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Parkinson’s disease hits close to home for NHRA driver Audrey Worm.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – This weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway will have special meaning for Top Fuel competitor Audrey Worm.

Her grandfather died in 2010 from complications of Parkinson’s disease while her father, John, was diagnosed with early on-set PD in 2004 at the age of 40.

Audrey and John spent quality time together Thursday at Kettlefoot Rod & Gun Club in a trap shooting tournament to benefit the Bristol chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities.

“Since this is Father’s Day weekend and my dad and I race together, I want to bring home that Wally for my dad,” said Audrey, a native of Grantville, Pennsylvania. “It’s going to be hard, but I will try my best.”

Audrey, 27, is accustomed to battling the odds.

After making her one and only run in a junior dragster at age 16, Worm came to her father with a big request.

“She told me that she wanted to go faster,” John said.

John then agreed to let his daughter run his front engine nostalgia dragster.

“She jumped in the car and told me I was out of the seat,” John said.

Last season, Audrey ran a nine-race schedule in the underfunded OutRunPD Parkinson’s Awareness Top Fuel dragster for owner Gary Leverich. Worm’s obstacle course became harder after the team hauler was robbed of parts in early May.

Worm remained focused on the big picture of raising money for the Michael J Fox Foundation to fight Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement.

“When you hear the diagnosis of PD, shock sets in, you go through denial, get angry, and eventually try to figure out how to deal with it. For me and my dad, we decided to fight it,” Audrey said.

In addition to meeting with Parkinson’s sufferers at her NHRA events across the county, Audrey has a full-time job teaching a Rock Steady Boxing program for PD sufferers in Pennsylvania and Canada.

John became emotional Thursday while talking about the humility and compassion of his daughter.

“Audrey has been around Parkinson’s disease for most of her adult life,” he said. “It’s important that she’s out here living a dream as a racer, but what makes me really proud is how she is giving back to people. She had PD patients sign her car at each of her races last year, and at the next race she’s going to give out PD awareness bracelets.”

The plan for Audrey next season is ambitious. She hopes to a run a full schedule as just the second owner-driver in NHRA Top Fuel history. Shirley Muldowney, the fearless and outspoken three-time NHRA champion, set the standard.

“I’ve talked to Shirley a couple times and she’s a super bold lady,” said Audrey, who hopes to enter up to six races this season.

The primary role model for Audrey is her father. John Worm, who built the chassis for over 169 front engine dragsters, took Audrey to her first drag race at Maple Grove Raceway in Mohnton, Pennsylvania. It was a life-altering experience.

“I was eight at the time and the cars were super fast and awesome,” Audrey said. “After that day, I told dad that I wanted drag racing for a career.”

Audrey proved her courage and instincts by making the transition from cruising down the dragstrip in 8.64 seconds at around 170 mph to blasting off at 3.96 seconds at well over 300-mph in her Top Fuel machine.

“The speed, adrenaline and sheer power of the Top Fuel car is so much different than a front engine dragster, but my field of vision is actually better now,” Audrey said.

Audrey has her sights on making a statement for all female racers in the sport while carrying the banner for PD awareness and rewarding her father for years of devotion.

“Dad calls himself the overseer,” Audrey said. “He comes to all of my races, helps us prepare the car and comes to the starting line. I’m his baby and he looks out for my safety.”

Audrey’s also assists her husband, Aaron, on the service work for her dragster in between races.

This weekend will mark Audrey’s debut at Bristol Dragway.

“Being able to race at this beautiful facility is an incredible honor,” said Worm, who recently landed a sponsor deal with Strutmasters. “Just to qualify is huge for a little team like ours, but we’re hoping to go some rounds and set some records in this cooler weather.”

No matter the outcome of the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, John Worm will take pride in his daughter.

“There is no place I’d rather be then her with my daughter,” John said. “Audrey is still a little girl in my mind. She knows the risk in this sport and accepts it because her love of drag racing is so deep.”

So what sort of Father’s Day gift would make John happy?

“I’m just happy to watch Audrey compete and work toward owning her own team next season. Really, we’re both living a dream.”

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agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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