ARMOLD: New Freedom businesswoman makes unusual journey from ice capades to drag racing
When Dina Parise has a goal, she goes after it, full throttle.
It's her natural drive to succeed that has taken the former Ice Capades skater to the top of the International Hot Rod Association's Crower Pro Mod Series.
Parise, who has a business in New Freedom, locked up the 2015 IHRA Crower Pro Mod World Championship on Saturday at the 12th and final Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series race of the season at Memphis International Raceway in Millington, Tennessee.
Reaching the semifinals at Saturday's event gave her enough season points to wrap up the title. Points are accumulated throughout the season schedule based on performance at each event.
The Pro Mod class made its return to IHRA action this year after a lengthy absence. Parise won the title during her debut season in IHRA competition, highlighted by a pair of runner-up finishes in seven Pro Mod events.
IHRA is a circuit similar to the National Hot Rod Association but mainly differs in engine size, rules and where races are held. Both IHRA and NHRA racers speed down a 1/4-mile stretch. And, as the names denote, some IHRA competitions are held outside of the United States.
Skating background: Growing up on Long Island, New York, Parise took to the ice at an early age, wanting to mix it up in hockey with the boys. Parise's love of skating led her to try out for the Ice Capades. She initially had to lie about her height. At 5-foot, 1-inch, she wouldn't have met the 5-foot, 5-inch requirement. Parise was accepted onto the national tour at that audition and spent four years traveling the United States and Canada performing with the group.
"When I skated for the ice show, I always did the wild and crazy numbers," Parise said. "I flew with a wire on my back about 20 feet in the air, and I also did a circus number where I hung by one wrist 21 feet in the air and got spun around in the air. So I've always been a little bit of a daredevil in that respect. "
Trading sequins for a fire suit: It's that thrill-seeking attitude that ultimately led her to, as she put it, trade in her sequins for a fire suit.
Parise's husband, Andrew, is also a drag racer, and it was seeing her husband build and race his 1967 Camaro that initially sparked Dina's interest in racing.
Parise's love of drag racing was cemented when she attended a Super Chevy Show that Andrew was competing at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton.
After seeing Andrew turn the Camaro into a Pro Mod car, Dina decided she wanted to get behind the wheel competitively. She then went to the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School and earned her Super Gas license.
The two then became a husband/wife two-car team, Dina competing in her husband's Camaro before acquiring her own 1967 Camaro body, originally intended for the Top Sportsman class. But, always seeking a challenge, Dina decided she wanted to enter the Pro Mod Division.
Driving 'Stella': Eventually, Dina would make the move to her current car — a red Cadillac CTS-V named 'Stella.'
"Originally I'm from New York, so I kind of tell everybody: 'Every Italian girl from New York needs a 3,000-horsepower Cadillac," Dina said. "She's a beautiful red and her name is 'Stella.' She's named after my grandma, who was a crazy red-headed Italian and we thought that it kind of suited the car."
Andrew played a prominent role in Dina's title this season, and has played a huge part in her overall racing career. When the team realized an IHRA Pro Mod championship was a reality, Andrew sold his ride to help Dina secure hers. He also serves as Dina's car chief.
"He kind of takes care of everything. He's a one-man band," Dina said. "When we come home, he tears the car down, he does all the maintenance, he prefers it that way.
"With a car that goes 240 mph, you really want to be up on everything, from every little weld to every little mechanical piece."
Dina also utilizes Andrew's knowledge and experience in the driver's seat. She says while each has a totally different racing personality, they ultimately are a complementary pairing.
Parise also relied on the vast expertise of 2006 IHRA Pro Mod champion Quain Stott, who joined the team in midseason and serves as crew chief. Parise credits his help as a key component in her title run.
"He's one of the reasons we secured this championship, so I can't thank him enough," Parise said. "One of the first things he said to me (after winning the title) was: 'Welcome to the club.'"
New Freedom business: Parise's love of all things racing extends beyond the track. She is also the President of Andi-Con Performance located in New Freedom.
"We are a performance shop. We do mostly bolt-on performance," Dina said. "Some for street, some for racing, just depending on what the customer needs."
The shop also sells various racing-related products. This area's love of racing was a huge draw for the Parise and her husband in setting up shop locally.
"This is kind of a hot-bed, motor sports community, so that was what drew us to coming (to New Freedom), so we thought we would give it a shot," Parise said.
One of the biggest thrills Dina said racing has provided her over her decade-plus career was being part of a two-car team with her husband.
"Racing with my husband was the most fun, because we are our biggest competitors," Dina said. "That makes it a lot of fun, and makes it a lot of fun for the fans too. I like to beat him, he likes to beat me."
Dina added that aside from defending her crown, another goal for next season is to again have Andrew on the team in the driver's seat.
— Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org; @EADispatch on Twitter