It’s Bridget Bell and due to COVID restrictions I’m meeting up virtually with your Flash Femmes Rookie C/Junior Dragster Gabriella Dolan.
As the screen flashes ‘incoming call’ I am casually sitting at the dining room table, thinking of the bubbly red-headed child that I’ve seen at the Perth Motorplex since she was small. The composed, lithe young lady that flashes on my screen is not the little girl I was expecting.
She sits in front of the ring light in her mother’s make-up studio looking every part the progeny of her globally recognisable model ascendant, her terracotta singlet complementing her spry ginger tones. Gabby is exuberant in her greeting, a glimpse of how engaging this exchange is going to be.
What did you get for Christmas?
“Santa gave me Air Jordans! I got a candle, some Air Pods, some make up, clothes, lollies a picture of a girl on a scooter with Chanel bags, oh I love Chanel! And I also got this cup!” – proudly holding forth a large lilac insulated steel tumbler so I can see the molten liquid gold Chanel logo artwork to the camera.
What has been your summer holiday highlight so far?
“My favourite… has been NitroMax because I feel like I did really well. I didn’t make it to the finals but I didn’t break out or red light. Jet Martin was very very close to breaking out so I pushed him right to the finish line. In the grudges I was up against Nathan Townsend and that was my first actual race win” she says with a heartfelt grin as she relives the moment.
Gabby, a lot of your family are involved in motorsport, can you please explain who has competed and what do they ride or drive?
“Poppa he hasn’t raced, but he has a Monaro which he will race one day. My uncle Mark and uncle Garry used to run a supercharged outlaw until 2010 then they got the door slammer and they’ve been racing that ever since” she states casually, referring to Chapman Brothers Racing; whom are instantly recognisable for piloting their gold Fury to consistent high 5.80 second passes.
“My Nanny she used to race in Modified until roughly 2016, she did race a normal street bike before that.” Gabby displays a nonchalance of one desensitised to the sight of Dale Gummow’s imposing big block rear engine rail car ‘Memphis Belle’ and her equally impressive 1400CC Suzuki Modified Bike.
Breezily she describes the supercharged four-cylinder wrestled by Kevin Gummow “Poppa-bike races a Nitro Bike, or Top Fuel Bike”, the freckles on her nose dance as it wrinkles affectionately upon airing the family’s pet name for the seasoned race veteran.
“Mum reverses the door slammer [for Chapman Bros Racing], she used to reverse the supercharged outlaw. A couple of years before I was born, Mum used to skid in a pink ute, she still has it in the shed.” She looks around sheepishly to see if her mum is listening, wondering if she’s said too much.
“Dad hasn’t raced anything yet, he’s just waiting for a Lotto win. And now I’ve come along.”
Seasoned spectator, rookie racer – how did you get here?
“I don’t know” says Gabby.
“Lots of Mum and Dad’s money” Michelle Dolan chimes in from the other room.
Gabriella sits for a moment reflecting on how it all came about. “I was presented a great opportunity from Peter Townsend. He knew Mum was looking for a car for me to race, and he had a spare car for me to try out, he took it down to the Perth Motorplex to see if I was comfortable in it… Without Peter (@kitchensbypeter) I wouldn’t be racing right now.”
“I licensed in October and started racing November. It’s nerve racking for the first run, but once you know how fast the car is going then you feel excited to race more runs; if I know I ran a good pass and the car is running well. I’m in C Junior Dragster, but I’m turning 11 years old in January. This will be my last month as a C then I can go into a B. 8.60 [seconds] is a really big jump.”
What are the rules for a C junior dragster?
“Each division is speed limited. 11.90 for a C, 12.00 seconds for qualifying; if you go 11.85-11.90 you get a warning from the ANDRA Stewards. They watch every pass and will see you if you go faster than you’re supposed to be in rounds [qualifying] they’ll tell you to go home.” She hurriedly describes, excited to be firmly in her wheelhouse.
“When I was at Goldenstates I only did one pass, in the second qualifier. I dialled 12 something seconds and I ran a 10.90 and that was way too fast. I asked if I was still okay to race and the officials were like “‘yeah, yeah’ but then they came to speak with Mum and Dad in the pits and they told us we had to pack up.”
Talk me through arriving at the track; what is you process, where do you go and what do you do?
“Once we’re in the gate, we go to our pit, we set up and go around and say ‘hi’ to everyone and the people pitted next to us. We go to sign-in to get wrist bands; you can’t go on to the track without a wrist band. We go back to the pit and wait. When it’s nearly time to go to staging lanes, I gear up and we roll out and sit in the car, ready to race.”
Tell me about pack up and the preparation before your next race meet?
“Dad will do all the car’s maintenance at the track before we pack up, ready for the next round.”
How steep is the learning curve? Is it very hard to learn to race?
“I was very nervous at first, I thought you had to do all these things. But you just need to watch the lights, press the accelerator and then you go.
“I don’t really have to do much steering until I turn at the end. The car drives very straight, I just push the pedal and go. I just have to make sure the engine is working and running and sounding nice.”
Can parallels be drawn between your dancing and your drag racing?
“I am still dancing, we go back when school starts, I’m now moving into intermediate in February; dancing Tuesday, Thursdays and Friday. If I wasn’t dancing I wouldn’t be able to maintain my fitness, and that helps me at the track.
“Dancing is more consuming, drag racing can be hard, because there’s lights and the run, but dancing there’s so much to remember, the steps, the make up, the music. So both can be hard. I’ve been dancing for 8 years, its been every week – so it’s been constant. Drag racing is more in the holidays, so I’m dancing more that I drag race.”
If drag racing was divided into good and evil, what/who would be the adversary and what/who would be the hero?
“Drag racing there’s lots of kind people, it’s hard to choose a hero. And when you’re sitting at the tree, you want to cut a good tree, but you don’t want to red light, so you don’t want to got too soon. So when I leave the line I thinking ‘did I cut a good light, do I need to go faster or slower’?” She visibly wrestles internally over the mental calculations required to deliver a winning package. “And then as I cross the full track finish line, I can see my ET [from the end of the half track pass], so I know how I did.” She outlines her struggle with the villainous starting lights.
How do you feel about being a girl racer? Do you think it’s any different for girls and boys?
“I think the boys think it’s going to be easy, like a ten year old competing against a one year old. But there’s actually heaps of good girl racers. It’s not like the boys are mean or anything, they all show such good sportsmanship and everyone is really nice… Even though we’re girls, we can still win” she says with conviction.
What is the best question another kid at school has asked you?
“All my best friends know I race, my teacher knows I race and everyone wants to know how I did when I get back to school… if I miss school after a meet they all worry and say ‘oh no, what has she done?’. They’re all really supporting and want to come watch me… One of my best friends asked have I won a meeting yet, I had to explain that it doesn’t work like that and when you’re just starting you’re not expected to win.”
“I’m the only kid in my school who drag races, so nobody really knows about how drag racing really works and all of the hard work behind the scenes.”
What are your dreams and goals?
“One of my dreams in drag racing, I’m not saying it will happen anytime soon; but you never know, is to win a meeting.
“Once I age out of juniors I hope to still be racing after that. My dream is to win a meeting. It will happen one day. Hopefully.”
Who are you idols, in racing or outside of it?
“I have lots, but my idols are definitely my Mum and Dad.
There’s lots of us Courtney Force drives a nitro funny car, Brittany force she drives a top fuel. There’s lots of others too, but I really admire Courtney Force.”
Have you got anything else you’d like to add Gabriella?
“I’d like to thank Mum, Dad, Peter (@kitchensbypeter) I wouldn’t be racing without him, my sponsors – @coconutzicecream made a custom ice cream out of incredible dairy free ice cream with gold in it, @hypevisualperth who produced my sponsor stickers, Sensual Elements Candles, Chapman Brothers Racing, Scruffy from B.L. & S.G. Lake Brick and Paving Cartage Contractors, Marty Z and @becauseracecar.”