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Life in the Fast Lane

RON JOHNSON/JOURNAL STAR

By Clara Miles, MA '05
September 30, 2013

At age 9, Rylee Stufflebeam ’17 completed her first pass in a junior dragster. Now, at age 18, she is tied for 14th nationally in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Super Stock series while also shifting gears to learn what it means to be a Bradley freshman.

“I remember my first time in a junior dragster,” Stufflebeam said of her inaugural run in a half-scale version of a Top Fuel Dragster. Although the junior division provided a controlled race environment to ensure the drivers’ safety, one pass was all it took: “I was hooked from then on. It was the most thrilling, exciting thing I had done.” After six years on the circuit, at age 15, she claimed the title of national champion in the Junior Drag Racing League’s Eastern Conference. Last summer, she traded her dragster for a 1998 Pontiac Firebird and moved up a level to the Super Stock category.

A native of Peoria, Stufflebeam caught the racing bug from her father, who also is a successful drag racer. “He’ll be back racing next season,” she explained. “He took a couple years off to focus on me.”

On August 25, while her fellow freshmen were enjoying their first Welcome Week activities, she was driving for her first-ever NHRA divisional win. After completing the quarter mile in 10.356 seconds — at 126.87 mph — she defeated the defending Super Stock division champion. “I love the feeling and sense of pride I get when I run my car,” she noted.

Stufflebeam appreciates that Bradley is a place where she can gain an education and pursue racing. “I’ve been blessed with some amazing professors who are willing to work with me,” she said of finding the right balance between the two. “Ultimately, I see myself as a student-athlete, so it takes prioritizing and time management. … Both school and racing are very important to me, so I’m determined to be successful in both.”

Her road to success currently involves the University’s Academic Exploration Program (AEP), a unique curriculum that helps students identify academic interests, skills, and career options that align with their values and aspirations. “Even if you think you know what you want to do, it’s a great class to take to learn more about yourself,” Stufflebeam said. While currently leaning toward majoring in mechanical engineering or business with an engineering minor, she believes AEP was an excellent place to start “simply because I am receiving direction.”

However, it seems she already knows where she is going, following in the footsteps of many other groundbreaking women, including Lydia Moss Bradley. Less than 10 percent of her fellow Super Stock competitors are female, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. “Women are no different than men, and nothing should stop you from pursuing your goals,” she advised. “It doesn’t matter if you are a racer, an engineer, a nurse, or a lawyer. No matter what you do, be the best you can be, and you will receive the same respect and satisfaction as any other person in that field.”

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