Katie Sepanek’s smile stretched wide across her beaming face as she stood in the Maple Grove Raceway winner’s circle at last weekend’s Pep Boys NHRA Nationals in Reading. The Moosic, Pa., racer had great reason to grin – she was fresh off of her third national event victory in the incredibly competitive Stock Eliminator category.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve won. Almost 10 years,” said Sepanek, whose most previous trophy was claimed at the Summernationals in Englishtown in 2014. “We’re only two hours away [from Maple Grove Raceway], and we bracket raced here all growing up. The Englishtown win will always hold a special place because it’s where my parents took me when I was a little girl, but this one is really cool.”
Cheered from start to finish by friends and family in attendance, Sepanek claimed a first-round victory early in the weekend over Rhode Island’s Jim Roberts, 11.462 (11.41) to 11.093 (10.99). She cut a respectable light (.019-second) next to Bob Bender Sr.’s delayed reaction time (.102) in the next act and used it to her advantage, playing the finish line well and advancing on an 11.543 (11.48) to a 12.502 (12.48).
Continuing the trend, Sepanek threw down an .018 in her I/SA 1972 Chevelle to Ken Miele’s -.012 red light in the third round, and her opponent’s dead-on an 8.39 target (8.399) was for naught.
Eagleville, Pa., driver Dan Lynch and his H/SA ’69 Camaro stumbled into an immediate self-inflicted hindrance in the quarterfinals as he left on a .049 and Sepanek remained steady, punching out a consistent .020, then managing a neat 11.496 on her 11.48. Lynch broke out of his 11.18 dial by three-thousandths.
“I missed the tree a little bit in the semis, and I was concerned about that,” said Sepanek, who recorded her worst light of the day, a .034 next to Matt Lisa’s .023, but made up for it at the final stripe for an 11.598 (11.55) win over a 10.851 (10.78).
“I took a little bit of a chance in the final, but it worked out,” continued the driver who came up on the good side with a tidy .003 and followed through with an 11.598 (11.58). The driver in the other lane was notoriously effective Division 1 racer Joe Santangelo, whose .031 start likely determined his actions as the final stripe approached; he broke out of his 10.42 dial by just .002.
“Anytime you race Joe, it’s the hardest race of the day by far,” emphasized Sepanek, who is no stranger to tough competitors: her first Stock victory came over Kevin Helms in Columbus in 2008, and she beat Russell “Bubba” Linke in the 2014 Englishtown final. Notably, Sepanek is a perfect three-for-three in national event final rounds.
Also of note is the fact that her husband, multi-time winner Jack Sepanek, won Reading in Super Comp in 2012 and 2015. He also won the fall race in Charlotte in 2013, which is where Sepanek is racing this weekend. Of course, every driver dreams of going back-to-back, but Sepanek isn’t allowing herself to get that far ahead at this weekend’s Betway NHRA Carolina Nationals.
“I feel like I’ve been struggling all year, and we made some changes to the car,” she said. “By the time I got to the semis [in Reading], I felt like things were coming together for me. I feel more confident in my driving now, and that always helps, but I’m definitely looking forward to Charlotte.”