Two Kittanning sisters that attend West Hills Primary and Intermediate schools are just like all the other kids – uh, kinda!
Adrie Livengood is seven-years-old. She enjoys swimming, walking her dog and rabbit, and riding her scooter (which often becomes a competition between her and her older sister). She loves tacos and seafood.
Isla Livengood is nine-years-old. She paints her finger nails with different colors of nail polish – the current style of pre-teens. She cheers for the Armstrong Indians and plays basketball for West Hills. She loves pizza and roller coasters.
Yet, these ordinary kids are accomplishing extraordinary things. They competitively race in dragster events and have won numerous awards.
Their father, Todd Livengood, said the girls became interested in racing from the first time they went to an event.
“We went to Keystone as a family to Funny Car Nationals in 2016,” Livengood recalls. “We parked right where the Junior Dragsters pit. We watched them race. Isla wanted to try it, so I searched around and find a cheap dragster to give it a shot. We went to Keystone’s Night Under Fire about a month or two later.”
Livengood said practice runs were done at the Trader Horn parking lot and running up and down the street by their home on Hawthorne Avenue in Kittanning.
“We would get the dragster out and clean the trailer. I’d start them up and she would make a pass down Hawthorne Avenue. The residents would come out and watch them and praise them. It was something different and it keeps them out of trouble.”
Isla was just turning eight years old at that time when she ran six licensed passes to become a licensed racer in October 2016. Racing at Keystone Raceway in New Alexandria, Westmoreland County, the races are sanctioned by the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA).
“I remember when she came home from school all mad one day because nobody believed her that she raced,” Livengood recalled. “So Stacey made her a little photo album and she took it to school and some of her classmates still didn’t believe her, but some did. The Cadet always has a car show on Wednesday nights once a month and we took her dragster car out there. Some of her friends and their parents were there. After that, they actually started believing her.”
As she now starts 4th grade, Isla is in her third season of racing. She has now been crowned the 2019 Points Champion for Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio, for the Jr. Dragster 11.90 Beginners Division.
“Isla started out this year at Keystone and then we decided to start going to Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio, where she won four in a row which secured the championship for her in the Beginners 11.90 Class. She’s the 11.90 Champ at Dragway 42. We came back to Keystone Raceway’s 6.60 Junior Nationals. She made it to the finals on Saturday became runner-up, won $600 that day. She won right around $1,200 this year racing. She got four wins, quite a few semi-final rounds. She made it to runner-up at the Nationals.
Her sister, Adrie, also began racing this year.
“She has three runner-ups out at Dragway 42,” Livengood said. “She secured 3rd place in points in 11.90 Class. To top it off, she had a perfect “light” at Keystone’s Night Under Fire race (drivers watch the light, and respond prior and during the race, requiring extreme eye-hand-foot coordination). Adrie doesn’t have too much fear of anything. Isla kinda over-thinks things; but Adrie’s is just the complete opposite and goes out and wings it.”
Livengood said most of the participants in junior drag racing are female. He maintains that drag racing is safe for his youngsters.
“They’re safer in one of these dragsters than on a pedal bike,” he said. “They have to wear a fire suit, approved helmet, neck-roll or hand device, a five-point harness, wrist restraints in case they would wreck and roll over, so their arms can’t come out of the car. They have leg restraints which is a webbed netting in case of a roll so their feet stay within the roll cage if the vehicle body were to come off. There are two shut-down switches. One grounds the coil out and the other grounds the spark plug out. I also have a switch on the back that will ground the coil out if something happens when I am starting them up.”
Livengood said there has been significant cost in having both girls compete in races. He estimated the girls ran as many as 22 races last year. He started out spending $3,000 on the dragster vehicle for Isla. When Adrie decided to race, she was given Isla’s vehicle and Livengood purchased a Hubble Motors Sports Car from Maryland for Isla.
“This year, we were running two cars. Then we started traveling to Ohio to compete. On a normal weekend at Keystone, I’m probably spending $200 between gas, getting in, and then whatever food we take or if we buy food at the track. When we go to Ohio, I was spending about $500-$600 for the weekend for travel out, hotel room, getting in, plus food. So, I think last year we budgeted about $2500 to race for the year. This year, it cost us around $4,000.”
To offset some costs, the family has operated booths at fairs and shows, selling racing novelty items and branded teeshirts.
Livengood said that the girls wash and wax their dragsters on a regular basis. He has even taught them how to change their own oil.
“It is a great learning experience. They are learning real-world skills,” he said.
When the family isn’t attending races, Livengood said they spend time promoting the sport.
“We got the racing page on the computer, and we do the car shows. We just try to travel around and get the word out about junior drag racing and our team. They’re the only two juniors in Armstrong County,” Livengood proudly said.
The girls call themselves “Nitro Dawgs”. If you see them at a car show, be sure to get their autograph.