Dina Parise traded her ice skates and sequins for tires and a fire suit a decade ago.
The once professional ice skater is now the proud owner of Dina Parise Racing, a two-car pro modified drag racing team equipped to top 240 mph in a quarter mile in less than six seconds.
“The best part of drag racing is that there’s no gender separation,” said Parise, 46, of Oakdale. “It doesn’t matter who’s under the helmet. If your car’s faster, it’s faster.”
Parise started ice skating at age 8 at Newbridge Arena in Bellmore, and between the ages of 22 and 26, she traveled across the country and into Canada, performing with the Ice Capades.
“I was the girl who hung 21 feet in the air by my wrist and who was cut in half with a sword during a magic trick,” Parise said. “I did all the dangerous numbers on the ice, which I guess was sort of a segue to stepping into a race car. I’m a thrill seeker.”
Today, she travels up and down the east coast each weekend drag racing with her husband, Andrew Parise.
“As a kid, my whole family loved watching NASCAR and Formula One racing, but I was never interested in it until I met my husband Andrew about 16 years ago,” she said.
Her interest was piqued when she first watched Andrew Parise — who had been drag racing for 20 years — race at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pa.
“The first time she saw me on the track my car almost got wrecked,” said Andrew Parise, 45. “I saw her smile and the next thing I knew she wanted to get a hold of a car to race.”
After she went to Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in Florida, Parise and her husband fixed up a 1967 Camaro for her to start racing. Now she drives a 1963 Pro Mod Corvette with medevac helicopters, the Vietnam Wall, a stealth bomber and soldiers painted on its exterior.
Her husband’s 1953 Corvette is painted to mirror a P-40 Warhawk fighter jet.
“She’s competitive and takes it very seriously,” Andrew Parise said. “She beats me off the starting line, but I always catch up. She hasn’t beat me yet. I still get that pit in my stomach when I watch her race, but it’s something she’s passionate about, so I get over that feeling.”
She also spends time keeping up with other dragsters at longislanddragracing.com.
“There’s really no place for drag racing on Long Island, but we’d love to see it,” she said. “There’s a bunch of us dragsters on the island, so it would only make sense to have it.”
Parise said there have been proposals to build a drag-racing strip on the Island, but none of them have panned out due to misconceptions of the sport.
“You think of a drag racer as rough and gruff, but we’re all types of people,” she said. “People think drag racing is for rednecks and just creates a lot of noise, but it would bring in more revenue and create a sense of community allowing generations of families to spend time together fixing up cars, racing or enjoying the show.”
The Parise’s team has also supported the military since its inception by regularly inviting veterans to spend a day at the raceway and fundraising for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project. The team also formed the "Rev Up Sandy Relief" campaign, which collected items to distribute to Camp Bulldog in Lindenhurst, the Island Park School District and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
In June, Parise got into an accident racing at the Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Race in New Jersey when her car’s parachutes failed traveling at 220 mph near the finish line.
Its front hood, with a dedicated painting to the military, was damaged in the crash. To turn a negative situation into something positive, Parise created the "Stop Write Here" program, which gave fans the opportunity to sign their name on the new, unpainted nose of the corvette in exchanged for a donation to the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit that honors veterans for their sacrifices. The campaign is ongoing while Parise saves money to repaint the hood of her car.
Dennis Quitoni, who’s been drag racing for almost 50 years, owns Performance Services, a shop in West Hempstead that builds high-performance motors used in drag racing. He met the Parise couple through friends at various race tracks.
“Dina’s one of the boys,” said Quitoni, 70, of West Hempstead. “She’s smart, has a steady hand and reacts fast. She gets a lot of respect because she’s a great racer.”
Holding onto her ice skating background, Parise is known for pointing her toes and raising her hands up during photo ops after drag racing and getting her crew to follow.
“I always say you only get one ticket in life and I’m using it until it expires,” she said.