NHRA: New Lenox’s Marla O’Guin fuels her passion
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org June 27, 2014 9:00PM
Marla O'Guin | Photo courtesy of NHRA
Sportsman eliminations, 9 a.m.
Comp eliminator, Round 2, 10:30 a.m.
Jegs Allstar, Round 1, all categories, 1 p.m.
Top Alcohol qualifying session, 2:30 p.m.
Jegs Allstar, Round 2, 3:15 p.m.
Pro Stock qualifying session (PS Motorcycle/PS Car), 4:15 p.m.
Nitro qualifying session (Dragster/Funny Car), 5 p.m.
Jegs Allstar, finals, 6:30 p.m.
Pro Stock qualifying session (PS Motorcycle/PS Car), 7:15 p.m.
Nitro qualifying session (Dragster/Funny Car), 8 p.m.
Sportsman eliminations, 8:30 a.m.
Top Alcohol eliminations, Round 1, 9 a.m.
Nitro eliminations, Round 1, 11 a.m.
Pro Stock eliminations, Round 1, noon
Top Alcohol eliminations, Round 2, 12:15 p.m.
Nitro eliminations, Round 2, 1 p.m.
Pro Stock eliminations, Round 2, 1:30 p.m.
Sportsman eliminations, semifinals, 1:45 p.m.
Top Alcohol eliminations, semifinals, 2:25 p.m.
Nitro eliminations, semifinals, 2:30 p.m.
Pro Stock eliminations, 2:45 p.m.
Sportsman eliminations, finals, 3 p.m.
Top Alcohol eliminations, finals, 3:45 p.m.
Pro Stock eliminations, finals, 3:50 p.m.
Nitro eliminations, finals, 3:55 p.m.
Updated: June 28, 2014 8:46PM
Marla O’Guin is a “jump in and go for it” person.
She was like that as a freshman at Lincoln-Way Central High School when she tried out for the soccer team.
“I didn’t know how to play the game, she said. “I didn’t know the rules. My friends were playing.”
She made the team.
O’Guin — then known as Marla Weidenaar — was a junior at Central in 2005 when after one visit to Route 66 Raceway she became fascinated with the idea of being a mechanic on a top fuel car.
Today she’s on one of the NHRA’s most notable teams.
The 25-year-old New Lenox native is the clutch assistant on the car driven by 2012 NHRA funny car champion Jack Beckman for Don Schumacher Racing.
Among her duties are driving the tow vehicle that brings the car to the starting line and retrieves it after a run. In between runs she works on the clutch and inspects driveline components.
While she’s a rarity in being a female working under the hood of a powerful nitro dragster, O’Guin is far from a novelty.
“I think it gives this team a lot of credibility having Marla on board,” said Beckman, who is competing this weekend at the Route 66 Nationals. “We didn’t hire Marla because she is a female. We hired her because she’s a good mechanic.”
O’Guin is a five-year veteran on the NHRA circuit, having began her career as a utility mechanic for top fuel competitor Terry McMillen. She spent the past two seasons as a rod/piston specialist on the Alexis DeJoria funny car squad.
She brought to the NHRA a resume that included a degree in high performance technology from the University of Northwestern Ohio and a passion for power that she said developed literally overnight.
“Growing up, everything was always about cheerleading and playing with my friends,” she said. “In high school it was interior design and forensic science. But coming out here that one day just sparked something in me that I just had to do it.
“Just seeing how much power something like that can make and the sound of them and how it shakes your whole body, I just needed to know how it worked. It was so amazing. I just had to do it.”
During her senior year at Lincoln-Way Central, O’Guin took an auto maintenance class and told her family of her career plans.
“I didn’t really think she was (crazy) because I could tell how passionate she was about it,” her mother, Cyndy Weidenaar, said. “I knew she could do anything she put her mind to.”
O’Guin followed her dream to Northwestern Ohio, where she was one of two females in her class.
“When I started in 2006 I just knew how to do an oil change, and I was going to this tech school where they teach you high performance technology,” O’Guin said. “It was pretty intimidating, and a little nerve-racking, but I think I pretty much stayed strong.”
She got her first break when she was hired by McMillen’s Amalie Oil top fuel team. She has continued to earn them ever since.
The year 2014 has brought big changes, including marrying fellow NHRA mechanic Michael O’Guin and joining a Beckman team that had just two returning members from 2013.
At the NHRA Spring Nationals in Houston, Beckman posted a season-high second-place finish.
“Seven new people on a car is big from learning how each other works, learning even where the tools are in the trailer,” O’Guin said. “To make it to the finals in Houston with a team that was known as an underdog ... that was exciting.”