Need for speed: Renée “Buttaz” Edwards and Lisa “Lisalis” Abraham

Drag racing — in which two drivers compete to take their souped-up cars the faster over a short course — is usually a testosterone-fuelled sport. But two Antiguan women drivers are proving that when it comes to reflexes and pure automotive speed, gender is no barrier. Joanne C. Hillhouse finds out more

Renée “Buttaz” Edwards. Photograph courtesy Brass.Angel.Photography

On the track, strapped in, engines revving, Antiguan drag racers Renée “Buttaz” Edwards and Lisa “Lisalis” Abraham are defying stereotypes in a testosterone-fuelled sport. Preparing to go “heads up” against another driver for anything from ten to fifteen seconds of pure speed, they are pushing the limits of a souped-up vehicle and at the same time pushing past any barriers that might say No girls allowed.

“My dad is a mechanic, so I was born into the world of vehicles,” said Lisalis, now serving as the first woman president of the Drag Racing Association of Antigua and Barbuda. Ironically, her dad discouraged her from a career as a mechanic. Now thirty-seven, Lisalis is the owner of the House of Pamper Unisex Salon and Day Spa, but she never lost her love of cars. Buttaz, twenty-seven, a winning drag racer, is also an aircraft engineer, trained pilot, wife, and — at this writing — contestant in the 2013 Ms Caribbean Plus Pageant.

Both women are proving you don’t have to be just one thing. They’re also proving that men don’t have a monopoly on a love of speed. “Before you actually launch, you get the jitters,” Buttaz says. “Then everything just goes blank, you’re ready to take off — and when you know you’re in front, you get that adrenaline rush to get to the end of the track.”
There was some heckling, initially: “Hair dresser ah drive race car?” But once you prove what you can do — “and they hear all them gears connect clean,” as Lisalis puts it — well, point made.

Buttaz has lost track of the number of races she’s won with her street car. In her Nevis-based race car, Da Black Widow, she has four wins out of seven races. “She’s flying the flag very high,” Lisalis says, the pride of the sisterhood clear in her voice. Buttaz is one of those rare drivers whose skills behind the wheel have spun off into corporate sponsorship — a huge boost, as drag racing is a very expensive sport.

It’s also become a very popular sport, with drivers and fans travelling not just from one end of a small island nation to the next, but across waters from one country to the next to support their car of choice. As president of the Antigua and Barbuda association, Lisalis hopes to capitalise on that momentum. She’s already stepped up the marketing and networking of the sport, and is making moves locally and internationally to transform it into a viable and lucrative part of Antigua’s sports tourism package. “To see that she just stepped in and the ball started to roll immediately, I really admire that,” Buttaz says of her new president. “She doesn’t take stupidness from anybody.”

Buttaz, too, has big dreams. “I want to go international with it,” she says, and she wants to do so with the first ever all-female crew.

Antigua is already a popular drag racing spot, Lisalis says, for its competitiveness, location, and vibes. With investment in a track, one of her major goals, it could be even more so. To some, drag racing is too dangerous — one reason they might think it’s not for women. But, Lisalis counters, “within everything, there is some level of danger . . . if you’re only going to think about the danger, you’re not going to live.”