SHREVEPORT, Louisiana — This coming Sunday will be the anniversary of local drag racing wunderkind Jack “JT” Tamburlaine’s untimely death, ten months ago to the day. Fast-rising up the ranks of the NHRA’s feeder series, the 18 year-old Tamburlaine’s second season in the Mello Yellow Series ended short a few races when a fuel line misconfiguration resulted in Tamburlaine’s top fuel dragster igniting with explosive force three quarters of the way down the 1,000 ft regulation strip. While vehicles of this type and the race drivers who drive them are equipped with measures to aide in driver safety in the event of a fire, Tamburlaine’s crash after the explosion resulted in catastrophic failure of his safety cage, and he was ultimately unable to remove himself even with the assistance of rescue workers on site from the car before sustaining burns and significant smoke inhalation that resulted in his in-hospital death 48 hours later.
JT was one of four children of rally racing legend Ekke Tamburlaine, four-time World Rally Champion. Notoriously media shy and often brash when cornered, he’s handled requests to speak on his son’s passing with his usual degree of irritable stoicism. JT’s two younger brothers, Victor (8) and Remme (10), are expected to remain active in the karting scene despite the continuing hiatus since their brother’s passing. The eldest Tamburlaine child, however, has broken from the pack and stepped into the racing limelight instead of shying away from it — as racing neophyte Matilde “Tilly” Tamburlaine looks to make her debut this season in the newly formed SCOR.
Tilly Tamburlaine’s path to racing is a skewed one — she hasn’t sat behind the seat of a car or kart since age 14; considered a mechanical engineering prodigy, she stopped racing to focus on academics, graduating early and entering Tulane University’s engineering department at age 16. When her brother died last Spring, Tamburlaine was two years into a Master’s program focusing on engines and alternative fuels. As per the university, she’s on hiatus indefinitely, and only her public records of sponsorship deals for the upcoming season have given up her ambition to return to racing.
While unavailable for interview, Tilly Tamburlaine did send back a prepared comment when this paper reached out to contact her about her decision to reenter the racing scene.
“My brother was an idiot, he loved pushing the limits of human achievement well into the red. Racing is an awful place to emulate Icarus and fly too close to the sun, but that’s exactly what Jack did because he knew no other way to exist. When we were younger, I was a very cautious girl — over-protective parenting, maybe, plus the fact that I was a first child, I was scared of my own shadow. Jack lived to tease me into doing terrifying things that brought us both joy; he knew I was stubborn, and used that to push me past my own sense of fear. Once I got over being scared, it was easy to see a path for myself — to let my ambitions guide me towards what I thought would be my life’s work, building new engines for race cars. But then Jack died. The person I owed my entire sense of self to, the person who’s courage I borrowed for the better part of my life, was gone. I’m terrified that Jack took my bravery with him. There’s only one place I know where I might be able to earn some of it back, and it’s out there on the track, so for better or worse, that’s where I’ll be until I know how to be myself again.”
Our hearts go with her into the oncoming season.