FAST LEARNER

Pride native pursuing a career in racing industry

The human body just wasn’t speedy enough for Taryn Parrino.

More than halfway through earning her bachelor’s degree in biology at LSU, the Pride native decided to forgo her planned career path — becoming a doctor or working in a lab — for the literal fast track.

After Parrino, 26, graduated from LSU in 2010, she enrolled at NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C., to immerse herself in the business of stock car racing.

“I knew I wanted something different, and that was when I decided to make the leap,” she said.

From her point of view, the change in career path wasn’t that large of a leap. She loved knowing how things worked, an attribute needed both in biology and racing. Plus, she said, a stock car racing garage doesn’t look too different from a scientific laboratory.

Since the career switch, Parrino has landed an internship with a stock car racing team and then a job at JRi, a performance shock company that supplies parts for professional race teams in stock car, motocross and drag racing. Parrino’s story has also become a favorite recruiting tool for United Technical Institute, the parent company of NASCAR Tech, which has sent her story to publications nationwide and featured her on their website.

For now, she is still one of a few women working in the racing industry.

“There are more (women) than you think, but it’s still a minority,” she said. “It’s getting better, I think.”

Growing up in Pride as a self-described tomboy, Parrino was not steeped in auto racing. She planned to follow a path similar to her mother, a nurse anesthetist, after finishing her studies at Central Private School.

Parrino enrolled at LSU and majored in biology, then worked at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, on a path to work in a lab or as a medical professional after school.

Then she started driving her 2005 Ford Mustang on the quarter-mile drag strip at State Capitol Raceway in Port Allen. She always liked to drive fast, and on the drag strip she could do it safely.

“You get to have that kind of experience without it being illegal,” she said.

Parrino began watching racing of all sorts, especially stock car racing, and occasionally she would skip classes to read up on the sport and its mechanics. She thought about changing her major to physics or engineering, but it would be like starting all over again. Her parents encouraged her to finish her degree, then decide what to do.

During her junior year at LSU, Parrino learned about NASCAR Tech. Its location in Mooresville, N.C. — nicknamed Race City, U.S.A., for the number of racing-related businesses and stock car teams located there — interested her as much as the school.

While at NASCAR Tech, Parrino worked most mornings for stock car driver Candace Muzny’s race team preparing her car for the minor league racing circuit. She took her classes at night and spent many weekends working at race tracks up and down the East Coast with Muzny’s team.

Mom Tammy Parrino appreciated her daughter’s determination.

“She did it all her own, got her own student loans, found an apartment and lived up there by herself,” Tammy Parrino said.

The studies at NASCAR Tech included developing an engine for a regional racing team and learning to work as a pit crew, changing tires and fueling cars in a few seconds. Parrino was slow in the pit crew course, she said, but she earned a top student award for the course.

Without much of a background in mechanics or auto racing, she had a lot of catching up to do.

“I was book smart, but I never had touched it,” she said. “It’s two different disciplines — you know how it works, but you can’t take it apart and put it back together. A lot of the guys, they could take it apart and put it back together, but they didn’t know how it worked.”

Often she stood out for her background and her gender while at the technical school, Parrino said.

“You kind of stand out when you’re a female,” she said. “They want to know, ‘Why do you want this? Why did you come all this way by yourself?’ ”

Nearing the end of her two-year course at NASCAR Tech, Parrino was hired for a position at JRi Schocks, a fairly new company. Her title, customer service representative, only hints at her role. After a few months of building shocks to learn the inner workings of the company, she began to represent the company to the outside, consulting with customers and race teams concerning JRi products.

“There are a lot of people who are very good with their hands but can’t explain well to a customer,” she said. “You’re able to move between those two worlds.”

In the future, Parrino said she hopes she can grow along with her company in the racing industry.

For now, her Mustang serves just as transportation, never seeing a drag strip.

“I don’t race anymore,” she said. “I don’t want to tear it up, because it’s all I have. Racing is money.”