If you think the cars speed on LBJ, wait until you hear about Lake Highlands resident Lisa Lyons Curtiss. Racing her father’s vintage midget cars in the Midget Sprint car races at the Utah Salt Flats, Curtiss has set four world records with speeds topping 125 miles per hour.
Each August, Curtiss takes two of the family cars — the Lakester, which reaches speeds of more than 200 mph, and the vintage midget car, which tops out at 130 mph — to the races. She competes in the five-mile short course and recently set the world land speed record for Vintage Midget cars at 127.8 mph.
Curtiss’ father, Grant Grumbine, 85, set their first Salt Flat record in the midget car seven years ago. Curtiss became a driver only after her father made changes to his car to increase its speed. “He’s a real motorhead,” she says.
He dropped a vintage 1941 Ford V860 engine in the 1935 car, increasing the car’s speed by 40 mph but also making the cockpit significantly smaller. The 5-foot-3-inch Curtiss became the next in line to drive the seven-foot car, and continue the family tradition. “My dad just called me one day and said, ‘Lisa, I pretty much decided you’re going to be the driver now,’” Curtiss explains. “That’s how the sport stays alive. The motorheads pass it down to their kids.”
It wasn’t a difficult transition for her. Her father taught her to love the cars and the sport. “My dad’s a very talented engineer. He’s built and re-built so many cars,” she says. “He’s from the James Dean era. They jumped in the car and took Route 66 all the way to Bonneville. Becoming a part of racing has been a great bonding experience with my dad.”
With a passion for the cars, Curtiss says she used to think she was the only girl in the world who liked fast cars. “Racing is just exciting,” she says, “You get to step on it and go as fast as you can go… you can’t do that anywhere else. It’s a rush.”
And, while Grumbine puts his daughter in cars built for speed, he still treats her like his little girl. “He puts his friends in the cars until he’s sure everything works OK and is safe,” Curtiss says with a laugh, “Then he lets me drive. He wants me to get the record.”