A British schoolgirl has taken the international drag racing world by storm by winning the European championships – aged 12.
Brave Paige Wheeler beat racers from all over Europe to claim the title of Junior Dragster Champion at the FIA European Finals at Santa Pod Raceway last weekend.
The tiny speed demon first got behind the wheel one year ago but now drives a drag racer that travels from zero to 60mph in 4.9 seconds.
Paige recently completed an eighth of a mile in 8.941 seconds to win the title with a final speed of 70.67mph.
She beat 13 competitors – including 4 other girls – aged from 10 to 18 to win the title after four rounds in the knockout competition.
The bubbly schoolgirl, from Wellingborough, Northants., said: ”I was a little bit nervous and a bit scared because I had my family there.
”I didn’t think I was going to win but I made sure I went as fast as I could when the green light came on and I was careful with my pedals so that I wouldn’t swerve and it went well.”
Proud dad Andy Wheeler, 37, who is head of international business services at Europcar UK, was overwhelmed by her victory.
He said: ”What Paige has done is unbelievable. Most people expect to race for three or four years without winning anything.
”I never dreamed in a million years that she would win anything for a few years. None of the family have ever done anything like this before.
”I started taking her to watch the racing at Santa Pod when she was eight and she loved it straight away.
”She begged me to let her try but I thought she would be far too intimidated in front of the crowds. I never thought she would be able to race in front of 40,000 people.
”But on her first attempt she was smiling from ear to ear and the officials were impressed with her race times so we got her a car and found sponsorship so she could race.
”Most of the other competitors come from racing families so Paige was a real outsider. Nobody – myself included – thought she was in with a chance.
”We do it because we love it and I don’t put any pressure on Paige but it was an incredible feeling to see her win. I’m very proud of what’s she’s achieved.”
Paige, a pupil at Wrenn School in Wellingborough lives a few miles from the Santa Pod race track with dad Andy and mum Dionne Tomlinson, 31, a school receptionist.
She earned her motor sports association licence in August last year and had competed in just a handful of races before the European championships.
Driving just an inch from the ground in her drag racer, Paige wears a custom-made fireproof suit and gloves, a helmet, a neck brace and boots.
She drives a drag-racer imported from America which is 15ft (4 1/2 metres) long, runs off methanol and has been specially customised to Paige’s size and weight.
Paige’s fastest reaction time is 26-hundredths of a second and her car carries almost 100kg of lead to keep it within the speed limit for her age group.
The Wheelers are now planning to buy a second drag racer for Paige’s younger sister Belle, six, so she can join her sister when she turns eight years old.
Andy Carter, owner of Carter Motorsports, which sponsors Paige, said he was pleased to be backing a winner.
He said: ”I’m very proud of Paige’s success and so glad to be supporting her in any way I can.
”The junior drag racing circuit is very competitive and you have got to be talented to win an international competition.
”Also she’s a 12-year-old racing against 16-year-olds so it really is a fantastic achievement.”
Paige, who is also sponsored by Alamo Rent-A-Car, is due to compete in the MSA British Drag Racing Championship on September 25 and 26.