It’s Mustang Girl Monday brought to you by Team Mustang Girls. This week we would like to introduce Erica Ortiz, the founder and driver of the all-female pro modified team Horsepower & Heels™ and strong advocate of women in racing. A veteran both behind the wheel and behind a torque wrench, Erica brings over 16 years of experience navigating the male-dominated motor sports arena from the female perspective.
It wasn’t readily apparent where Erica first sparked an interest in drag racing. Born and raised in Orlando, FL by her grandparents — she was raised in a strict, traditional hispanic household without any motorsport influence. Nowhere was it evident where Erica’s love for racing and speed developed. Beginning with her first car after high school graduation, a 1990 Mustang GT, Erica poured herself into learning the ropes of drag racing from the grassroots level. She apprenticed under Florida-based Lugo Motorsports learning not only to drive these powerful machines, but also to tune and build them.
Ortiz’s first racing experiences were in the Street Bracket classes, where she achieved rookie success at the 2001 World Ford Challenge event, finishing first as a semi-finalist on Day 1 and then as a runner-up on Day 2 out of a field of 160+ cars. In 2002, she traded her GT for a 1992 LX Coupe, running in the True Street category with the Paxton Supercharged entry. She claimed her first victory in True Street at the Gainesville Fun Ford Weekend event, shortly after a change to a turbocharged combination, and a semi-finalist finish in the Wild Street category at the World Ford Challenge in 2002.
For 2003, Ortiz would turn her focus to the competitive and ground-breaking Drag Radial category. She became the first female to break the 8 second and 175mph barriers, and grabbed several runner-up finishes on her way to a #2 finish overall for the 2003 FFW Drag Radial championship.
In 2005, Erica made the move to the PRO ranks, with the start of her 1988 Twin Turbocharged Thunderbird Pro 5.0 entry. She continued to break barriers, becoming the first woman in the 6 second zone in FFW competition, and the first woman in FFW history to lay claim to the 200 mph club, before finishing her rookie PRO season in the #2 position for the 2006 FFW Pro Championship. Even more noteworthy, this feat was accomplished with less than a quarter of the budget of her fellow competitors, running antiquated equipment.
With the new found success, Erica set off in 2007 to build a newer, more competitive race operation. She upgraded the old Thunderbird chassis to a new 2007 Mustang body in white, and upgraded her engine program to more durable components. Unfortunately, midway through this conversion process, economic downturn slowed this project to a near halt for Erica. Compounding that was a health cancer scare that forced Erica to the sidelines to focus on strengthening her health, career and starting a family. “I always missed racing, and wished I could have been out there. People would ask all the time if I was ever coming back, and I’d always say I was, but sometimes I worried that maybe I wouldn’t get the opportunity.”
Now with a clean bill of health, a beautiful family and her career as a Marketing Director in place, she’s ready to reignite her racing career. Her passion and fire for the sport never faded, working during her hiatus to champion the Horsepower & Heels cause, writing a column on Women in Racing for Examiner.com and providing support and mentor-ship to young ladies entering the sport. “I have a much different perspective on life today, and I hope that I can continue my core mission through Horsepower & Heels by promoting and supporting females in racing.”
Erica has also partnered with Clutchfunded, a new crowd-funding platform specifically designed for motorsports by a fellow-female racer named Shannon McIntosh. The All-or Nothing ReIgnite campaign gives friends, family and fans a chance to donate to the program in exchange for t-shirts, decals and other cool perks given by the Horsepower & Heels team if they reach 100% of their goal. The campaign is currently 80% to goal, and runs through April 10.
Each week Team Mustang Girls features a different woman and her Mustang. Check out the past featured ladies from Mustang Girl Monday and submit your own Mustang story at TeamMustangGirls.com.