■ WHEN GRUDGE RACER Aria Connolly and longtime boyfriend JoJo Marafino felt the no-time world shifting a couple years ago , they decided to make a move of their own . Connolly jumped over to Cecil County Dragway ’ s X275 program for a brief stint in 2021 before leaning in to the PDRA ’ s fledgling new Super Street class . There , Connolly found both a welcoming environment and a thrilling challenge as she and Marafino make the switch from radial tires to slicks .
“ We faced any challenge you possibly could have ,” says Connolly , who hadn ’ t raced on slicks for about eight years . “ We thought we were just going to bolt on some slicks , leave the setup the same , go out there and go , I don ’ t know , 4.50s and wreck the class . But it was the exact opposite . We went out and we tested probably four or five times . Every time we went out and tested , there was no progression . It was spin , spin , spin , spin , spin .”
When the class made its debut at the PDRA North vs . South Shootout at Maryland International Raceway , Connolly qualified second out of seven cars and reached the final round . At the next race , she qualified No . 7 out of 13 and bowed out in the second round .
Connolly ’ s biggest challenge of the season came at the third race of the season . On a Thursday test pass , Connolly ’ s nitrous-fed “ Mz . Hyde ” ’ 89 Mustang broke traction , got sideways , and nosed into the wall .
Between the various challenges of repairing the car with a limited budget and limited manpower , as well as the morale hit from reading negative comments online , Connolly admits her resolve was tested in the days following the crash .
“ I had a month where I felt sorry for myself and I didn ’ t want to do it ,” says Connolly , who gave a shoutout to supporters Team Z Motorsports , Menscer Motorsports , and Diamond Pistons . “ But once the car was back together and we had that first startup , my whole mindset changed . I realized that I ’ ve worked really hard to be in the position I ’ m in and I ’ m not going to let irrelevant people tell me that I don ’ t deserve to drive what I drive .”
Connolly and Marafino rolled into the PDRA World Finals with the goal of at least making clean passes and dipping into the 4.80s . The Long Island native did just that , laying down a 4.832 in the third qualifying session and a bittersweet 4.800 in the final session .
“ I was like , ‘ This damn car just couldn ’ t give me a . 79 with a 9 . Had to go . 80 flat ,’” Connolly laughs . “ But that ’ s perfect Mz . Hyde fashion . It made every sleepless night , every moment in the garage , any tears , any second guessing , worth it right there to know , all right , we ’ re going to be competitive next season . We know what changes
November / December 2022 we have to make to be a real front runner in the class .”
Along with Connolly ’ s on-track goal of chasing the first-ever PDRA Super Street world champion in 2023 , she seeks to serve as a positive role model for other young racers .
“ There ’ s this stigma in the racing community that you have to be this pretty girl to be successful in racing ,” Connolly begins . “ I want to smash that stigma . Just put the hard work in and learn how to do everything . That ’ s a big thing to me , to be able to do anything and everything that a crew guy could . I feel like it ’ s a really big advantage and a really big , positive message that the younger community needs to realize , that if you put the work in , you ’ re going to get the reward no matter what .” – NATE VAN WAGNEN DI
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