Speed and Custom
BURNING RUBBER WITH JACINDA MENDOZA
Car culture has been part of the BurgerFuel DNA since ’95, and our Speed & Custom programme represents our undying passion for chrome and burning rubber.
From our fleet of customised BurgerFuel classics, our burger names on the menu, to our auto-inspired store designs and events we roll up at - we’re petrol heads to the core.
In celebration of Speed & Custom month, each week we’ll be chatting to some like-minded Friends of the Fuel who personify what it means it be ‘Full Throttle’.
We catch up with Jacinda Mendoza, driver of franchisee, Matt Kingi’s ’69 Chevrolet Camaro.
The Camaro is a standout on the drag strip, with a 383 stroke drag engine, custom interior and Caltrac suspension system. This machine is one of NZ’s fastest small block street legal cars, and Jacinda knows her way around a fast car.
Let's hear more from Jacinda!
The Mendoza Drag Racing Team are Upper Hutt’s racing royalty. Can you give us a rundown on where it all started and what it was like growing up in a family with this incredible passion for motorsport?
It all started between Mum and one of the mechanics at my parents workshop, Carl. They were harping on back and forth about who’s car was faster - my families 1961 Holden EK (which was her daily at the time) or his 90’s Nissan Skyline.
They took it to the dragstrip, and Mum drove the EK to a 13.9 down the 1/4 mile, beating Carl’s Skyline, and earning bragging rights. From there, Dad's LS1 swapped an RX7, which Mum raced in Super Sudan, and things got serious. From high 10’s to low 10’s, to high 9’s, to low 9's, a couple of Turbo chargers and an upgrade to an LS3 - Mum managed to get it to an 8.35. My brother got his Junior and started racing, then I did. My Dad is a busy man!
Previously, back a few hair cuts ago, my Dad used to race at Thunder Park - originally piloting a Morris Minor with a 350 small block, then an altered, before (temporarily) retiring from the drag racing scene. He has been hugely involved in the hot rodding and Motorsport scenes for a while now. Some of his long term customers have started referring to him as “The Godfather” of their cars…
While I grew up around fast cars - my passion was actually in cheerleading and dancing. I always had an interest in cars with my parents owning the workshop, but I was very pre-occupied with my dreams of being a dance teacher or cheerleading coach. I wouldn’t even think twice when Mum would drop me off to school in our EK. I thought it was reasonably normal to have cool cars in your driveway. But now I realise it certainly wasn’t - not every kid was able to experience being yelled at by your Mum for using engine cranes as monkey bars. Or sweeping the floors of a workshop instead of being grounded.
As a family, we don’t go on extravagant overseas holidays to Hawaii, Bali or Thailand etc, instead, we pack up the trailers and go racing. We also haven’t had family photos in a few years - we’re lucky enough to have great relationships with the track photographers. So instead of family portraits, we have burnout/launch and staging lanes photos. I think they’re way cooler anyway!
I was definitely used to speed and skids from a young age though. I actually was brought home from the hospital after I was born in the EK, Dad only finished restoring it about a month before!
We also used to egg Mum on to do burnouts in our driveway - she did a few good ones, there’s still marks in our garage from years ago.
You clearly learned from the best! And what about your foray into racing. What was your first car and what is it that excites you about drag racing?
I hate to admit this but the main reason I got into it was because jacko got a junior - and I wanted one! But Mum threw a curveball and said I couldn’t do both cheer/dance and drag racing. So I bit the bullet and said I’d give drag racing a try. Over the course of about 6-7 months, Dad built me a junior front engine dragster, with the chassis being based off of the Angry Azz FED, and I was able to aid with my tool-passing and torch holding skills. It was powered by a Honda CBR250 motor, 6 speed manual. I picked up one first place and one second place within my 3 seasons. I still have the cowling from the junior in my flat, and the FED is actually still being raced at MMP to this day. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in the future - I found a few articles and posts about it in various groups and forums from all different countries.
Once I got my civil licence, I moved up to Super Street in the EK, but by then the NOS bottle and line lock were removed. While I was the slowest, the purpose was to teach me how to race in a more competitive class, as going from being in juniors, racing girls and boys around my age, to a class where I was one of very few females (and the youngest and least inexperienced by a long shot), was extremely intimidating. I made my “debut” at Port Road Drags in 2019, after practicing at MMP a few weeks prior. I like to think I really made my mark in the street class there - literally. I bought a pair of tyres specifically for that meeting and they were buggered by the end of the day. Over my time in the EK I got a PB of 14.1, naturally aspirated and fully stock. But I think my burnouts were more memorable - I’m definitely my mothers daughter.
I was also asked by drag racing legends Grease Martin and Andrew Rea if I wanted to get my licence in their 460cui nitro burning FED. I did 5 1/8 mile passes in it at Tokaroa in March 2020, right before the first lockdown. That was an amazing experience I’m so grateful for. I learnt so much that day, and one thing I have burnt in my memory is Andrew and Grease both at my sides, giving me a pep talk before my last pass. I was too scared to move my hand and put it into top gear all day - and their advice was to question myself - their exact words were, “if they could do it, why couldn’t You? What’s stopping you?” , and I realised - there wasn’t anything stopping me besides ME. That was a turning point for me, and I repeat that sentence to myself regularly, about all aspects of life. I don’t think they realised how much impact that moment had on me. To have them believe in me, meant the world, and I’m so lucky I had the opportunity.
100% the best part of drag racing that excites me is the pre-burnout nerves. I love doing my little routine when I’m driving up to the burnout box. I flick my hands to “shake out” the nerves, watch Dad to make sure I’ve got my back wheels in the water, grip the steering wheel with all the strength I have, plant my feet, push back in the seat to brace myself then stare down the starter to wait for his command. It’s the coolest feeling - nothing else matters at that point. I block out everything and just focus on the starters hand and wait for the thumbs up. My stomach no longer has butterflies, my heart has stopped beating through my chest, and I’m ready to give it hell!
Your Mum, Shona, smokes it up in her RX7, what an incredible role model for a young woman coming up in the sport. What kind of advice she has given you that has held you in good stead as you grow and develop as a car racer?
She definitely can smoke it up pretty well, and a lot of women do look up to her, especially since drag racing is very male dominated.
My Mum is my best friend! She has taught me so much, especially now I’m a young adult.
The number one most important thing she has taught me - is how to do a bloody big burnout, it’s a very valuable skill.
In all seriousness - I can get extremely overwhelmed and rush to get things done. Especially when it comes to the lights. I used to run red lights at every meeting, the worst being Junior Champs in 2017 - I ran 4 red lights in a row! She has taught me over time to just calm down, take everything step by step, and do it right the first time. Again, something I use in all aspects of life!!
No doubt you’ll have a lot of young people looking at you in awe and as a role model yourself - what kind of advice would YOU give to other young people interested in getting into this field? What are some key challenges you face/things to look out for?
I do get a few kids, especially young girls, coming up to me to ask questions and show support. It’s one of the things that makes me feel proud of how far I have come and makes me want to continue to do better - because I was one of those little girls!
Super street is an awesome class, as long as you have a wof/reg/drivers licence, long sleeve top/jeans and a helmet, you can race. But from there, the biggest thing to actually get involved in the sport is to put yourself out there, and not be afraid to ask questions. I have met so many amazing people and have learnt so much through crewing especially! I used to put a post up on the drivers Facebook page asking if anyone needed a hand with anything.
My favourite thing to do was back the cars up after the burnout. I backed up Mark Gapp in Overkill, JD Shephards FED’s, Barry Smiths HG ute, Grease and Andrews FED, and Barry Plumptons Doorslammer. I think that putting myself out there, and showing my dedication and motivation helped me a lot. Not to mention, my knowledge of not just how race cars work, but how to actually drag race and play the game has expanded immensely.
How are you enjoying racing the BurgerFuel Camaro with Matt and the team? What an awesome opportunity?!
I am absolutely loving it! At first I was so nervous, I had put so much pressure on myself to exceed whatever expectations anyone had of me. I remember my first ever pass, I felt like I was going to be sick!! I was lucky enough to have the previous driver Glen's details so I rang him a few times the week before my first race asking all sorts of questions. He definitely helped me feel a lot more prepared. And Matt's been awesome throughout this whole journey, I’ve felt nothing but support from him, and he has been bloody good to me every step of the way.
Now I know that car inside and out, and the Camaro and I have “clicked”. The Camaro is an absolute weapon. Day after race weekend, the muscles in my left ankle are sore from holding down the brake in the skid!!
I am so grateful for the opportunity and there is no way I can thank Matt enough. I’m also very lucky to also have such a great support network, on and off social media. It still doesn’t even feel real!!
How does the BurgerFuel Camaro compare to your Junior dragster and what’s your PB down the ¼ mile to date?
The EK was supposed to be Dads cruiser, so it wasn’t built with speed and power in mind. The Camaro is a purpose built Street legal race car, so the power difference is HUGE! Even just driving the thing around the pits, it absolutely hauls. The EK ran low 14’s, where as the Camaro runs high 11’s, so it’s a big jump. My current PB is 11.83 @ 111 mph.
My goal is an 11.75 et or under!!
We’ve seen you on the tools at Mendoza Mechanical, what kinds of modifications do you tend to do yourself and what mods have you and your Dad, Shane, made to your current car?
Dad's always told us that if we want to race, we need to help him on the tools too. I remember one day I pulled a sicky from school to come to the workshop and spend the day sanding my junior chassis to have it re-powder coated.
I leave the more technical things for him but I enjoy keeping him company, I find I still learn a lot by watching too. I help him with what I can, but the race cars are his babies. Over time we’ve done a few things to the race cars, I helped him strip and rebuild my junior motor, I helped him rebuild then refit the diff in the EK (twice now), along with bits and pieces to jackos junior and Mum's RX7. I’m looking forward to starting on my RX7 with him!
The Camaro was ready to race when it was dropped off to the workshop. We just had to change the tyres and fabricate a new seat bracket because it was too far back for me. We do a check over before we go to a big meeting, that’s about it - like I said, the Camaro is a weapon, a bloody reliable one at that!
Are you keen to try your hand at any other kinds of motorsport?
One day I’d love to enter a burnout competition. Just get an old commodore skid hack off of marketplace, disconnect the rear brakes then thrash it - I think that would be really fun.
Hell yes, that sounds like fun! Your bro races under the Mendoza Drag Racing Team banner too, are you and Jackson competitive?
We were very competitive when we were younger but now we’re in separate classes it’s calmed down a bit. I think once he moves up to Super Street with me, that will change very quick! I’m excited to see him in a full size car, I think he will do really well. I hope I get to teach him how to do a burnout, that’ll definitely be great sibling bonding time.
What kind of road car do you drive and what’s your driving style off the track?
Honestly, I drive like a nana. I’m just saving the speed for the track I swear! My daily is an 05 Mazda 6 - you wouldn’t look at my car and think “this girl drag races the BurgerFuel Camaro”.
There are so many! But none of them are fords.
I’d say my dream car would be a 1959 Chevy El Camino or a 1960 2 door Chevy Impala, followed by a 2017 Holden Maloo, or a dirty old commodore - like an old 80’s VK or VN. When I was a kid, I wanted an EK holden like my Dads - but painted barbie pink with purple flames.
But then there’s the dream race cars. To be safe, I think one race car for each class will suffice. But I would definitely love Doorslammer, or a nostalgic FED that had a lot of history in NZ. I have big goals in life!
Career highlight to date?
Definitely getting sportswoman of the year in 2019. To have what my efforts recognised like that was amazing and humbling, especially at that age.
Another one was winning Wellington Invasion at NAPA drag way in Meremere this year. It was an awesome day and the Camaro drove hard, and that was the moment I felt like had made my parents and Matt most proud. I rewatch the video of the Finals all the time, just to hear my Dad and Matt cheering at the end. I felt so supported all day, by the boys and girls from Team Wellington, the other local racers and all the crew. NAPA dragway really made the effort to make us feel welcomed and went the extra few 1/4 miles for us.
That’s incredible. Do you have a dream track, either locally or internationally, that you’d like to experience one day
I would love to watch NHRA 4 Wide Nationals at Las Vegas. But to race at - I want to tick off every track in the country. COVID cancelled that for us this season so fingers crossed we can try again next season if I’m given the opportunity again. So far, I’ve been to Masterton, Meremere, Taupo and Tokoroa. Just have the South Island ones to go!
Who do you draw inspiration from? Are there any drivers that you look up to?
There are so many people within the sport I look up to for not just their driving capabilities.
Tamara Silk, Vanessa Lilly and Karen Hayes are a few female drivers I’ve followed since I started racing. I’ve watched them make milestones and set records in their respective classes, and are definitely great role models for other females wanting to get into the sport.
I also look up to Josh Trybula in the Bad Habit Coupe and Ben Winters, who is one of many awesome photographers. Both were diagnosed a few years ago with different types of cancer. They are living embodiments of the saying “live everyday like it’s your last”, and are stark reminders that any day above ground is a good day.
Another racer I look up to is Ryan Sheldon, in the Joker Plymouth. Not only is he a great driver, he also helped revived the Wild Bunch class, and brought a new audience to drag racing in New Zealand. His efforts will last for seasons to come!
I also idolise my Mum and my Dad. My Mum is a tough lady, who has been through a lot throughout her life and doesn’t take crap, but is still kind hearted and will go out on a limb for anyone. My Dad is a very very smart man, I think he has a crystal ball for a brain, especially when it comes to anything with a motor. And another important mention is Rodney Benjes from DB race cars. He is a talented racer, but is also one of the most awesome people in the sport. He is so supportive of every person that goes down that strip. You’ll almost always find him at the startline helping someone!
And can you tell us a little more about yourself? Do you have any hobbies outside of motorsport.
I live and breathe drag racing! My life basically revolves around it. I also enjoy hot rodding with Dad - we often go to the Rodders Breakfasts held monthly, along with a few hot rod runs and garage raids.
I’m also a very creative person, I enjoy all things arts and crafts!!
Now for a very important question...
What is your favourite BurgerFuel burger?
100% is the Double American Muscle. I’m one of those odd people who love pickles, like I will snack on them straight from the jar - and this burger has just as much pickle as it does Beef Patty. What’s there not to love? I also love the Chocolate Thickshakes, and this is going to sound gross, but I love dipping my fries into it - can’t knock it till ya try it!
Thanks Jacinda, sounds like a great journey so far, and we can't wait to see you out there burning rubber again soon!
Keep up with Jacinda on @jacindamendoza_ and the Mendoza Drag Racing team.