love. It gave me goosebumps to watch these kids walk around doing their job. I thought, we’ve really done something here.

What have you been most proud of in terms of your own career as a driver?

I’ve had many proud moments, but what particularly stands out is that maybe we’ve brought a new demographic to the racetrack. Recently, a bride brought her bachelorette party to the racetrack to see us run. A lot of times, jet cars are overlooked; we’re the halftime show brought in to entertain the crowd. But we’re bringing new eyes and, hopefully, revitalizing the sport. That means that what I’m doing matters. In life, we all have opportunities, and this is how I’m choosing to make a difference.

Would you go back and do anything different, if you could?

Not in racing. I would always choose to drive a jet car. I love the path that I’ve taken. I might have been a little bit smarter in some of my decisions, but the path I chose led me to become the person that I am today. I have no regrets.

What’s next for you?

 Right now, only a small portion of my time can be given to my educational outreach, Blazing Trails, and I’m excited to give it 100% of my attention. We’ll take the car to schools, talk to young kids and teachers, and show them the opportunities in our sport. I’m also excited to reconnect with my comic book, Blaze (available at LMSJETS.com), as the author and the mastermind behind it. There are three in the series so far, and I’m looking forward to diving back into that.

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Who’s been behind the scenes with you on this journey?

My husband, Chris Larsen, has been my driving force to be a better person. He’s given me the courage to get in the car and trusted me behind the wheel not to ruin all his work. My son, Andrew, has allowed me to be the ‘crazy mom,’ and he’s never made me feel like I should stop because I’m a mom. They’ve encouraged me to be who I am, and they’ve been my biggest cheerleaders.

What are you most excited for in the months ahead as this final season as the primary driver comes to a close?

 I’m looking forward not to saying goodbye, but to making memories in the driver’s seat. I’m looking forward to making every moment count.

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