Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Drag racing is a multifaceted challenge. Every pass tests the mechanical fortitude of the vehicle and its components. Often, it tests a racer’s skill. Many times, it also tests their credit limits. In the case of NMCA Proform Rumble racer Regina Puckett, however, her 2021 season was also a test of patience and perseverance.
Into cars ever since she was young, Puckett credits her inspiration to her mother Judy’s classic muscle cars. Her grandmother gifted Puckett a Monte Carlo when she was a teenager. She kept the car for less than a year before returning it so that she could receive a V-6-equipped 1987 Chevrolet Camaro from good ol’ grandma instead.
“I went from G-body to F-body,” noted Puckett, now 50, of the cool car she enjoyed as a 16-year-old.
It wasn’t until the Florida native attended college at Florida State University that she began racing at Powerhouse Dragway near Palm Beach, Florida.
“I watched a bit and realized that watching racing is not really my thing,” she laughed. “So, I started doing it in ‘89 and I think the very first race I ever went to, I made it to the semi-finals!”
Puckett graduated with degrees in English and Business and went on to teach middle and high school for the next seven years. She also obtained a certification in technology and taught in that field for another five years. Although she had focused primarily on her career, she continued to bracket race consistently through 1999.
“I did take some time off after that to do the mom thing and the school thing, and didn’t have a car during that period,” Puckett explained of the brief hiatus she experienced while starting Jeff Puckett Construction, Inc. with her husband, Jeff Puckett, and simultaneously establishing her second career as a realtor.
Midway through her drag-racing foray, however, Puckett sold her Third-Gen Camaro and replaced it with a Fourth-Gen model instead. Bought new from the factory, the 1993 Camaro Z28 served double-duty as her street car and as an occasional race car with which she won a good bit of money.
In 2009, Puckett solidified her status as a “Camaro girl” when she purchased her third Camaro, a 2010 model that she spec’d out and had built to her exact taste. Custom striping and ground effects contributed to the final result being “one of the prettiest Fifth-Gen Camaros” that she had ever seen, and a delivery worth waiting for.
She left her new car stock for about six-to-eight months, and then began slowly modifying it with small bolt-ons, all before her first year of ownership was up. A cold-air intake, exhaust, set of headers, and a tuner were all installed not long after Puckett took delivery. However, as a lifelong bracket racer, it was a local friend who first introduced her to the NMCA and LSX series and inspired her to step up a bit and give class racing a more concerted effort.
In 2011, she sent the car off to have a cam installed.
“I was on my way to pick it up to go race at Bradenton, and they had put it on the dyno to be tuned,” shared Puckett of the unfortunate situation that resulted. “They wound up blowing the motor and didn’t make the race.”
Puckett’s trademark attitude of never giving up was called upon. She rallied by having a new engine installed so that she could make it to the 2012 NMCA race in Atlanta, Georgia. She competed in the LSX Showdown series and also raced in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that same season. Puckett gained momentum and continued with a full season in 2013, in which she finished second overall in points in the Diablo Sport Fifth-Gen Challenge category.
By 2016, Puckett had established herself as a regular within the series and had grown significantly as a racer. Her skill set had evolved, and she was consistently in the top ten for the Proform Rumble championship chase year after year; she finished third, fifth, ninth, and fifth, respectively, from 2016 through 2019.
The pandemic-complicated season of 2020 was a toughie for Puckett, who struggled with ups and downs along the way.
“My cursed Bradenton, at the first race of the year, I broke the rearend on the second time trial and never even made a qualifying pass,” lamented the strong lady who arrived at the track and loaded up to leave all on the same day.
The next race in Georgia saw Puckett make it through to the finals, but she finished as the runner-up. From there, she finished in the quarterfinals in St. Louis, Missouri, and went on to take the outright win in Martin, Michigan.
It was the final race of the year in Indianapolis, Indiana, though, that took her from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. Puckett had done the math and realized, after bonus points and drops, she held the lead in the championship chase.
“Well, it didn’t matter what I did. The car ran the same whether I turned it up or down, and I wasn’t on my number and I knew it,” she said sadly of the weekend that conspired against her. “There was nothing I could do but watch it slip away. I finished second to David Rickey.”
With hopes high, Puckett headed into her 2021 season expecting to finally clinch the championship ring—but it seems she will have to wait on the honor once again.
At the season opener in her home state at Bradenton Motorsports Park, Puckett ran 11.731 on her 11.75 index during qualifying to sit twelfth; she went out to Chett LeVay in round one even though it was a good, close race.
Moving on and moving forward, Puckett regrouped to race in Georgia at Atlanta Dragway. There, even though her car wasn’t quite cooperating as it should have been, Puckett lead the qualifying list in the number-one position when she printed an 11.767-second time slip on her 11.75 goal. A bye run in round one put her through to face off with Dwayne Massengale in round two.
“It was a heck of a race,” she recalled of her 11.819 at 116.18mph pass with an 0.111-second light to his 12.046 at 108.95mph run with an 0.001-second reaction time. “I told Dwayne that I only lose to the best, so he better go on to win the event—and he did!”
Sadly, Puckett’s struggles returned at the next NMCA outing in St. Louis, Missouri, and her car’s woes took her out of contention. Rather than leave things up to chance, though, she wisely contacted her tuner, Matt Sorian of MS Tuning, and had him travel up from his home in Texas to attend the next event in Martin, Michigan.
“Matt helped get some things sorted out and the car started running the number again and the two-step that we had been having issues with got fixed, too,” said Puckett, grateful for the help from her hired gun and his expertise with her Holley EFI system. She went on to qualify seventh after running 11.821, then won her first elimination-round pairing to face off against Massengale once again.
“I finally ran a really great run—11.768 at 119.27 mph with an 0.017-second light—but he put together a better package. He’s experienced similar troubles over the years, so I’m happy for him.”
The gracious, good sportswoman attitude is a core component of Puckett’s personality. Even though she faces challenges, she never gives up and goes into every race saying “I can do this” with full faith that it will all come together sooner or later.
That mentality served her well over the years, and, although she keeps hoping for the best, Puckett still had more challenges and obstacles to overcome with the remainder of her 2021 season.
“We made good strides in Michigan, but Ohio was disappointing. The car was on point on Friday and Saturday,” said the stoic racer who had qualified fourth with an 11.774-second run. Despite blisteringly hot temperatures and a density altitude reading of 4,000,’ Puckett was on cloud nine early in the weekend as her Camaro was running exactly as predicted. “And then, she just said ‘no, just kidding’ and everything changed.”
The power in Puckett’s ride took a big dip at the start of eliminations, and, even though she got through the first round, the Camaro had hurt itself to the point where she wasn’t able to advance further, as it was running a tenth off of its number.
Puckett suspected the issue was related to a failed catalytic converter, so she removed them and was relieved that the simple fix helped her Camaro perked back up.
Racing at the 20th Annual NMCA World Street Finals Presented by Chevrolet Performance in late September at historic Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Indiana, Puckett qualified eighth in ProForm Rumble with an 11.844 on her 11.75 index.
“Every piece of data I had said the car was going to run an 11.68,” noted Puckett of her expectations for the first elimination round of the weekend. “So, I let out on the top end… a little too much.” As a result, her 11.859 at 103.74 mph with an 0.024-second reaction time wasn’t enough to take the win against Nicholas Massengale in the opposing lane.
Ultimately, Puckett finished seventh for the season, but wasted no time in getting started going through the car to prepare for the next season. With her trademark determination, she’s planning for another full year of NMCA ProForm Rumble in 2022 and praying that all of her hard work is rewarded with a Nitto Tire Diamond Tree championship ring. Full of capable cars and talented drivers, the category is incredibly competitive and Puckett knows the task will be tough—and she’s up for the challenge.
To prepare, the self-funded, privateer racer and proud grandmother is working with her husband and tuner to make sure her Fifth-Gen Camaro is ready to cooperate. Although it hasn’t had a roll cage in the past, Puckett knows she’s close to needing one and has plans to make that happen shortly.
When she originally had the larger cam installed, Puckett had expected to be running a boosted combination and purchased one for that platform. She has since decided to stay with her naturally aspirated and Trick Flow-headed 416-cube engine from Scoggin Dickey Parts Center, so the Camaro will be going under the knife for another cam swap as well.
Other off-season plans are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, as the 4L80E four-speed transmission and custom driveshaft have served the determined racer well over the years. Similarly, the Camaro’s 1,000-plus-horsepower axles and rearend from Strange Engineering have also proven reliable and effective, so they will remain unchanged along with the anti-roll bar and suspension components from BMR Suspension.
“I really believe that my biggest problem, compared to the other guys, is that I just don’t get enough seat time since we don’t have a local tack anymore,” added Puckett, who generally doesn’t get to make any laps unless she’s at a race, and that can be both nerve-wracking and challenging to prepare mentally and physically.
Through all the long hauls, late nights, and frustrating days, Puckett pushes on thanks to her pure passion for drag racing. The true friends she’s made over the past decade help bolster her determination and inspire her to continue chasing her dream, and although they don’t come with payouts and trophies, those relationships themselves are priceless prizes.
Owner: Regina and Jeff Puckett
Driver: Regina Puckett
Hometown: Panama City, FL
Class: Proform Rumble
Crew: Jeff Puckett
Car Year/Make/Model: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Engine builder: Scoggin Dickey crate motor
Displacement: 416 cubic inches
Pistons: Manley 2618
Heads: Trick Flow
Cam type: COMP Cams
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley EFI
Fuel brand and type: VP 110
Headers and exhaust:
Transmission Builder: PATC
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: PATC
Rearend: Strange with 4.10 gears
Body and/or chassis builder: Chevrolet
Suspension (Rear): BMR Suspension (Anti Roll Bar, all bushings)
Brakes (Front): Brembo
Brakes (Rear): Brembo
Wheels (front): Weld Racing
Wheels (Rear): Weld Racing
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: Ground Effects and custom striping
Vehicle weight: 3,810 lbs
Quickest ET: 11.02 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.53 seconds
Fastest mph: 129
Sponsors: Me, myself and I!