Jackie Fricke: Living the dream
By John Bisci
A young girl named Jackie Rogge used to hang out at Maple Grove Raceway, hanging on the fence, dreaming of the day when she would be the one planted in a Top Alcohol Dragster’s cockpit, hurtling down the quarter mile at speeds in excess of 260 miles per hour.
Sometimes dreams come true.
We caught up with Jackie as she waited for her class to be called for the next round of qualifying at Maple Grove’s NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in May.
“I grew up in Havertown, Pennsylvania, about an hour from here,” said Jackie. She now is called Jackie Fricke, after she married a handsome, successful drag racer and moved to New Jersey. She is the owner of Accelerated Travel in Flemington.
“My father, Rich Rogge, drag races, so I went to my first race when I was five years old. He still races at Maple Grove every weekend. I was here bracket racing a couple of weeks ago and drove his dragster, because I like to keep close with my dad and enjoy family time.
“My entire family is involved in racing. My husband Shawn races and he comes to many of the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events with me. He’s competing this week here in Super Street and Super Comp. I have three sisters who all are married to racers. My youngest sister, Amy, usually comes to all of the NHRA Top Alcohol races with me. She has a Super Comp license, although she stopped racing when she had children, so she hasn’t raced in about 13 or 14 years now. My two nephews and two nieces race Jr. Dragsters.”
As a kid, Jackie spent many a humid summer night at what she considers her home track and found a way to be a part of the scene.
“I used to bug the announcers when Mike Lewis was the manager here. His daughters and I were friends and Mike would let me drive the golf cart. I have vivid memories of driving around this race track when there was a rain delay. My sisters worked here and to give them a break, we’d hand out time slips. Then it graduated to it actually being a job. My oldest sister, Barb, worked here probably 15 or 20 years, doing various things.”
Jackie competed in bracket and Super-class events and was quite good at it. But it wasn’t really where she wanted to be, despite winning $30,000 in purses one year. It all goes back to her dream of driving a Top Alcohol Dragster.
“I was a kid at the fence. I watched all the match races here. I still have drawings from when I was seven years old. I would draw Top Alcohol Dragsters with my name on them. I just always wanted to run that class. John Finke is my teammate and is very instrumental in my Top Alcohol racing. I probably would have quit long before…these cars are so difficult to drive. They shake and everything happens so fast. You have to learn to ‘pedal’ it at the right time, when you should stay with it and when to abort a run. It’s enjoyable. I’ve had a dream weekend. I started out in testing and went 5.40 and then I pedaled it to a 5.44, which is a good run. It’s just the feel — getting the feel — but things come at you so fast…there’s a big learning curve. John has been a coach, a mentor, a great friend and supporter — everything you can imagine — and a great teammate as well.
So what happens if it comes down to Jackie Fricke versus John Finke in a Top Alcohol final?
“It’s happened before. We ran in the final at his home track at Lebanon Valley (near Albany, N.Y.) last year. It was Father’s Day, his whole family was there. He beat me. He should have. My car owner, Joe Cantrell is from Exton, Pennsylvania, and owns an auto glass business. We’re still looking for our first win — we’ve had two runner-ups so far. And we made it to the semi-finals at the Charlotte nationals a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had a lot of success with the car. Joe and I have been in A-Fuel together for the last two years. Before that I ran a blown (supercharged) car for Joe. For two years before that, I drove for Tom Jones. They weren’t really complete seasons. I would say this is probably what you would call my third full season. This is by far the best car I’ve had. This two-car team — everyone jelled really well. Everybody’s great to work with. They’re very intelligent and they like to have a good time.
“We work out of John’s race shop in Selkirk, New York. We travel up there on the weekends and they’re definitely my second family. We travel a lot. We started out the season testing in Bradenton, Florida. We plan to finish it up in Las Vegas and Pomona at the end of the year. As long as the car’s running well, Joe is giving me the benefit of going to a lot of races — and we always twist his arm to go to a few more that aren’t on our schedule.
It was time to ask the obvious question: “You’re racing in front of the hometown crowd. Many of these people watched you grow up. What’s it like?”
“Amazing. It’s pretty neat,” Fricke admitted. “My mom, who has never watched me go down the track, was here yesterday when I was No. 1, so that was pretty neat.” (In an interview with CompetitionPlus.com, Jackie stated, “When I was a kid, my mom said that we girls would only race over her dead body. I pretty much had to work on her my whole life.”)
As luck would have it, Jackie didn’t win at Maple Grove that weekend in May. Her husband, Shawn, was runner-up in the Super Comp final to Chase Fahnestock.
But no story about a young girl following her dreams would be complete without a happy ending. On June 15, Fricke had a rendezvous with Wally, the coveted NHRA winner’s trophy. At Lebanon Valley — the very same track she finished runner-up at one year ago, Fricke defeated Canada’s Jeff Veale to earn her first Top Alcohol Dragster final.