Marisha Falk is one of only six women worldwide licensed to drive jet-powered vehicles. A seasoned Jet Dragster Driver, Marisha has piloted a 1350 lb jet-powered vehicle with 5,000 lbs of thrust at 300 MPH in over 50 events. Marisha is also an aircraft pilot with over 2000 hours of total flight time and as a Specialized Training Manager at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, she manages a team of 15 instructor pilots and 120 flight students. In this interview, she talks about her love for Jet Dragster Racing and how she got started with it.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up as the middle child of three girls in Kenosha, WI. My father would always say, “I was the son he never had!” Growing up I did everything Dad wanted to do and I developed a passion for aviation and cars at a young age. As a tomboy, I loved any sort of speed or adrenaline and had no fear. My sisters and I could always be found outside riding horses, 4-wheelers, hunting, fishing or playing sports. My family relocated to Florida during my senior year of High School which at the time, did not make me happy. It was then I found out about Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and knew that is where I wanted to go and to pursue a career in Aviation. I am a double Alumni of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Science and a Master’s degree in Business Administration. I hold my multi-engine air transport pilot rating, gold seal flight instructor certificate, advanced and instrument ground instructor certificates, and have logged over 2,000 flight hours. I am also 1 of 6 women in the world currently licensed to drive jet-powered vehicles; reaching speeds over 280 MPH in 5.5 seconds.
What motivated you to become a jet dragster driver?
From a young age, I have had a passion for adrenaline and always enjoyed challenging myself to push life to the limits. I was raised to believe that with enough hard work anything is possible. When I was first introduced to jet dragsters, at EAA Air Venture in Oshkosh Wisconsin, my lack of racing experience was never something that would hold me back. I instantly fell in love with the rush I felt watching the dragster from the outside and knew that being in the cockpit was something I had to experience. I started from the bottom, working in the race shop taking every opportunity I had to build a better understanding of the mechanics of the vehicle. From there I started heading to the drag strip to learn track etiquette and interact with other racers and fans. After about 3 years of working in the shop and at the track, I was given the opportunity to step in the Embry-Riddle Jet Dragster for the first time.
Do you have a role model, someone you look up to and why?
Like a lot of girls, my role model and hero in life is my father. He has been a huge inspiration and a driving force in my life successes so far. My father was a prime example of showing that hard work and perseverance can accomplish anything. With no formal education, he was a self-made businessman and entrepreneur. His drive and dedication to creating a life that he was proud of has inspired me to push myself to overcome all of life’s hurdles and to achieve career and personal happiness.
Looking back to when you started, how did you see this journey originally taking you?
When I started racing, I was young and simply looking for the next challenge in life, the next outlet to feed my need for speed and adrenaline. I never anticipated an experience that would change me or my future. I have been able to learn so much about myself and have been truly blessed to work with our next generation to help inspire and motivate them to pursue their goals and live life without limits.
Think about another person in the same situation as you were in when you started. Given what you know now, what advice you give them?
I am a true believer in living life with no regrets; therefore, there is not a lot I would change along my journey thus far. I would encourage them to live life without any reservations and pursue happiness; all the rest will fall into place.
If you had a day off to do anything in the world you wanted – but you were not allowed to race – what you do?
If I had one day to do whatever I wanted I would spend the day with my family. Some of our favorite family hobbies are traveling and scuba diving. I would love the opportunity to dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with them.
Fans sometimes come up to you and want to discuss a moment or race from your career. Which ones comes up the most?
Hands down the most commonly discussed moment in my racing career is my first pass due to my lack of racing background. Fans are always intrigued to hear the jet dragster was the first vehicle I had ever raced down the quarter-mile. I love sharing my experience with them in hopes to inspire them to dream big and never let the words "I can’t" ever be an option.
Which is the one experience that sticks out the most in your racing career?
Piloting the jet dragster is without a doubt the biggest adrenaline rush I have ever experienced but the most unforgettable memories made at the track are in the pits with the fans. The young kids’ energy and excitement are always rewarding but one of the most memorable moments I have ever experienced was at my first race in Bradenton, FL. I was approached by a Marine and his a family; he had been wounded and paralyzed from the neck down in battle overseas. JT, the wounded Marine, was thrilled to be at the track and amazed to see a girl step out of the dragster after the first past. I was able to spend some time getting to know him and his family and watch a little racing with them. Over the next few years, I was able to keep in touch with him over Facebook and he came out to every race I had in the area. JT and his family continue to thank me for the time we spent together but words cannot explain how thankful I am for his impact on my life and his service to our country. Seeing his joy for life and determination to be happy even after everything he has been through has been a humbling and unforgettable experience.
If you have kids someday, which driver would you point as a role model or good example for doing things the right way?
Danica Patrick is a great role model in the racing industry because although some people believe she is not a great driver she continues to be a powerful force in the industry. She worked her way up the ranks and has achieved her goals as the first woman driver in NASCAR. Her determination to succeed when the odds were against her is an inspiration to young women around the world. Now on top, she has received a lot of criticism and negative publicity for her driving abilities but continues to hold herself with the utmost confidence and professionalism.
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self – something you know now that you didn’t know then – what would it be?
Confidence! I don’t regret the choices I have made in life and would not change the course at all but I would follow the same path with more confidence. I would recognize my accomplishments sooner and use them to help motivate young adults to live life without limits and help them realize that anything is possible.