For 25-year-old identical twins, Kate and Diane Harker, their passion for drag racing is best summed up by the words of Kate Harker, “We like to go fast.
“We are very competitive and like the adrenaline rush of being able to take a race car of top caliber down the track and do well.”
The propensity of these native Australians, and National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Top Alcohol Dragster drivers who call Atlanta Dragway in Commerce their home track, for going fast has culminated with their being selected, along with sixteen other young women drivers and applicants across multiple arenas of motorsport, for consideration for the Lyn St. James Project Podium Scholarship Grant.
“It’s quite an honor (to be up for the grant),” Kate Harker said. “Lyn St. James is the Shirley Muldowney of open-wheel racing.”
Muldowney was the first woman licensed by NHRA to drive a gasoline-burning dragster, capable of speeds over 150 miles per hour in the quarter mile. St. James was not only the second woman to ever race in the Indianapolis 500, she was the first to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award as well.
“This grant helps women further their racing careers, whether in management or actual racing,” Kate Harker said. “Those deciding who gets the grant money are looking to see that the recipients have that desire and that they’re dedicated to the sport.”
The Project Podium Scholarship Grant is an extension of the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation and Driver Development Program of which St. James is the founder and Indy car driver Danica Patrick is a graduate.
The Women in the Winners Circle Foundation was founded in December of 1993. It’s a non-profit educational organization that focuses on worldwide activities and programs for automotive safety and driver development, especially for women who aspire to become race car drivers.
To date, the Women in the Winners Circle Foundation has trained over 150 women drivers from 38 states and two countries through driver development programs
According to St. James’ website, the vision of the Project Podium Scholarship Grant offered is, “To increase the number of women winning races and chamionships in key forms of motorsports and ultimately to increase the number of women at the top levels of pro racing who are prepared to win races and championships based on their increased ability to have the funds for expanded opportunities and preparedness.”
Applicants submitted their driving qualifications, sponsor information and a written essay on their goals and plans and why they need support.
“There are many more women in the driver pipeline that ever before,” St. James said. “Project Podium is designed to help young talent achieve racing and business success, but not by giving them a handout. Each applicant must demonstrate her commitment, desire and need, both in the business world and on the track.”
For Kate Harker and her sister, the grant money, if awarded to them, will go toward ensuring they stay on track in the racing world and on the track.
The Harker sisters began racing at a young age thanks to parents Steve and Janelle Harker, who have been racing for over 20 years and would travel to the United States from Australia for 8-10 weeks at a time beginning in 1999 to race.
“Some good friends of my parents moved to the U.S. 25 years ago,” Kate Harker said, “so it just kind of made sense after a while for mom and dad to come here too.”
Kate Harker moved with her parents to America in 2006, her sister Diana joined the family in March of 2007.
“When I moved with them I worked on their car full time,” Kate Harker said, “I got my dragster license in Dallas and did three races with Tom Conway.”
Conway is a Top Alcohol Dragster, the division Kate and Diana Harker race in, who won national championships in 1989 and 1994 and scored 18 national event victories in 32 final-round appearances.
“We love it here,” Kate Harker said. “We race nearly every weekend and we love hearing all the different accents and just love the people.”
If any grant money from Project Podium is awarded to the Australian duo, Kate Harker says they only have one thing in mind to do with it: “It’s going directly towards racing,” Kate Harker said. “With the money, Diana (Harker) will be able to extend her races from 12 this season to 16.”
The number of races the sisters appear in is a direct result of the money they are able to raise through sponsorships. The cars they use are leased to them on a race-by-race basis.
“We get sponsors through marketing and meeting people,” Kate Harker said. “It’s about who you know and the key is finding a good fit, finding out if NHRA is good for the company.”
Kate Harker, who has a bachelor of science in management and marketing from Griffith University in Bribane and Diana Harker, who has a photography and graphic design diploma from Southern Queensland Institue of Tase manage their own web site and do their own marketing.
“We write our own press releases, update our own web site and try to do a lot of the groundwork ourselves,” Kate Harker said. “My sister and I hope to break into the pros and can only do that if we show we are confident on the race track, are able to speak well to the media and market ourselves well.
While the identical twins aren’t lacking in motivation, they do lack experience and Kate Harker admitted that even with degrees ready made for marketing purposes, they still need outside help.
“While we aren’t new to the idea, we are fairly new to the market,” she said, “so we are working with marketing companies.
“It’s like anything you do in business, you have to keep working. Time and the money it takes to get sponsorships is a lot of work but in the end it pays off. Right now we’re having to place trust in people and hope they will guide us in the right direction.
That direction being straight to the top.
“We want to have our own team in the future, that is definitely a goal,” Kate Harker said. “Right now though we know that we need to go to an existing team that has sponsorships in place so that we can spend less time raising money and more time on the track.”