Photos: Grand Prix of Louisiana racing action _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- The trophies for the top three finishers for the first Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on display Saturday at NOLA Motorsports Park.

Rookie Sarah Montgomery’s first race this weekend at NOLA Motorsports Park started with a splash — albeit not the kind the Lafayette native wanted.

A driver in front of her kicked up a gush of water off rumble strips, slowing down her Team ALARA Racing No. 14 car. She dropped from ninth to last before working her way into a 10th-place finish.

Not that she was satisfied with her finish.

It’s this drive which is transforming Montgomery, a marketing major at Louisiana-Lafayette with a part-time job at a used car lot and another job in the works, into one of the top prospects in the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup Series.

“There is nothing more that I’m devoted to than racing,” said Montgomery, 20, who is also a member of UL-Lafayette’s wind ensemble band. “Nothing is going to stop me.”

Her goal is to, one day, make a living as a professional driver.

For now, she’s an unpaid driver, a norm for her level of racing.

Thanks to her sponsor, Roy Johnson, Montgomery has started to piece together a team. Johnson paid for half of last season’s races, Montgomery said, and purchased her race car, a nearly stock Mazda MX-5 production car (approximately $100,000).

Trainer Justin Piscitell flies to race sites from New York to work with her and her Team ALARA Racing teammates, helping her break bad driving habits learned earlier in her six-year career. Amy Jones of Lafayette is her first marketing agent.

“I’m definitely going to push as hard as I can to be the best female, by far, to come through,” she said.

“I definitely want my name to stand out as much as I can, because this is what I really want to do.”

Saturday’s race was special for Montgomery, because it marked the first time her grandfather, Thad, age 85, has seen her compete on a race track.

Dean Copeland won the 22-lap race (45.06.8). Brent Mosing of Lafayette finished 19th.

Trophies as art

Marshall Gaudet’s Grand Prix of Louisiana championship trophies — for the winning driver and team — start with two alligators nibbling at each other’s tails in a translucent, turquoise setting. They are surrounded by two columns, balanced on racing tires. A trophy cup rest atop both columns.

Perhaps the most iconic symbol of the inaugural race’s New Orleans roots: a red fleur de lis towering above.

The second- and third-place trophies are slightly smaller and different, with an alligator biting at a tire. These celebratory pieces may be better suited for a mantel than a man cave.

“I think these will be received very well,” said Ruth Chouest, a jeweler by trade and wife of NOLA Motorsports Park owner Laney Chouest.

“They’re so outside of the normal pattern. Just way outside the box for racing, which is so high-tech and chrome, shiny metal.”

Ruth Chouest wanted the trophies to represent the Big Easy through its iconic, funky, fun feel.

Now, she’s faced with another daunting decision: Should the 2016 trophies design change?

“I think it’s hard to answer,” she said.

“I’m so happy with this trophy, although I also know other creative people that wold like to participate. ... Well, I’m going to have fun, either way.”

Parade time

If the weather permits, Big Chief Howard Miller and the Creole Wild West Indians of New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood, as well as a second-line band will entertain spectators and racing teams with chants at the winner’s circle and beyond. The Indians’ car racing-themed outfits took about eight months to complete, Miller said.

Blow dry

With a forecast predicting plenty of thunderstorms, Derrick Walker, president of operations and competition for IndyCar, said the series borrowed NASCAR equipment from Texas Motor Speedway to help dry a potentially wet race track.

“We’ve got a device called an Air Titan that NASCAR uses,” Walker said. “We asked could we get it, and they said, ‘Sure, we’ll help you out.’

“We know how effective it is, and we have it all the way through the weekend, and we also have a vacuum cleaner to suck up all the water as well.”

Locals make a mark

Louisiana drivers swept the top three spots in Saturday’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge race, with New Orleans native David Ducote (Kelly-Moss Motorsports) finishing first in the Gold division (46:59.279), followed by Jeff Mosing (TOPP Racing) and Wayne Ducote (Kelly-Moss Motorsports), David’s father.