Drag racer Danika Miles on track

Danika Miles, 11, stands next to her dragster, custom built by her dad.

RIDGEWAY – Ridgeway tween Danika Miles is proving that she is a force to be reckoned with on South Carolina’s tracks.

At 11 years old, Miles already possesses two dragster driver’s licenses and is making impressive turn outs with not even one full of year of racing under her belt. That is something her father, Gabe Miles, could never have predicted one year ago when he gave into what he thought at the time would be a fun side project for the two to bond over.

“When she first told me she wanted to race, I really didn’t think much of it at first. I thought she might be interested in that moment, but then it would pass,” Gabe Miles stated.

Danika recalled her love-at-first-sight moment with drag racing in October of 2017 when she accompanied her father to a track in Charlotte. It was the family’s first venture into racing, with Gabe Miles’ purchase of a dragster for himself. Danika had accompanied him to the track to cheer him on during his race. Then, she said, she saw kids her own age climbing into some of the waiting dragsters.

“It was just this moment of ‘wow’ for me. I didn’t even know that was a thing, that kids could do this, and as soon as I realized it I knew that was something I wanted to do,” she stated.

That night, Miles said Danika returned to him with her arms full of fliers and advertisements of upcoming races. The desire and the hunger were evident in her eyes, he said, and when she continued talk of racing into December he knew she was serious.

On Christmas morning, Miles surprised Danika with her very own dragster – an older car that the family rebuilt from the ground up. While Danika was “ecstatic” about her new wheels, her father said the first experience driving the car was a little overwhelming.

“It was really loud and really obnoxious, I don’t think it was what she was expecting for her first time behind the wheel,” he stated.

Danika persevered though, and with Miles’ help she slowly learned to find her focus in the driver’s seat.

“She really surprised me,” her father stated. “I kept telling her that she could walk away from it at any time that she didn’t feel comfortable, but she kept telling she was going to do this. It was definitely something she wanted to do.”

Four months later, Danika was ready to make her debut.

At a drag strip in Darlington, a ten year-old Danika slipped into the driver’s seat and lined up against competitors for the very first time.

“It was a really emotional moment, I was excited and scared all at the same time,” she stated.

As tears began forming, Danika said racers from other teams came over to offer comforting words.

“Even a pro racer came over and talked to me. They really showed me that it’s all about blocking everything else out and just focusing on the track in front of me. That really made a difference for me that day,” she stated.

According to Miles, Danika drove that first race like she had never had a problem, and she went on to win her first round.

That day made a difference in Danika not just on the track, but in other areas of her life as well. A once timid and anxious child, Miles said he saw his daughter grow confidence that he had always hoped she would find.

“It was like night and day,” he stated.

“Before she was very timid. She didn’t like being alone and she was nervous in big crowds. Now, she is much more social and she is always willing to answer questions about her car at the races. It has really made a great positive change in her.”

Danika said racing has taught her to be “fearless” in racing, and in life.

“You have to have a lot of courage to get into a race car, and once you climb in then you can just let everything else go. You put everything else behind you, and since you can’t look back all you have to focus on is what is ahead of you. That is something you control,” she stated.

The 2018 racing season will come to an end this month, and Miles said that already Danika’s team is preparing for next year. Danika will have a brand-new dragster to compete on a more level playing field, and he said he is hoping to find larger sponsorships to assist the team.

“It’s been a learning experience for both of us,” Miles stated. “Danika is having to learn to do all the things pro racers do, but we have had some great help from our friends and family. Ridgeway may be a small town, but we have a lot of great people and great support here.”

Anyone interested in sponsoring Danika may contact Miles at 803-309-4321. Fans can also follow Danika’s progress on her Instagram account at DanikaMilesjrdragster.