Llewellyn's road to history: a quarter-mile at 190 mph
The track looks simple: dead straight and wide open.A quarter-mile of opportunity dressed in black, it cares not for pedigree or past. Speed and courage are the only two requirements to be invited onto its shimmering floor. Before the riot of noise and blur of shape that play out here, the strip holds a Sunday brand of silence. But when the lights count down and the gauges top out, make no mistake: The sound is most unholy. It is a sound that sought Peggy Llewellyn out and called her forward. She had the credentials -- the craving for acceleration and the complete bravery -- to make herself at home here. And in the blinding rush past the finish line, she also had the talent to make some history. "It feels empowering," Llewellyn says, "because you're the first to do it. That's something you'll take with you that no else has done. You're the first." She smiles; for a moment at least, the first minority woman ever to win a National Hot Rod Association race is sitting still, not rushing forward.
African-American and Hispanic, speed is a part of Llewellyn's DNA. She grew up in a racing family, watching her father drag motorcycles down the strip at the old Alamo Dragway in San Antonio, Texas. Eugene Llewellyn took his family there for outings. And it wasn't long before he was showing his children how to race. Peggy was hooked from the start.
ESPN's series on sports pioneers called "Breaking Barriers" began on Tuesday with the chronicle of Willie O'Ree, who broke the color barrier in the National Hockey League 50 years ago, and continued Wednesday with a story about Kit DesLauriers, who skied the highest peaks on each of the globe's seven continents.On Thursday, ESPN featured 16-year-old Aaron Fotheringham, who suffers from spina bifida but became the first wheelchair athlete to successfully land a back flip in the sport he calls "hard-core sitting." And it concluded with the Peggy Llewellyn story about the first female minority to compete in Pro-Stock motorcycle drag-racing. • Breaking Barriers: O'Ree | Rinaldi: Breaking the ice
• Rinaldi: DesLauriers's seven summits on skis
• Breaking Barriers: Fotheringham | Rinaldi: How he rolls
• Breaking Barriers: Llewellyn | Rinaldi: How he rolls
Llewellyn is working on a partnership with a new sponsor for the upcoming season, and plans to compete in the first event of the year, the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville in March. In the meantime, she continues to work as a real estate agent. As for the meaning of her ground-breaking victory last season, it is still sinking in. It has been, well, a blur. "I get e-mails from fans that say, 'Now I have someone that looks like me, and is doing this,'" she says. "It feels awesome. I'd like to go into schools and talk to young kids, just tell my story. It doesn't matter what you look like; if you have a dream, any dream, it can be accomplished." Tom Rinaldi is an ESPN correspondent based in the New York City Bureau, contributing to "SportsCenter," "Outside the Lines," "College GameDay" and "NFL Countdown."
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