When Elaine Larsen found her future husband, she also found a need for speed.
Growing up a Mennonite, Larsen was probably the farthest she could be from the racetrack. But some things are meant to be.
Her life went from zero to 100 mph in one second when she saw her future husband speeding by in a ‘32 Ford Deuce coupe. “It was love at first sight,” Larsen says.
Little did she know then, her love for racing would eventually fuel a multimillion-dollar business.
As president of Larsen Motorsports and driver of the Florida Tech Jet Dragster, Larsen has more than 20 years of drag racing experience and two IHRA World Championships under her belt. With her husband, son and adorable pug dog Nitro, Elaine lives her life at full throttle.
We talked to Elaine about how she started in racing and grew her passion into the profitable success of Larsen Motorsports today.
Tell us about your background. How did you develop an interest in racing and entrepreneurship?
My background could not be further from a racing family. I grew up in Michigan as a Mennonite. That means no TV or radio, and pretty much just making what you need to live. My dad was a farmer, and my mom ran the house. Then I met this boy; he was crazy and driving the ’32 Ford Deuce Coupe like in American Graffiti. He scared and excited me, and it was love at first sight. We got married when he was 18 and I was 19.
It wasn’t easy at first, but by the time we hit 25, we had some money set aside, and we went to my first race. I LOVED it! I loved that you could walk around and ask questions, and I loved that you were paired up and it didn’t matter if you were a girl, you could still kick butt.
We started Larsen Motorsports because we had to find a way to fund my new hobby. Motorsports isn’t easy, but it sure is fun. We have turned our hobby into a multimillion-dollar business that is spinning off other businesses.
Why is having an all-female racing team important to you?
In the beginning, there wasn’t this plan to be all-female; the girls were just the best for the job. After, I heard how it inspired other ladies to look outside of their comfort zone, and it has inspired me to push harder. It isn’t enough to be a woman in a male-dominated sport: you must own your space and make sure that you have earned the right to be in the driver’s seat.
What advice would you give to women interested in the field?
Do your homework. Don’t walk in and think that just because you are a girl, you’ll get a seat at the table. Start at an early age and find out how you want people to see you — what is your message and your brand?
Going down the racetrack in 5.5 seconds at 290 mph is the easiest part of my job. The scary part is going into a boardroom and looking for sponsors! Feeding this monster is the hard part.
How did Larsen Motorsports become the success that it is today?
The success of Larsen Motorsports can be traced back to always looking out and not just focusing on what worked today. We have changed with the times, and I don’t mean just following along with others. We have to keep changing the way we think, in business and our designs. We make trends; we don’t follow them. We know how to brand ourselves correctly. We don’t forget who we are and how we got to where we are today.
How is Larsen Motorsports connected to Florida Tech? What does that partnership mean to you?
Our affiliation with Florida Tech is an amazing way to utilize current students as interns, who get to work hands-on with a world championship race team. Each day we work with 10 to 15 students from many different backgrounds, including engineering, human factors, marketing and business. They have the opportunity to come up with new concepts, designs and then the full fabrication of our jet-powered dragsters. It gives us the opportunity to give back to the next generation of motorsports professionals.
Tell us about your #JetLife philosophy?
Our #JetLife is very important to us. It signifies that everyone isn’t the same. For some, the propulsion is what fuels you. Others love the fabrication, and others love the marketing. #JetLife is finding out what fuels you and filling your tank with it. For me, it is jet fuel and my passion. I love going to work every day. To be able to monetize your passion is the ultimate dream.
What’s your favorite book?
I have two favorite books. One is Matthew Kelly’s The Dream Manager; it is about knowing the pulse of your company, not giving your employees what YOU think they need, but asking what they need. The other is Janet Guthrie’s Life at Full Throttle. Janet is such an inspiration. When you read her book, she never backs down, never gets down and is just an amazing woman.
Do you listen to a certain song or artist to pump you up before a big race?
Music is so important to me; it sets the stage. My new jam is “Feel Invincible,” by Skillet, but it just depends on my mood.
Do you have any other pre-race rituals or superstitions?
I sure do! As a team, just when everything starts going fast, we slow things down and go over our plan for the race. Before I get in the car, I do a walk around. As a driver, it is my responsibility to make sure that I give that final thumbs up. When I am in the car right before I start the car up, I close my eyes and see myself crossing the finish line — not necessarily winning, just all in one piece. I tell myself “you got this,” open my eyes and make it happen!
How would you describe being behind the wheel of a jet dragster?
The power you feel in front of 5,000 pounds of thrust in a fire-breathing jet dragster is unlike anything I can explain. Just knowing that when you push a button and flow fuel and then push another button, you will go zero to 100 mph in one second is insane!
That part is pretty cool, but the best part is when I get out of the car back at the trailer and see a little girl with her thumbs up saying “Girls Rock.” That’s real power!
What advice would you give to women interested in becoming entrepreneurs?
This one is tough. I think that you can come up with a good business — a lot of people do. But what is going to make your business succeed when others fail? You! You will always be the magic component that sets your business apart. I am a pretty good racecar driver; I make great business decisions!
Stay focused and always ask yourself “why?” before you do anything. If it is not a part of the mission statement of your company, pause and ask yourself if it’s really the direction you want to take your company.
Ask for help. I for sure don’t know it all, but guess what? I surround myself with people who do!
It is a lot of work, but if done right, the payoff is so much better than ever working for someone!
What do you admire in other business people?
I love people who come up with something that starts with a spark and goes into a full inferno! I love people who start businesses that make the world better, that provide a service and that have a purpose.
My dad only had a 7th-grade education – he didn’t even know how to spell the word entrepreneur — but he made something of himself, started his own business and provided for his family and several others. Making money didn’t change him — it just made him work harder. I am a daddy’s girl through and through. Unfortunately, he never was able to see where my life took me. He passed away several years ago, but he planted that seed long ago — now it is up to me to take care of it!
What do you drive when you’re not driving the dragster?
I am an All-American girl who loves her All-American car …Corvette, baby, all the way! I just purchased my first convertible, and my pug Nitro and I can be seen driving around town with big smiles.