When 8-year-old Elizabeth Garver launched her Junior Dragster down the dragstrip at Lancaster National Speedway and Dragway last month it launched Lockport youngster's career in the sport and continued her family's long association with drag racing that now stretches over four generations.
What began many decades ago with veteran driver/car owner Vince Rastelli Sr. has been handed down to his family through many branches of his drag racing family tree.
Vince Sr., got his two kids, Vince Jr., and Sharon, involved many years ago. When Sharon married fellow drag racer Glenn Hughes, they had four children of their own, Robert, Laura, Virginia (Cutter) and Matt. Robert, Virginia and Matt have all competed in the sport. Laura never drove but did spend a season a few years ago as Miss Lancaster. While Robert and Virginia no longer compete, Matt still can be found racing at Lancaster, where he won the Street class two weeks ago.
For good measure the late Ford Hughes has had three of his five kids active in drag racing, including Glenn Hughes, Phil Hughes and Holly Welsh. Ford Hughes owned drag machines that were driven by Phil.
Glenn and Sharon retired as drivers many seasons ago and now serve at Lancaster as the drag racing program's chief starter and race director, respectively. Phil and Holly also are Lancaster drag racing officials.
Elizabeth Garver is the stepdaughter of Virginia Cutter and the granddaughter of Glenn and Sharon.
Garver had a misfortune in her maiden race when her dragster suffered a mechanical setback. But she says that she is looking forward to her racing venture. Elizabeth is about to enter the fourth grade at the Charles Upson Elementary School in Lockport.
"I'm very excited about racing," Elizabeth said. "My dad (Derek Cutter), Uncle Matt and my grandpa are helping me. I hope I win."
Sharon recalled the families racing roots.
"My dad started this whole thing," Sharon said. "He started racing when he was younger and then he became interested again a little bit later in his life.
"My earliest memories of my dad racing probably was when he would go to Niagara in the mid-1970s. My brother actually drove the car too, although I don't know if there were rules about age limits back then but I know he didn't even have a driver's license. When my dad bought the Fiat in the 1980s, my dad and brother would take turns driving it."
In the later years, Vince Jr., took over his father's driving chores, when they obtained the family Alcohol Funny Car, and he still climbs behind the wheel of his dad's car today. The team won the recent Nitro Nationals Alcohol Funny Car event held at Toronto Motorsports Park, as they did in 2014 and 2016.
Eventually Sharon got involved in competition, not only finding that she had a need for speed but her involvement coincided with romance when she met Glenn.
"What's strange is that I didn't even go to the drag races all that much at the track until 1987 and that's where I met Glenn," Sharon said. "Then I started going all the time because Glenn was racing. And then I also started driving his car and I got my dragster license probably in 1990 and then we got a second dragster in 1992 so that we each could race."
Sharon's biggest victory was in 1995, when she won the Quick Rod class at the IHRA Empire Nationals in Leicester. Glenn and Sharon kept competing until taking some time off from the sport in the early 2000s. Soon Lancaster needed help in the officials department so the pair returned to the sport.
"I said at the time to Glenn that I didn't miss racing but I missed the people at the track so I went to work then as the assistant race director and Glenn still continued to race and then he decided he would become an official too. He became the starter and we sold both of our cars. At that time our kids were racing Junior Dragsters. When they outgrew that the only one who stayed interested and involved was Matt."
"On her first night this year at Lancaster, Elizabeth made one run and the car broke," Sharon said. "We weren't sure if she was going to like it but when her car broke and she couldn't race she cried so we knew she liked it. The following week it rained and the week after that Lancaster was closed for the Fourth of July but she will race these next weeks to complete her Junior Dragster license runs and then be out there most every Tuesday.
"The years have all gone so fast. "
For Vince Rastelli Sr., enjoying his own history in the sport along with watching the family involvement blossom over the years has proven very rewarding.
"I started drag racing in the 1950s at Dunkirk," Vince Sr., said. "I stopped drag racing for awhile and I moved to California in 1963 and didn't drag race but I helped people. In 1967, I moved back for business reasons and then 1968 or 1969 I bought a Tempest with a 421 cubic inch Pontiac motor. I ran it over at Lancaster somewhere in the early 1970s. We raced for quite awhile at different tracks, especially Lancaster. In 1986, I went to Funny Car school (Frank Hawley's Driving School) and when I came back I bought the Fiat. My son Vinnie Jr., and I both drove and then I stopped driving when my son got a lot better then me. Eventually we got the Alcohol Funny Car and he's driven it all these years.
"This has kept my family together and we keep getting together and there's no telling how long it will go. It's been fun but I'm not sure if the fifth generation will come along someday. We'll see."
The Rastelli team Alcohol Funny Car will make a match race appearance Aug. 11 at Lancaster.