We all remember some of the life lessons we learned from our moms. Shine your shoes and comb your hair. Greet people with a firm handshake. Keep the timing slips moving so a drag race can stay on schedule.
It’s not likely that most of us got to No. 3. But for Kyle Seipel, it was the first of many lessons learned from his mom that has led to a successful career as a professional drag racer and promoter.
If Northern California drag racers had ever crowned a “royal family,” it would have to be the Seipel family. Kyle Siepel’s 81-year-old father, Ted, still bracket races as he has for six decades. And throughout those decades his mother, Georgia, has managed drag racing programs, initially at the now defunct Baylands drag strip in the eastern end of the San Francisco Bay area and, until recently, at Sonoma Raceway.
As the 2018 season began, there was still a Seipel family member in charge of drag racing at Sonoma Raceway, but it was no longer the gray-haired woman many racers call “mom.” Instead, it was her son Kyle, following in his mom’s footsteps and putting into practice the lessons he had learned during childhood.
“I was 12 years old when mom taught me how to work the time slip booth,” Seipel recalled. That led to tutorials in the staging lanes, the starter’s box and in the control tower. “I knew more tasks at the age of 13 than most experienced tower workers knew,” he contends.
A drag racing veteran, Cindy Gibbs, who has known Kyle Seipel since he was a kid, agrees with that assessment. “Running the tower is not easy,” said Gibbs. “You are on the radio and working the clocks. The tower is the hub of the event and you have the whole race at your fingertips. So much about running a drag race seemed to come to him naturally.”
Even so, he had a good teacher who staged drag races with a no-nonsense style that generated respect among competitors during the era when women were only beginning to make their presence felt in the sport. At a time when Shirley Muldowney was making inroads for women on the drag strip, Georgia Seipel was carving out a career behind the scenes.
The plain-speaking Seipel’s love of drag racing seems as strong as the pull of a nitro dragster off the starting line. The sport has been the center of her life since she met her husband at the drag strip at age 19. It wasn’t long before she joined her husband on the drag strip and the pair bracket raced a hot pink Austin Healey throughout Northern California.
“I kept criticizing his driving, so he told me to try it,” Georgia Seipel recalled. “I made about 300 passes and lost just about every way you can.”
But for as modest as she is about her racing record, she had to be confident as a drag racing manager. “At first, it was hard because I was a woman,” Seipel acknowledged. She also readily admits that at the beginning she didn’t know much about the behind-the- scenes business of running a drag strip. But some people in the sport did take her under wing and taught her some of the most important lessons that would hold her in good stead for decades.
“They told me that racers might not like me, but that they would respect me based on the decisions I made,” said Seipel.
She recalls one incident that tested that lesson. “I asked everyone to suit up to keep the program on schedule and Don Prudhomme wouldn’t do it,” she recalled. “I told him that if he didn’t I’d simply run the jet cars ahead of him,” something that drag racers hate even more than a blower explosion. It was likely the last time that jet cars ran that early in the program.