Angela Proudfoot doesn’t like her racing gloves. The fit is fine, she admits, and the grip is good. It’s those little strips of leather on the palms that Proudfoot can’t get past. They clash with not only the rest of her drag-racing ensemble, but her entire worldview.

Proudfoot, you see, is the only professional athlete sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The 27-year-old Mount Pleasant resident runs her new 2003 Honda Civic in the sport-compact class at events sanctioned by drag racing’s major governing body, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Last weekend, the 105-pound Proudfoot and her 700-horsepower ride made it to the elimination round of an NHRA meet in Gainesville, Fla., before a transmission problem took her out of the running.

She’s also in her 13th year as a vegetarian and long ago adopted a vegan mindset that calls for disavowing not only meat, but clothes or other goods that come from animals.

“My father died when I was young, and I saw that all the diseases running in my family correlated to eating meat,” says Proudfoot. “I didn’t want to be like everybody else in the family, dying young from heart disease, so at 15 I went vegetarian. At first, it was for health reasons. Now, I think it’s more of an animal-rights issue for me….I don’t wear animals. I don’t eat animals. I don’t support anything that uses animals in tests.”

Her crew chief, Chris Neidemire, is also on the vegan team. But there are those racing gloves.

“Everything in drag racing has to be approved for safety reasons,” says Proudfoot. “And I’ve looked and looked, but I can’t find anything that doesn’t have a little leather on it and is still approved. I’ve got a racing suit and shoes made entirely of man-made materials. But those gloves are the best I could find.”

Proudfoot caught the racing bug long after going meatless. She’s not sure why, but it happened around the time she celebrated her 1998 graduation from the University of Maryland (with a dual major in dance and psychology) by buying a new automobile. Her life to that point had been a series of $1,000 domestic cars—her father had been a Chevrolet salesman, and the rest of her family stayed loyal to General Motors even after his passing—that were dependable only in their lack of dependability.

So she went looking for something foreign and fast. A stock Honda Civic satisfied both requirements. But only briefly.

“I liked to drive fast, and my friends knew it,” she says. “So after I bought the new Honda, they told me I should take it to Capital Raceway [a track in Crofton, Md.] to see how fast I could go. I don’t know why I listened to them, because I’d never been a racing fan or even thought about racing, but I did. And after my first run, I was hooked on speed.”

Proudfoot, whose day job was as a personnel officer for a mortgage firm, began upgrading every major component of her new car—even adding high-performance parts that she’d never previously heard of. With a nonstock engine, transmission, and turbocharger installed, the car she drove to work every day was capable of speeds in excess of 150 mph. (Proudfoot parked the car in the lot of the Woodner building, the giant apartment complex on 16th Street NW where she lives. Coincidentally, that building was once owned by the family of Jon Woodner, a driver who gained some renown on the international sports-car racing and rallying circuits before being killed in a 1988 plane crash.)

Unfortunately, Proudfoot’s lead foot went with her even when she wasn’t on the track. And as street-legal as her Honda was, it was constantly driving Proudfoot on the wrong side of the law.

“I had a problem with speeding tickets, and my car insurance got to be as much as my car payment,” she says, with a giggle that exudes as much pride as embarrassment.

To satisfy her need for speed in a venue where cops don’t write tickets, Proudfoot began entering the car in local drag-racing events, and, after finding some success in the imports class, she moved up to regional competitions held between North Carolina and New Jersey.

Last year, wanting to become a player on the national drag scene, Proudfoot approached PETA with a proposition: If the organization would help bankroll her racing endeavor, she’d spread the organization’s meat-is-murder message among the motor-sports crowd. That audience, Proudfoot explained, is bottom-heavy with youngsters—the same folks who made a blockbuster out of The Fast and the Furious, a movie that made her cringe—who could be swayed by the group’s pitch.

And, because she’d bought into the PETA credo long before, Proudfoot explained, she would be able to deliver that pitch with conviction.

PETA brass, whose previous sporting moves included convincing the NCAA and WNBA to drop the use of leather balls in favor of synthetic ones, quickly ponied up. Every quarter-mile Proudfoot ran last year was run with PETA’s pig logo on the hood of her Honda. The group uses the same porcine figure in its campaign to get people to stop eating the other white meat, along with slogans such as “He Died for Your Sins” and “WWJE? Not Animals from Factory Farms!” The campaign has been bashed by Christian groups, who also didn’t like a PETA poster that dubbed Jesus “Prince of Peas.”

Proudfoot says she spoke about the vegan lifestyle to hundreds of racing fans after taking on the PETA logo last year, and nobody hassled her about the new sponsor. She did well enough on the track during 2002 to invest in a new (and wholly street-illegal) Honda for this season, which PETA again signed on to support. So along with dragging in Gainesville last weekend, Proudfoot has been handing out Vegetarian Starter Kits to race fans at NHRA events. Weather permitting, she’ll do the same this Sunday at Maryland International Raceway in Budd’s Creek.

“Angela’s great for us,” says Colleen O’Brien, a spokesperson for PETA. “And we root for her, not just because she’s this strong female figure or because [PETA is a sponsor], but because we applaud anybody who will use her life to make an animal’s life better, as Angela does.”

PETA honchos told Proudfoot that they liked what she’s doing, and the group has approached her about appearing in an advertisement. She’s given tentative approval to the idea. “But only,” she says, “as long as it wasn’t one of those naked ones!” —Dave McKenna

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