CONROE, Texas — In the highly-competitive and lightning-fast world of Sprint car racing, you'll find the expected mix of seasoned veterans, multi-time champions and a host of rising stars looking to make a name for themselves. What you might not expect, however, is a middle-aged female school principal.
Yet for 48-year-old Theresa Waller, competing on the Southern United Sprints (SUS) tour is a real passion. While this highly articulate and educated woman has her professional, refined and polished side, her weekend gig allows her competitive and fun-loving side to shine, as well.
In 2021, she earned a top-10 finish at Thunder Valley in July. This year, she's already making gains and had a strong run at Texana Raceway Park on April 2. She learning, gaining speed, and, despite racing against some of the top Sprint car drivers in the region, she's within sight of her first big win.
“Last year, I led 18 of what was supposed to be a 20-lap A Main,” Waller said. “It ended up being a 25-lap race with three green-white, checkered attempts to get it done. I ended up finishing third, which was still a fun night. But honestly, it was a case of the guys behind me getting in my head.
“Trey Schmidt and I think Jacob Harris was the other one, both great drivers and champions, did their thing and got by me. So I'm still looking for that first Sprint car win, but it's out there. Like in any division, as soon as you get that first one, the others will come a little easier. I'm working hard at it.”
Last month, her run down in Edna showed she can get it done when the car is close to being right.
“I had a little bit of trouble in the Heat race, but came back out and started the A Main,” she said. “We hit it right with the setup and I was able to pass some cars. Owen Pittman prepped a great track for us, you could just hold it to the floor and the car would stick.
“I think when you have a car that you can trust, and you know the setup is right, it builds confidence. At the end of last year, we purchased a J&J chassis. This year, I'm getting more comfortable in it and feel like with some more laps, I can actually compete for a win. We're making good progress.”
While this is her sixth year of driving a Sprint car, Waller truly paid her dues as she came up through. As the wife of SUS series promoter Randy Waller, she's been involved in our sport for decades.
“I started out in a Street Stock at first, and with a little guidance from a few kind guys I got the hang of it and started running up front. Then those guys stopped helping me, and I wondered what I'd done wrong. Randy explained that they had taken me as far as they could; from then on, I was on my own.
“In the time I drove in that class, I won 13 or 14 features and eventually a points championship. Once I earned the respect of my fellow drivers, things got a little easier. Randy and I owned Gator Motorplex for 17 years. That's where we got started. Six years ago, he decided I should go Sprint car racing.”
You may think an elementary school Principal and Administrator doesn't quite fit the mold of your typical dirt track racer. While she may not, her passion for our sport and desire to win is easy to see.
“I have won one Heat race, and have that huge desire to win an A Main,” said the woman with two distinct sides in a rich, fulfilling life. “I love my day job working with teachers and kids, it's stressful but rewarding at the same time. But in racing, I can just relax, be me, have fun and go for that win.”
As we mentioned earlier, it's an ultra-competitive world in the Southern United Sprints. The level of competition she faces every time out could easily be intimidating.
“Sprint car racing is a fierce, competitive sport,” Waller said. “On any given night in our Southern United Sprints, I think there are 13 or 14 guys with a legitimate shot to win, depending on their starting position. Some of them are young guns, some are older; heck, Kent Lewis is 73 and still a winner.
“Just the technology in these cars is fascinating. A lot of the teams have good equipment, so a lot of it is confidence, luck of the draw and how a race unfolds. There's a lot to keep track of, but I love it. We have a lot of championship-caliber racers in our series, so it's never easy to run up front here.”
When Waller sets those demanding, often stressful school duties aside and focuses on racing, she has several key people in her corner who keep her motivated, on-track and successful.
“First off I need to thank my best friend and love of my life, Randy Waller,” she said. “He pushes me out of my comfort zone to experience all things adventurous in life. I'll also thank my biggest fan and Mom, Joyce Tolliver, who inspires me to be the best in everything I do.
“I want to thank John Few, owner of Browder's Marina in Lake Livingston, for sponsoring my Renegade Race Fuel at every race; Kent Lewis Sr. with KAL Motorsports for all things racing; and Axcel Sports, the official apparel supplier of SUS for this season. I'll also thank my fellow SUS drivers for their respect and fierce competition. I'm proud to be a part of this incredible extended family.”
This Saturday night, Waller and her SUS rivals will invade the beautiful confines of Cotton Bowl Speedway, in Paige, Texas. Waller says she loves the place and can't wait to unload and see everyone.
“Cotton Bowl is such an excellent facility, we absolutely love going there,” she said. “Mary Ann, H.E. Naumann and their staff take great care of us, the track is always well prepared and our cars carry plenty of speed to put on a show for their fans on that big, fast 1/2-mile.”
With the heart of the 2022 season upon us, Waller has her sights on a goal and has a plan to get there.
“My goal is to keep gaining spots this year; to go from a top-10 car to a steady top-five and to put myself into a position to get my first Sprint car A Main victory. I think it's within sight, and if I work hard at it, it will come.
“Starting position is so key here, so I need to be fast in qualifying. We're off to a decent start, now we hope to keep it rolling this weekend at Cotton Bowl. I think I'm making gains.”
If you can't make it out to the track, you can watch Waller, the SUS Sprints and a full show at Cotton Bowl Speedway Live this Saturday night with a subscription at RaceOnTexas.com.
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Rachel Plant