Tresa Mitchell

Growing up, working on drag race cars was the norm in my family. It was the way of life. In fact, my very first memory is of my dad selling his Henry J race car. I was a very upset two-and-half-year-old, as I did not want my dad to sell the car. Fast forward a few years and I am heavily involved in our family drag racing team. I love everything about drag racing. The drive to go faster and make the car perform better is ingrained in my DNA. I love the challenge of figuring out what the race car needs to obtain optimum performance. Drag racing is really pretty interesting. It is a mixture of performance and show vehicle.

We started racing on the International Hot Rod Association tour out of need, as the local drag racing scene was moving away from class (performance-based) racing to bracket racing. We attended the first divisional race of the season and we were fortunate to win the race over the reigning Modified Eliminator World Champion. The success spurred us on, so we decided to attend the Winter Nationals in Darlington, South Carolina. There, we faced off again with the current champion and we were elated to get our first national event win at our very first national event. Success also led to big decisions. We had not planned on racing the full IHRA tour, but my mom told my dad that if he ever had any sights set on racing on the national level, this was his chance. After some serious contemplation, my dad decided to keep going as long as we were successful enough that racing completely paid for itself. We went on to win the IHRA Modified Eliminator and Overall Sportsman Championships in our first year on the IHRA tour.

A couple of seasons later I took over the crew chief duties for our race team. It was not something that I set out intentionally to do, it just happened naturally. Drag racing and problem solving are what I enjoy. I love the challenge of working on the cars and the new challenge of driving. I truly believe that everyone should follow their joy! Figure out what it is that you enjoy doing. Many people do not have that spark or passion. I think that is because they have not found it. Seek it out! If you do not know what that is go out and investigate! While it is very important to get involved early, it is also never too late to start something new. Do not let stereotypes determine your path. For me, it was normal to work on race cars. It did not matter that I was a girl. My parents never told me that I could not do something because I was a girl.

As luck would have it, I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama — the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. My mom worked at NASA and she would keep our family up to date on what was going on there. My love of problem solving and working on race cars led me to mechanical engineering. I was so very fortunate to have the University of Alabama in Huntsville engineering school right in my back yard so that I could continue racing and have the opportunity to co-op work at NASA. Drag racing and my co-op experiences are what set the foundation for my career. I was given a lot of responsibility as a youngster, and I took that opportunity and ran with it.

I am also so very thankful to my mom and dad for instilling a work ethic in me. They are very hard-working people who figure out a way to make things happen. My recommendation for the next generation is to find your joy. Then challenge yourself! Find a mentor, set high expectations and figure out a way to achieve your goals. Be willing to work hard and start from the bottom. Look at things from the bosses’ and customers’ perspectives and this will help you find your way.

photo of Tresa Mitchell


Tresa Mitchell knew from the time she was a very little girl that she had a devout passion for two things: drag racing and NASA. Drag racing provided her with hands-on experience from practically the time she could walk, as she grew up in the garage and at the race track working side-by-side with her father on their world championship race cars. This hands-on experience gave her the desire to understand how things work and how to make them better. When she was 15 years old, Tresa took over the crew chief duties for her family’s drag race team and she began making the tuning decisions. To date, they have won six world championships and set 39 world records, and Tresa was the first sportsman and the only female crew chief to be nominated for Crew Chief of the Year. Her deep love of drag racing and a passion for science and engineering provided her with the desire to become a mechanical engineer. Tresa began her NASA career as a cooperative education student while earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She worked at Marshall Space Flight Center’s Space Science Laboratory synthesizing high temperature superconductors, designing and building furnaces, and as the principal investigator for organic solution crystal growth. Tresa is currently in Marshall’s Office of Strategic Analysis and Communications, helping the center make the best use of its resources. She previously worked supporting the International Space Station real-time payloads and science operations, and as a Structural Strength Test Engineer. She continues to work as the crew chief for her family’s drag racing team. However, she recently took on a new role as a rookie Super Stock driver. She plans to continue to manage their racing teams, build racing engines and optimize their vehicles’ performance.