SEBRING - A 24-year-old drag racer died Thursday when her jet-propelled dragster crashed during an event at Sebring International Raceway.
Katarina "Kat" Moller of Sarasota was a popular driver for Larsen Motorsports and former University of South Florida student who spent five years at the raceway.
The incident took place at about 8 p.m. She was making her first exhibiton run during a drag racing event Thursday, according to a statement from track officials, when it was seen drifting from the left lane into the center lane. When it crossed the center line, officials said it struck a timing device.
The parachute was also deployed, and the dragster scraped the right side of the retaining wall before coming to a stop, officials said.
Emergency crews rushed to the dragster. Moller was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said. A prelinimary investigation found that debris struck her helmet, which may have fatally injured Moller. The final cause of death will not be known until the autopsy is completed, however.
"Kat has been part of our racing family for five years and we cannot begin to express our sorrow," Chris Larsen, chief executive of Larsen Motorsports in Palm Bay, said on the company's website.
"We knew Kat well and were big fans of her personality and her driving skill. Sebring International Raceway and the entire racing community are heartbroken," said a statement from Wayne Estes, president and general manager of the Sebring track.
As a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering at USF, Moller competed in the Jet Dragster division of the International Hot Rod Association as one of four drivers on an an-female Larsen Motorsports team.
"I grew up racing at Bradenton," Moller, a Sarasota native, said in an interview then with the Tampa Bay Times. "Every track is slightly different. The track conditions are different, and there are bumps in different places."
The car she drove at the time burned 25 gallons of fuel per quarter-mile pass in turbocharged General Electric J85 engines, used in small jet aircraft. Dragsters are a crowd pleaser for their speed, jet-like roar and big plumes of flame and smoke.
The cause of the crash at the track at 113 Midway Dr. is being investigated by the Highland County Sheriff's Office. Investigators are asking spectators to turn over any video they may have recorded of the incident while attending the event. They can call investigators at (863) 402-7250.