Zetterstrom happy to ‘finally’ get on track ahead of NHRA Top Fuel debut

Ida Zetterstrom has put her first passes behind the wheel of an NHRA Top Fuel dragster in the books with multiple test sessions over the last two weeks.

Zetterstrom got behind the wheel for the first time Monday following the Arizona Nationals in Phoenix. The 2023 FIA European Top Fuel champion, who hails from Sweden, has relocated to the United States and will compete with JCM Racing as a teammate to eight-time champion Tony Schumacher.

“It was a good day,” Zetterstrom told RACER after the Phoenix test. “We had a really successful test session. It was great for me to finally be able to jump in the car and make some laps.”


The original plan was for Zetterstrom to begin testing after the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing season began in Gainesville last month. However, because she had not entered the event, she could not get on track. It made the wait even longer for Zetterstrom, whose emotions and nerves were pushed to post-Phoenix.

“I felt really calm,” Zetterstrom said. “I felt really calm and ready. I’ve gotten to know the team I have around me, and we’ve worked together on this for some months. So, I felt very comfortable and very calm and collected. Of course, going down to the line in the tow car, I did feel some butterflies just the fact that you don’t really know what to expect when you’re in a new car, and this doesn’t matter if you’re in the U.S. or Europe.

“Every car is different, and you’re still waiting to find out what you’re dealing with because a lot of things you can try in the pit and the workshop, but when you actually hit the track that’s how you find out how the car is reacting. Also, the fact that I haven’t been in a Top Fuel (dragster) since the first week of September when our season started in Europe, and I think if you ask most of the drivers making those first hits of the year, it’s always a little bit more exciting or butterflies than it is otherwise. But as soon as we made it to the line and I jumped in the car to start getting ready, I felt no stress or butterflies but really calm and at home in the car. So that was good.”

Zetterstrom tested the brand-new car built for her at Phoenix. A week later, the Monday after the 4-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas, she tested in Schumacher’s backup car because the team wanted to work on things.

For the first time, she is driving a canopy car, and it’s giving her quite a bit to adjust to, not just being quieter in the cockpit. She’s also working with an in-car radio system. Zetterstrom admitted she’d always previously raced with an open cockpit and no earplugs, which allowed her to hear everything.

“One difference with that that didn’t hit me before is I knew when I sat in the car and had the cockpit closed, I had a slimmer vision out of the car than I had with my open cockpit car when I raced in Europe,” Zetterstrom said. “I could see my whole front wing; I saw very wide. In this, it’s more slimmed down and you don’t have the same width when looking down the car.

“Then it’s small things like towing the car up to the track and you have the canopy open, and it’s like having two big pillars on the side where you can’t see – a big blind spot. It’s stuff like that you have to get used to. It’s not a problem in any way. It’s just things I’m not used to and have to get a feel for.”

The feel of the dragsters is different, too. Zetterstrom noted that a Top Fuel driver is constantly making small corrections during a run, and the NHRA dragster reacted “way different” to her inputs than what she’s felt in Europe. After the first shakedown pass in testing, Zetterström understood how she had to adjust her steering, and things felt better going forward.

Zetterstrom and JCM Racing also spent time going through racetrack routines – the speed of getting things done, hand signals, and backing up from a burnout – to understand he way each side likes to work and finding a common middle ground.

Although Zetterstrom has a car ready for her to compete, it will still be a few months before she makes her debut. The team is still being put together and there is plenty of inventory still needed before the program can run as it should. In the meantime, sheworks in the race shop every day and feels comfortable in a racing environment. It’s a different story going grocery shopping or learning that dryer sheets are vital to doing laundry.

A third test for Zetterstrom will take place in Indianapolis.

“I’m learning patience,” Zetterstrom laughed about her Top Fuel debut. “I’m maybe not the most patient person, but the good thing with this is I’m patient because I know why it takes time and every day, we’re doing something that is working toward the debut. I know when my debut will be, so I have a date that I can count down to. We’re sharing that date quite soon. But this is not an opportunity that came about because there was a team that had a car sitting and wanted a driver.

“This wasn’t a team looking for a second driver. This is a team that is creating this opportunity for me for the fact that they want me out full-time and want me to be with them in the long run. So that’s, of course, taking more time than if there was an operation that already had a car. So, in my mind, this is bigger because I know we’re creating it around me, and the fact that the team wants me on board. That’s an honor, and it feels great to be a part of this process. At least I’m not sitting sidelined and waiting for the date to arrive; I’m working closely with the team to get to where we want with everything, and I feel like I have my chance here to be very involved with this (team).

“I think all this waiting and being a part of this process is going to make this mean even more to me when we come out and race full-time.”

Story originally appeared on Racer