She’s 16, a drag racer and dedicated to the Marines

Burlington County Times

MAPLE SHADE — Don't blink.

You might miss Maria Baehr speeding by in her 2006 Gerdelmann Slingshot, the car she drives when she races in the Junior Drag Racing League.

Baehr's hobby might be a little unconventional for a 16-year-old high school sophomore, but don't be fooled. This dragster has a need for speed.

“She's my little daredevil,” Maria's father, Bill Baehr, said.

Maria, who attends Holy Cross High School in Delran, has been drag racing for three years. She drives for the Navy Racing Team, which is part of the Junior Drag Racing League.

The league, founded in 1992, has more than 4,000 drivers who compete at 130 race tracks in North America, including Atco Raceway in Camden County, Maria's home track.

Drag racing is a form of auto racing in which two vehicles race on a short, about 660 feet, straightaway, starting from a dead stop.

The cars the junior racers drive can produce speeds of up to 90 mph and can cover the track in less than 8 seconds.

Boys and girls from ages 8 to 17 compete in the Junior Drag Racing League.

“It's the adrenaline rush I get from it that I love,” Maria said. “Not many people can say they drag race and not many girls can say it. It's neat to see the reaction from people when I tell them I drag race. I don't think it sets me apart, it's just a unique talent that I have.”

This year, Maria finished among the top five racers in points at Atco and qualified for nationals in Tennessee. The season runs from March to October. Three years ago, Maria finished fourth out of 190 entries at nationals.

But it is the car itself and not her racing accomplishments that received some unexpected attention.

Maria's car is unique in the league because it has “U.S. Marines” written in large, bold red letters on its body.

It is dedicated to her grandfather, Anthony Saporito, a technical sergeant who served in World War II.

“The car is dedicated to my grandpop, but it's also a thank you to the Marines and their service to our country,” Maria said.

Mike Starn, a curator for the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., saw Maria's car at an air show her family was attending at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Starn asked Maria if the car could be displayed during the dedication and official opening of the museum, which President Bush will attend.

So tomorrow, Maria's car will be on display at the dedication ceremony for the new 100,000-square-foot museum, which is located on a 135-acre site adjacent to the Marine Corps base in Quantico. On hand will be Maria, her father and her grandfather.

“It's a way to let those Marines know that we appreciate what they do and it's a way to give back,” Bill Baehr said of the markings on the car. “It's going to be a special day.”