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In Russia lived a girl with a passion for horses. So encompassing was her obsession with the magnificent beasts, she could not get enough of them. She collected three hundred horses and yet she yearned for more. Five hundred, then a thousand horses still did not please her. When she had acquired fifteen hundred horses, the girl - now a woman - nearly broke into a grin. Meet Maria Panova. She's smilin' now. And her equestrian passion continues to progress, unabated.
Like many of my human connections, this one took the scenic route. My Kiwi friends Fingerz Mullan and Andi Whitley recently posted some new photos of their Nitro Ape Altered on Facebook. I was so taken with the images that I sought out the photographer. That quest delivered me to places foreign and wondrous.
To consider Maria Panova just another photographer is a gross disservice to her and a mistake. She's a full-on photojournalist staffer for Russia's Tuning magazine. She covers the action wherever it happens on earth, firsthand.
Maria makes her home in Nakhodka, in eastern Russia (on the Sea of Japan). She races an All-Wheel-Drive Toyota Soarer that is based in Moscow - 10,000 kilometers (6,214 miles) away. Maria racks up ungodly frequent flier miles. Her ascent to the top of Russia's quarter mile hierarchy has been remarkable. I can't assimilate Maria's accent, so will let her tell the tale, while I perform some moderate editing and seat-of-the-pants translating, in an attempt to dodge the language barrier...
"There are no racers in my family. I'm the only crazy one. That's why, when I began street racing in 2003, my family objected, a lot. I soon came to the detour road - my car. That was a Toyota Chaser Tourer V, with 280 horsepower. It ran 12.80s. That was actually pretty fast at the time. Drag racing was riding a new wave of popularity in Russia then, because of the Fast and Furious films (laughs)."
"One pass made me very popular in Russia, in the year 2007: From 2005 to 2008, a group of people organized a very cool race - a mega event - the only one of its kind in Russia, where came the fastest cars in the country. People dreamed about this event and built cars just to win it. It's called Drag-Bitva (or Drag Battle). I dreamed to participate, too. My husband sold his car, and for our anniversary, gifted me a 500 horsepower Toyota MR2 with a manual transmission, which I'd never driven before. Can you believe it? I went to the most prestigious event in Russia without knowing how how to drive my car! I practiced while driving there, and we discovered the shifter wasn't working right."
"On race day, the best cars in Russia were on the line. Among them was the winner of the event in 2005 and 2006 - the fastest car in Russia - a Nissan Skyline GTR R-32. It held the record at 8.80 seconds. I qualified with an 11.40. Other cars were much faster - 10 and 9 seconds - and that guy, Mr. 8.80, was at the top of the list. Some cars behind me broke, and I found myself in 8th position. I had the slowest car, and had to race against HIM, 8.80, Double Champion. I was very nervous. First, I made a false start (at that time, one false start was permissible). My second try was epic: His driveshaft broke and he slowed, but was still very fast. Everything came down to reaction time. Mine was 0.04, his was 0.40." Maria sent me a link to that final round: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe9LUzb7UhM You better have a hanky at the ready. Epic, indeed.
"At that 2007 race, I met my future team: Total Race, from Moscow. The next year, I returned to Drag-Bitva, depressed because I didn't have a fast car, but I couldn't miss this event. When I arrived, I met with the Total Race team and they had brought their car (the Toyota Soarer) to test, but needed a driver. They had been building it for five years and nobody knew. No one was more happy than me at that moment! But I didn't know what I was in for... I see the car for the first time, and it looks fast. The fastest I'd driven at that point was 11.40."
"But I did it. The first run was a 9.40. Then it went faster. I updated the Russian record from 8.80 (remember that R-32?) to 8.70. I know it sounds like a story about Cinderella! From there, we went faster and faster. I bought parts, but we had many technical problems. In 2011, we tested the car at a race. Our record had been broken and the best time in Russia was now an 8.32. We bit that record down to 8.23. Another epic day!"
"I live in Russia from spring to fall, during the race season. Then I leave for New Zealand (specific location undisclosed), to work." Jeez. And I thought I was living the life...
A conspicuous figure in motorsports, Maria's every move is well documented. I selected a few images depicting a life lived in the eye of the coolest storm on the planet...
(Photo by Popeye Pics)
But it's the imagery that Maria transmits from her discerning eye to her camera that puts food on her table and parts on her cars. This is but a small taste. You'll find a veritable feast, online. Attention Editors: Maria is available to supply photos to your publication. Her agreement with Tuning magazine is not exclusive.
Proof positive: When open to life's possibilities, humans can exceed even their own expectations. And the ripple effect of their actions can inspire others, even as far away as... America. Thanks Maria. I needed this.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS:
JIM LINDSAY'S SALT QUEST
In last week's announcement of Jim Lindsay's Modified Roadster entry, it was erroneously reported that Jim's flathead V-8 will run a 6-71 roots blower. Chassis fabricator and all-around swell guy Marty Strode corrects, "(Engine assembler) Justin is going with a centrifugal-type. I guess the main thing is to keep the boost at ten pounds or under, or it will blow up!" Thanks, Marty. And our apologies to all parties for the confusion.
SQUIRRELS AND TOOLBOXES:
NEXT WEEK: The biggest news ever! Start working out now - you'll need every ounce of strength you can muster to digest this monster post! You've been warned.