EV drag racer lobbies Texans to buy electric cars

A lifelong gear head and racing fanatic is on a lonely mission to convince her conservative community that EVs are fast and fun

Teresa Porter poses for a portrait with her husband, Ben Porter, in front of one of her favorite murals in Waco, Tex. (Shelby Tauber)

WACO, Tex. — Teresa Porter pulled up to the red light and turned to eyeball the crimson pickup truck to her right. Her silver fingernails gripped the steering wheel. Her foot sank hard into the brake, ready to pounce on the accelerator.

“He came to play,” she muttered, turning back to face the road. Her brow furrowed under a mop of curly hair. Lil Jon’s “Get Low” pumped from her speakers.

When the light turned green, the pickup roared to life and peeled out with a screech. But it was no match for Porter, who quickly sprinted to the lead. “Smoked him off the line,” she said later of her victory.

The most unusual thing about this short one-block drag race? Porter’s car was silent.

The winning vehicle was electric. A Nissan Leaf.

Cruising the main drag here on a Saturday night is more than a joyride for Porter, the 46-year-old founder of the Heart of Texas Electric Vehicle Association. A trash-talking, L&M-smoking gear head who spent her childhood fixing cars and hanging out at dirt-track races, she is on a one-woman, uphill mission to convince Central Texas to go electric.

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Porter spends countless hours at car shows and charging stations passing out EV literature and popping the hood on her Leaf to give the curious a look. She visits car dealerships across a seven-county region to badger them to sell EVs, and lobbies local officials to expand charging. Her volunteer campaign, funded out of her food delivery tips and other gig work, carries a simple message: electric cars are fast, fun and affordable — even for low-income people, if they’re willing to buy used models like she did.

“I’ve proven that broke folks can drive electric cars,” Porter says. And she’s trying to spread that message across Texas, one combustion engine at a time.

Her electric awakening began after some of her professional car-racing heroes embraced EVs for their instant acceleration. It was also inspired by her grandfather, a nature lover whose respect for the land came flooding back to Porter a few years ago, after she read several books about climate change.

“My brain broke. And I realized, it was one of those moments where my grandfather was kind of whispering in my ear, you know, this thing that I love is destroying this thing that I love, this planet,” Porter said, her Nissan key fob dangling from a chain around her neck. “Cars, racing … it’s pure acceleration. It’s nothing but hydrocarbons and all the tailpipe crap.”

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Porter’s electric prophecy is lonely work in this Republican bastion in the heart of Texas, where pickups reign and charging infrastructure is sparse. Some people laugh at her. “Haters,” she calls them. Many, particularly in the gear-head community, cling to their rumbling internal combustion engine, or ICE, vehicles.

But occasionally — especially when gas prices spike — she starts to win people over. A few months ago she held a sparsely attended EV show in Marlin, Tex. On a later trip to town, at the grocery store, someone stopped her in the pet food aisle. “Hey, you’re the electric car lady, right?” They chatted for 20 minutes about the costs and benefits of EVs before someone else quizzed her near the ice cream freezer.

In April, an EV show she organized at Bosque County’s only public charging station drew a few dozen attendees, up from a handful the previous year.

“I’m slowly chipping away at the ICE and using it to water down the haterade,” says Porter, who keeps a journal full of motivating maxims on a kitchen desk next to a dusty exercise bike. “History isn’t made by conformists,” says one. “Kick gas,” says another.

Porter grew up poor, moving around Texas with her erratic father, who worked as a carnival-ride operator and later as a shade-tree mechanic. She never had much of a relationship with her mother. “Raised by wolves” is how she describes the years before her father went to prison and she went to live with different relatives and friends.

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By the time she was a teenager she was hanging out at the racetrack and occasionally getting into fights with boys who got “a little handsy,” she said. “When I’m standing there and you walk up behind me and you grab my a–, I’m going to introduce myself to you,” she said, curling a fist. “You’ve got to have permission to do that.”

In 2019, she spent $13,000 on her used 2016 Leaf, decorating it with a giant “electric” sticker on the side. Her mechanic husband, Ben Porter, paid $3,500 for a used Mitsubishi i-MiEV, a tiny jelly bean of a car that gets about 60 miles to a charge. The Porters, who got married at a car show, park their vehicles outside their house in the shade of an interstate highway, plugging them into cords that dangle out windows propped open with pool noodles.

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Often, she targets her EV pitch to the audience she knows best: The car nuts and drag racers whose company she has been keeping most of her adult life.

After skirmishing with the pickup on Waco’s Valley Mills Drive, Porter pulled into a parking lot full of souped-up cars and rowdy drivers. “The noisy boys,” she calls them. Some come to hang out and watch the racing, others participate, watched over by police cruisers who ensure that the contests remain brief.

A white Ram truck filled with young men petting a French bulldog checked out her Leaf.

“Is it a baby Tesla or what?” one called out the window.

“No, It’s a Nissan,” Porter replied.

“What’s the zero to 60?”

“About 8½, nine seconds,” she said.

“So you don’t have to buy gas?”

“Nope,” Porter said. “I save a (expletive)-ton of money and I have a lot of fun. I don’t have to worry about my catalytic converter getting stolen. I don’t have to worry about spark plugs. I ain’t got to worry about a timing belt.”

Porter doesn’t consider herself a liberal. She’s voted for a mix of libertarians, Democrats and Republicans in the past, eventually tiring of the GOP because it “shifted so far right.” In the 2020 election she voted for the Green Party candidate because she didn’t like President Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

Her advocacy, though, brings blue-America ideas crashing into the heart of red Texas.

Earlier that evening, pulling into a car show at an American Legion parking lot, Porter spied a local biker nicknamed Shifter, who declined to give his name. Sporting a leather vest and a long goatee sectioned off like a link of sausages, he joked that Porter’s car couldn’t outrun anything “except for a wall socket.”

“You want to race, baby, you line it up,” she shot back out her window. Asked what he thought about EVs, Shifter immediately launched into a tirade about President Biden’s “cognitive ability,” saying he hated the administration “with a passion.”

“In other words, you think that electric cars are a liberal thing and you don’t understand how they actually support conservative values,” Porter replied.

“They have some weird policies, I’ll admit that. I didn’t vote for him,” she continued about the Biden administration. “I don’t agree with everything they’re doing. But when it comes to the stuff that was in the infrastructure bills and the Chips Act and stuff like that, it’s actually good for America, it actually puts America first, it brings jobs back home, including lithium mining.

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Porter popped the hood on her Leaf and opened the charging port at the front of the car. “She takes it up the nose like a coke fiend,” she quipped.

Soon, a dump-truck driver named Mike Watson wandered over. Earning $12 an hour at his job hauling gravel, Watson said he was looking to save money. “I think about all the gas that I burn. I don’t like it,” he said. Without a gas bill, “I can buy more food to eat,” he added. “I’m starving sometimes.”

Porter handed him a leaflet on different EV models. Watson wondered aloud whether he should just get an old motorcycle.

“You know, they make electric motorcycles now,” Porter said.

“Yeah, but see the thing about it is … I like the sound of that noise. I don’t want no electric motorcycle,” Watson replied.

“Hey, whenever you’re ready to go zero to 60 in less than three seconds, you holler,” Porter countered.

An organizer of the monthly show, Dewayne Wells, warmly welcomed Porter and posed for photos with her, but said it’ll be awhile before the region accepts EVs.

“You’re in the middle of Texas. People drive trucks here,” he said. “We all grew up driving hot rods and trucks, eight cylinders, gas guzzlers.”

“There ain’t nothing like American muscle,” said his friend.

Heading home at the end of the night in their separate EVs, the Porters drove along a dark and twisting road that skirts the edge of Lake Waco. Windows down and music thumping, they cat-and-moused each other, accelerating and overtaking in turns. When they reached home, they parked near their windows and plugged in.

“The thing about stubborn people, some of them you just can’t reach,” Teresa Porter said before heading inside. “But there are some that, you know, just might open their minds, just a hair, and then I can wedge it open. And some of that starts with getting them in the passenger seat. Some of that starts with them just seeing me month after month, still grinning, still loving it, still smoking them off the line.”

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