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Off to the races…

When ‘Miss Betty’ heads south… she drag races!

Webster’s Dictionary defines “race” (in part) as “n. 1. Rapid course, as of a river, or its channel. 2. A contest of speed, as in running or driving. 3. Any competition.” The dictionary defines “racing” as “v.i. 1. To move swiftly. 2. To contend in a race, 3. To compete against a contest of speed. 4. To run (an engine) fast without engaging the gears.”

For Miss Betty, aka “Grandma Badazz,” race and racing defines health, “It is an adrenaline rush that is indescribable. It makes me feel 100 percent healthy.”

Yes, Betty Swanson loves life, and she loves to race. More specifically, she loves to drag race her son Scott McLean’s 1999 Chevrolet Corvette in Green Cove Springs, Fla. She recently returned from a short trip and raced the 1/8-mile strip going 89 miles per hour in 6.1 seconds. Age is irrelevant.

“When the green light comes on, you take off. I can’t even describe the adrenaline running through my veins,” she laughed. Unlike drag racing Betty’s personal “races in life” haven’t been something she could laugh at.

It hasn’t been easy. The big C-word, cancer, has given Betty the drive and the determination to not slow down, but instead, live every day fast, and to the fullest. “Racing is therapy for me. One of the best days of my life was that first drag race in Scott’s 1999 Corvette. Everyone was ‘high-fiving’ me. It was an unbelievable feeling.”

In 1987, while living in Park Rapids, Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer. She worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital and went to Fargo for a mastectomy. Chemotherapy followed, and Betty’s new “normal” began. In 1996 Betty learned that the cancer was not in remission. Instead, it had gone into her left lung. “They performed what’s called a ‘resection,’ and I continued with more chemo.”

Living and working with cancer was to become Betty’s life. She moved to the Twin Cities, worked at Park Nicollet Clinic at St. Louis Park and learned in 2000 that the cancer came back in her right lung. “When the cancer came back I just knew I would do what I had to do. Most importantly, I met a new doctor, Dr. Joseph Leach, oncologist and researcher, who continues to be my doctor, and who really, for me, is part of my family,” Betty explained.

In November of 2007 Betty’s cancer spread to her liver. Earlier that same year she lost her sister, Lois, to breast cancer. Lois’ cancer had spread to her liver too. Grieving the loss of her sister, Betty realized that she must find strength through “living each day. I’ve had constant chemo for seven years now, but look at me; I’m not going to let it get me down.” She takes oral medication in addition to the chemo which runs in a rotation, giving her every third week “off.”

So, what does someone do with their “off-chemo week” time? Well, you drag race, of course.

Betty recently returned from a trip to the Greencove Dragway in Florida. Her first race was this past March, and she returned for more in August and September. She’s looking forward to the next race. “The staff there (at Greencove Dragway) is unbelievable. They are just great,” she explained. Her prime competitor is Peter Meile, who drives a Ford truck Ranchero. “The ongoing joke now is that he can’t beat me,” laughed Betty. I have a sticker on my Tahoe that simply says, “I beat Peter” and another that says, “Because I can, and in the dark.”

In September, the TV show Inside Edition did a feature on the racing grandma. Miss Betty and her daughter Pam traveled to Green Cove Springs, Fla. for the taping. Although a bit disappointed in the result of an eight-hour day taping and only a 90-second segment on the show, Betty has become a celebrity of sorts. Another racer showed up during the taping of the show and really wanted to race on the drag strip with Grandma Badazz.

“Clyde says he wants to race me, but I think he just wants the notoriety of racing me,” she laughed. Her notoriety has spread across the nation with a clip of her drag race highlighted on the Queen Latifa Show in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And, People magazine has been in contact. Miss Betty is a bit in awe of this newest development.

Getting behind the wheel of son Scott’s 1999 Corvette wasn’t the first taste of drag racing Miss Betty has experienced. “I started out with dirt track in the late 1950s, running a ’48 Ford with a ’51 Lincoln engine. “ Betty laughed. “In the early ‘60s I moved to Minnesota dragways, running a ’47 Cadillac convertible. My brother had a ’59 Chevy convertible that I raced and won a trophy with, coming in at first place. I was eight months pregnant in that race. When I found out that my grandson, Shane, was racing my son’s Corvette I got the ‘bug’ all over again at the age of 75.”

It’s obvious that Miss Betty plans to continue her racing, something she took a bit of a break from while working and raising a family. She’s back on track though. “What started out as a joke turned out to be the best day of my life, thanks to all of the wonderful people at the Greencove Dragway. And, of course, my son, who let me use his car, and my grandson, Shane, for riding with me. It was the best day, thanks to the rest of my family for being there to see me race,” Betty smiled.

Racing keeps her heart beating and adrenaline rushing. As if the cancer weren’t enough, Miss Betty needed a pacemaker in 2005.

“Something must be going right because they disconnected it in January of this year, 2014. I still have it. It’s disconnected. But I say, I’m still wired for adventure and speed,” she said.

As Miss Betty continues to race she will continue to fill the record books. “They tell me I have what’s called good ‘reaction time’ while I race. I don’t know the numbers, but what I do know is I’m racing down a drag-strip going 89 MPH, 1/8 mile in 6.1 seconds. And I keep beating Peter. And now Clyde wants to race me too. Life doesn’t get much better.”

Since her race in March Miss Betty had the misfortune of breaking her right foot, and her right lung collapsed due to scar tissue. Chemotherapy is ongoing. Yet, she’s determined.

“I have the best doctor in the world,” she said. “The day I spent in March racing was the best. Words cannot describe how wonderful it was for me with my family, my kids, my grandkids, and my great-grandkids…all there.”

Miss Betty lives near Starbuck on Lake Minnewaska during the summer months with Joe Rupp. The couple lives in Maple Grove during the winter. In addition to her son Scott, Miss Betty has a son, Mike, and two daughters, Kelly and Pam. She lost another daughter, Jackie, in 1999, to a heart attack. She has seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. They all know it’s not cookies that their grandma bakes. Instead, she’s a drag racing grandma who occasionally finds time to bake them a pie.

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