By Pam Lambert
August 09, 1999 12:00 PM

It was the mud that finally turned Angelle Seeling’s father into one ragin’ Cajun. David Sampey pulled up to his home in Luling, La., in 1983 to find his 13-year-old daughter—just back from four-wheeling with friends and looking like something that had crawled out of the bayou—being hosed down in the yard by his wife. “That’s when he said, ‘I’ve had it—it’s about time she started acting like a girl instead of a boy!’ ” recalls Seeling, now 29. “He said, ‘No more racing bikes. I want a little girl. I want a beauty queen.’ ”

Over the next several years, Sampey would get his wish, as his petite princess collected a bevy of local pageant crowns. But though grounded from racing, she never stopped riding—or dreaming of a title of a very different sort, Pro Stock Motor cycle Champion. This season the 5’1″, 105-pounder looks to be gunning toward her goal, setting speed records while leading the otherwise all-male pack in victories on the NHRA Winston Drag Racing circuit. “Angelle has proven to men with large egos that a woman can rise to the top,” says Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Troy Vincent, who owns a competing racing team. “It takes tremendous skill, heart and even more guts.”

Fierce competitiveness has characterized Seeling—the younger child of Sampey, 56, who runs a trucking business, and his wife, Gail, 52, computer-lab manager for the local school district—practically from the cradle. At age 6 she cajoled her parents into buying her a dirt bike so she could race like big brother Ricky, who’s five years older. During a competition when she was 8, she crashed and knocked herself unconscious. “When she woke up, the doctor is asking her questions to see if she was coherent,” her mother remembers. “Angelle gets real mad, shoves the doctor and says, ‘Help me back on my bike. I’m losing the race.’ ”

With drive like that, it should have been obvious that even after her father issued his edict, Angelle would eventually be racing again. By 1990 she was enrolled in nursing school and engaged to U.S. Marine Kevin Seeling when fate intervened. Seeling was being sent to the Persian Gulf and asked her to take care of his 600 Kawasaki. “I went into a deep depression after he left,” says Angelle. “The only thing that made me happy was riding Kevin’s motorcycle.” After several months of informal training with her uncle, amateur drag racer Chris Dufrene, she entered her first event. “After that I thought, ‘Oh, man. This is everything that I wanted in my life.’ ”

Though Angelle and Kevin married in 1991, her racing expenses strained their relationship. By the time she had saved enough from working as an intensive-care nurse to attend the racing school run by four-time NHRA champ George Bryce in December 1995, the couple had separated. (They were later divorced.)

Before long, with Bryce as her coach, Seeling was on the fast track. In her maiden race in July 1996, Seeling—one of the first women to compete in NHRA pro stock—placed fourth out of 16 racers. Two months later she won her first event, setting the U.S. record for the quarter mile at 7.37 seconds (which she broke this March by 0.16 second): And last year, Seeling shot up all the way to No. 2 in the national standings, behind defending champion Matt Hines. “When she told me she raced motorcycles, I thought it was probably this little bitty dirt bike,” says Seeling’s boyfriend, Nicky Savoie, 25, a former tight end with the New Orleans Saints. “Now I’m one of her biggest fans.”

Some rivals complain that Seeling’s lucrative sponsorship deals with Winston and Suzuki have more to do with the eye-catching figure she cuts streaking down the track at upwards of 185 mph than her skill as a racer. But don’t say that to her swelling legion of admirers, like the hundreds who waited outside her trailer at the Southern Nationals (which Seeling won) in Commerce, Ga., recently. “I don’t care what anyone says, this woman is an awesome rider,” says Mike Volger, a welder from Charleston, S.C. “She’s got it in her heart to race.”

Pam Lambert

Chris Coats in Luling and Commerce