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Gordon Racing Legacy Continues: Maddi’s Top Alcohol Funny Car Debut Impresses

Melanie Johnson photos

A few weeks ago, Maddi Gordon made her highly anticipated debut in NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car during the first NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series West Region event of the 2024 season at Firebird Motorsports Park, February 23-34. She finished runner-up to Brian Hough by seven-thousandths of a second and qualified number one with her second official pass in TAFC competition, a 5.433 second 268.76 mph run. Maddi’s impressive first outing set the pace for her rookie season as she became the youngest female competitor in the history of NHRA TAFC at just 19 years old. 

The excitement of Maddi’s debut was shared by family, friends, competitors, NHRA and track officials, as well as the fans in Phoenix. Since the news broke in early 2023 that Maddi would take over the driving responsibilities from her father the following season, there has been a constant buzz. 

“There isn’t one specific moment that stands out from my first race, it was a great weekend altogether. I am so fortunate my family let me drive the TAFC and I just can’t wait to go racing again,” Maddi expressed her gratitude and contentment for getting the opportunity to race the family funny car. 

The Gordons have fielded a family-owned and operated car in the TAFC class for over 30 years, and the legacy continues this year. The family also celebrates the fiftieth year of their Paso Robles-based cabinet business, Morro Bay Cabinets. Maddi works full-time in sales at Morro Bay Cabinets and is the clutch specialist on the funny car, as she has been for the last three seasons. 

The 2023 season ended as the Gordons had hoped, with a third NHRA LORDS national championship title for Maddi’s father, Doug. Along with the championship, Doug earned six national event wins, two regional event wins and qualified No. 1 at five events. It is undeniable that Doug had the best car in the field last year, the Alan Johnson Performance Engineering Hemi-powered Camaro, which clocked top speed at twelve out of fifteen races competed. To say that Maddi has a great car and big shoes to fill is an understatement. She has had to manage her excitement over the last year, especially in the weeks leading up to her first race. 

Maddi explained how she prepared for one of the biggest moments in her young racing career, “I have watched a million racing videos, I talk about racing all the time, and I’ve been working in the shop during the off-season.”

Before the pre-race testing on February 22, Maddi had not been in the car since she completed her license at Brainerd International Raceway in August 2023. While Maddi and her family were competing for the championship in late 2023, there was little time to schedule more test runs before the start of the 2024 season.

Maddi has immersed herself in drag racing from a young age, she competed in the NHRA Junior Drag Racing League for over 10 years before moving into the Super Comp ranks where she competed for the last two years. It has been her lifetime dream to drive the “big car.” She began making test passes in the 3500 horsepower, supercharged TAFC last May during a test session at Famoso Dragstrip just outside of Bakersfield, Calif. 

Moving from a 1000-horsepower Super Comp dragster to a funny car with three times the amount of power and a shorter wheelbase is no small task. Most sports and even other motorsports offer ways to simulate and prepare for the “game time” experience, such as live batting practice in baseball or a full simulator in F1 racing. In drag racing, practice comes from climbing in the car and making passes, there isn’t an option to ease into driving a new car besides perhaps making half-track runs. For Maddi, she has utilized the power of visualization to make up for the lack of real practice. 

For more than a year, Maddi has been watching in-car footage from her father’s runs and studying how to drive the car. Last year, she warmed up the car at every event, a routine that allowed her to practice the driving procedures in a controlled environment. With the limited number of physical runs she was able to make before the first race of 2024, Maddi has already proven her abilities and shown that she will be a tough competitor in the TAFC category this year. 

Doug is amazed by how well she’s handling the car so far, stating, “I remember how hard it was for me to deal with the speed, and she seems to be more comfortable much quicker than I was. I think this is mainly due to all the racing experience she has had racing the dragsters. Long story short we are all unbelievably proud of her and can’t wait to see how she can do at her first national event.”

Maddi will continue her rookie season campaign at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona this weekend, March 21-24. Doug won the event in 2023 and Maddi will make her national event debut at this year’s event with her eyes on snagging a first victory. 

“I am beyond excited about the rest of the season. Just being strapped in the funny car living out my dream is the best thing ever.” 

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This story was originally published on March 22, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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