MELBOURNE, FLA. — On a January day during his junior year in 2015, aerospace engineering major Zach Costello was leaving Crawford when he spotted a flyer for an event at Panther Plaza. It said something about a jet-powered dragster.
“I said, ‘That’s cool. Let me check this out,’” he recalled recently.
He wandered over and saw multiple dragsters equipped with jet thrusters. One was covered up. Later in the ceremony, it was unveiled in all its crimson glory: the Florida Tech Jet Dragster.
“I need to be a part of this,” Costello thought.
Mission accomplished, and then some.
Six years after he joined Larsen Motorsports as a student intern, Costello found himself sitting behind the wheel of the very vehicle he saw on the Pantherium that day, ready to zoom down the course at 200-plus mph as the team’s backup driver. He now has seven races under his belt and a new, prestigious role: primary driver.
“I am excited to represent my alma mater as the primary driver for the Florida Tech jet dragster team in 2023,” Costello said. “I have massive shoes to fill as I am replacing my mentor, Elaine Larsen. She has taught me well and I aim to be as consistent and influential as she has been.”
Larsen, president of Larsen Motorsports and two-time IHRA world jet dragster champion, is stepping back from her role as full-time driver, though she will still race occasionally.
Becoming the primary driver has taken Costello, 28, full circle at Larsen Motorsports. He would go on to become a student intern in 2015, a member of the first cohort of students at LMS. He then spent more than two years as crew chief of the Florida Tech team. In 2019, the opportunity for him to become a driver came about – only to be squelched by the COVID pandemic.
But by March 2021, he had his license. He was officially a jet dragster driver – albeit one with an amazing perspective built from his time working in almost every area of Larsen Motorsports. He would later help assemble the chassis of the Gen 6 Florida Tech dragster, which he is now driving.
“This has been something we have wanted for years: from intern to crew chief to driver,” Elaine Larsen said. “When Zach first met us, he knew he wanted to be a part of this team, and now it is his turn. He has proven to have the heart and dedication that it takes to make it in this sport.”
LMS CEO Chris Larsen added, “Zach is the whole package: fabricator, welder, technician and jet car driver. I am excited to support him in this next phase of his racing career.”
Costello has been a racing fan since he was a child, watching NASCAR and road races. An aunt even took him to a few drag races at the Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Illinois, about 20 minutes from his Romeoville home. As he grew interested in aerospace engineering, his interests turned to propulsion systems.
“The stars aligned with all of my passions,” he said of Larsen Motorsports and its dragsters, which are powered by decommissioned General Electric J85 turbojet engines. “I was super excited about what they were doing.”
Costello has earned his racing license and done much of his work at LMS even as he holds down a full-time job at L3Harris Corporation, where he works as a performance analyst in the space antenna business area.
The Florida Tech jet racing team’s 2023 racing season will start in Belle Rose, Louisiana, on Feb. 25 at No Problem Raceway. Follow Zach Costello using @zachcostello.racing on Facebook and Instagram. Follow Larsen Motorsports using @lmsjets on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.