Marla O’Guin is a “jump in and go for it” person.
She was like that as a high-school freshman at Lincoln-Way Central when she tried out for the soccer team.
“I didn’t know how to play the game,” she said. “I didn’t know the rules. My friends were playing.”
She made the team.
O’Guin — then known as Marla Weidenaar — was a junior at Central in 2005 when after one visit to Route 66 Raceway, she became fascinated with the idea of being a mechanic on a nitromethane-powered car.
Today she’s on one of the NHRA’s most notable teams.
The 25-year-old New Lenox native is the clutch assistant on the car driven by 2012 NHRA Funny Car champion Jack Beckman for Don Schumacher Racing.
Among her duties are driving the tow vehicle that brings the car to the starting line and retrieves it after a run. In between runs, she works on the clutch and inspects driveline components.
While she’s a rarity in being a female working under the hood of a nitro-powered machine, O’Guin is far from a novelty.
“It gives this team a lot of credibility having Marla on board,” said Beckman, who will race this weekend in Joliet at the Route 66 Nationals. “We didn’t hire Marla because she is a female. We hired her because she’s a good mechanic.”
O’Guin is a five-year veteran on the NHRA circuit, having began her career as a utility mechanic for Top Fuel competitor Terry McMillen. She spent the last two seasons as a rod/piston specialist on Alexis DeJoria’s Funny Car. Her resume includes a degree in high-performance technology from the University of Northwestern Ohio and a passion for power that she said developed literally overnight.
“Growing up, everything was always about cheerleading and playing with my friends,” she said. “In high school, it was interior design and forensic science. But coming out here that one day sparked something in me.
“Just seeing how much power something like that can make and the sound of them and how it shakes your whole body, I just needed to know how it worked. It was so amazing. I just had to do it.”
During her senior year in high school, O’Guin took an auto-maintenance class and told her family of her career plans.
“I didn’t really think she was [crazy], because I could tell how passionate she was about it,” her mother, Cyndy Weidenaar, said. “I knew she could do anything she put her mind to.”
O’Guin followed her dream to Northwestern Ohio, where she was one of two females in her class.
“When I started in 2006, I just knew how to do an oil change, and I was going to this tech school where they teach you high-performance technology,” O’Guin said. “It was pretty intimidating, and a little nerve-racking, but I pretty much stayed strong.”
The year 2014 has brought big changes, including marrying fellow NHRA mechanic Michael O’Guin and joining Beckman’s team, which had just two returning members from 2013.
“Seven new people on a car is big from learning how each other works, learning even where the tools are in the trailer,” O’Guin said.