No burnouts here
Jordan Wilkerson’s transformation into a racing machine
Amongst the chaos, Jordan Wilkerson finds her peace.
With the deafening sound of engines revving and clouds of smoke filling the air, the 22-year-old made her way to the starting line of the Magic City International Dragway track on Friday afternoon for a practice run.
Beads of sweat fell from her forehead, but they weren’t from her being nervous.
Wilkerson was strapped into a makeshift oven as the sun from a rare summer day in Minot beat down on her dark gray, 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS. Her bulky emerald helmet didn’t help much either, plus it made it difficult to move her head side to side.
But that was fine. Wilkerson had no interest in looking at anything other than the 660-foot strip of pavement in front of her. She was in the zone, and neither the increasing heat nor the ear-piercing engines could snap her out of it.
“It’s just dead silence to me,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t worry what anybody else is doing in that moment.”
A series of yellow lights flickered on and off. Then came the green light, and Wilkerson sprung into action.
In a split second, she stomped on the gas pedal with all her might. The engine roared in response and sped forward, sending her head flying back.
Like the Millennium Falcon jumping to lightspeed, everything outside the driver’s window became a blur as the Camaro stormed down the track. The finish line was now a few feet away, but Wilkerson kept a heavy foot on the gas pedal.
The young racer drove past the line at full speed. Only then did she pound on the brakes, sending her entire body forward a few inches as the sound of rubber skidding across the pavement rang throughout the track.
Unfazed, Wilkerson rolled down the windows, cruised around the lot and made her way back to the starting line for another go.
“It’s all about that adrenaline rush that you get when (the car) throws you back in your seat,” Wilkerson said. “It’s so addictive. I just want to keep doing run after run.”
Wilkerson didn’t always have that cool composure in the presence of high-powered vehicles and roaring burnouts, but her interest in cars has never wavered.
The future speedster grew up in Tampa Bay, Florida, where she was quickly taught to admire the beauty in vehicles. Her father was a car aficionado, but it wasn’t until the age of 13 when Wilkerson saw a movie that officially got her hooked.
“My dad had a 1959 Edsel Ranger growing up, so he was really into cars,” Wilkerson said. “But then I saw Transformers and I became obsessed with the Camaro. I knew I had to have one eventually.”
Wilkerson had a passion for cars after that, but racing still wasn’t in the picture at the time. She had other responsibilities.
Wilkerson joined the Air Force, and she got assigned to Minot in 2016 as a B-52H crew chief. Far from home and intent on finding a hobby, she heard about the Magic City International Dragway and decided to check it out one day.
Per usual, regulars at the MCID welcomed the new prospect with open arms. Wilkerson eventually got the opportunity to have her first race, and she didn’t hesitate to accept.
Her car, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as ready for a high-speed showdown.
The then-19-year-old novice drove an unmodified 2013 Honda Civic – a far cry from the souped-up vehicles her competitors boasted. Nevertheless, Wilkerson drove her car up to the starting line to give it a shot.
It didn’t work out so well.
As soon as the green light came on, Wilkerson and her Civic were left in a cloud of smoke by her competitor. In just a few seconds, the young racer found herself in the other car’s rearview mirror as it sped down the track for the easy victory.
“My first race was terrifying,” Wilkerson said. “I was so scared, and I was sweaty. The Civic was like you had to gun it when you were merging on the highway, so it definitely wasn’t snapping my neck back.”
The blowout defeat wasn’t the outcome she’d hoped for to say the least, but Wilkerson didn’t have the funds to make any major upgrades, so she stuck with her Honda Civic for another year.
It was during that time that she became a student of the racing lifestyle and took in as many tips as she could. Most of that advice came from Jim Grote.
The 71-year-old retired military man is the face of MCID and has been the proud co-owner since 2008. If you have a question about MCID, you go to Jimmy. If you need advice on your car, you go to Jimmy.
Simply put, the man lives and breathes racing.
Grote, who is constantly trying to get the local youth to take an interest in racing, immediately took Wilkerson under his wing and showed her the ropes.
“If I had a daughter, I’d want her to be just like (Wilkerson),” Grote said. “Our goal is to get the people, specifically the younger people, off the streets. We know there have been accidents and tickets, so we want to put them in a safe environment (like MCID) instead.”
Wilkerson gradually picked up on the sport through trial and error. Wins became more frequent, and losses became less lopsided.
Then, after being deployed to the Middle East for eight months, Wilkerson returned to Minot with an urge to burn rubber and had a little more money in the bank.
Naturally, she decided to invest it in her newfound hobby by purchasing that Camaro she’d wanted for so long.
Wilkerson went all out with her new ride. She poured in another $3,000 to improve the car’s exhaust and even spent some extra cash on cosmetic changes in order to make her dream car a reality.
The time, dedication and money paid off in August of 2018 when Wilkerson competed in a tournament at MCID.
The now-savvy racer did much more than just hold her own, as she dominated the competition to reach the semifinals. Most of those unlucky souls that fell victim to Wilkerson were males, but that was nothing new for her.
“It’s funny because a lot of guys will be like, ‘Oh, I can’t believe he beat me,'” Wilkerson said. “And then I walk out and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not a he.’ It’s usually shocking seeing a younger person out here, plus I’m a girl, but they’re all super nice about it.”
Wilkerson ultimately got ousted in the semifinals in nail-biting fashion, as she lost by .001 seconds.
But, despite no longer being in the running for the first-place prize of $150, the female firecracker didn’t sulk for too long. The money was never the motivation.
“I wasn’t even upset,” Wilkerson said. “The money isn’t what I race for. It’s just the adrenaline rush and seeing all of these guys every weekend.”
Nowadays, Wilkerson is a regular at MCID. Through the power of energy drinks, she works the night shift at the base, sleeps for about four hours and then comes out to the track for another five hours.
People who were once strangers at MCID now know exactly who is behind the wheel whenever that dark gray Camaro pulls into the lot, and they always greet her with a smile. For someone who has no family in the area, it’s like coming home.
“These guys are my family up here,” Wilkerson said. “Even though you’re competing against these guys, they’ll still give you the shirt off their back if you need it. It just shows that anyone can come out here and be a part of this.”
Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.