Five days before she can apply for her learner's permit, 15-year-old Natalia Mayo whipped around a racetrack at more than 70 mph.

"What people do on the highway, I do on a normal basis" on a go-kart track, said Mayo, of Oceanside.

She was behind the wheel of a custom-built kart, competing against seven other racers in her class, TaG Junior, on a three-quarter-mile track in the Nassau Coliseum parking lot during a Long Island Karting Association event Sunday.

Race organizers asked drivers and visitors to bring canned food for donation to Island Harvest, Long Island's largest organization fighting hunger. They collected 300 pounds of food and donated an additional $500.

Mayo, who came in second, is one of about five girls who compete on Long Island and they more than hold their own against the boys. The girls are typically leading the pack, said LIKA president Peter Monte.

Mayo said she competes in roughly 30 races during race season, which runs from April to November. She travels regularly to upstate New York, New Jersey and Boston.

Mayo's parents, John, 50, and Maria, 44, estimated they spend nearly $20,000 each year on racing-related expenses. An engine they bought a few weeks ago cost more than $3,000; her new helmet, $600.

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Mayo works two jobs during the summer - as a ticket taker at Long Beach and dental assistant - but makes sure to keep her weekends free for racing. She tries to spend an hour and a half each day at the gym, working on her strength to help her handle the tight turns.

Mayo dreams of becoming a professional racer - she hopes to move from karts to cars next year - or a model. If neither pans out, the rising junior at Oceanside high would like to study fashion in college.

Sunday, Melanie Giessen, 16, of Deer Park beat Mayo for the top starting spot during the five-lap qualification round. Mayo was never able to overcome the gap, and they finished as they'd started, with Giessen first and Mayo second. Rain canceled the second of two scheduled races.

Afterward, Mayo was already looking forward to her next outing, next week in New Jersey. By then, she may even be able to legally get behind the wheel of a car.