Getting Back in the Driver’s Seat

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon. My first race was full of middle-aged men, and the decals on their cars weren’t all stickers like mine. They had been painted professionally. But paint jobs don’t impact speed and, to my advantage, I had the new LO-206 engine. No one else believed it was faster than their Clone motors, but I had tested it with my dad. My times were consistently two seconds faster. I had put on the new body panels. I’d squeezed tennis balls all month to build my hand strength, and the car had a brand new engine. I’d even come to the track with my dad to practice. The car was pink and purple with oil stains on the bumper.

This was my first qualifier at Carolina Motorsports Park, a road course, so it was asphalt-based and had a variety of turns. Fortunately, I really only had to worry about a few turns, like Turn 5, which was almost a 180-degree turn. I tended to slow down too much and go too far out. Turn 13 was the worst. It was the slowest corner and the sharpest turn on the track; I had spun off the track many times in that corner. I put on the ensemble of safety equipment required by the competition: helmet, neck brace, fireproof suit, close-toed shoes, and rib protector. People had died racing these karts before. I couldn’t take any chances. I was four back from the first set of cars on the left side. Technically seventh place. My dad motioned for me to get in my seat. He pulled the cord on the engine to start my machine and gave me a thumbs up. I pressed the gas pedal; the rumble from my engine magnified. The race began.

I came in last that day.

Racing is a strange animal. I started racing at the age of 10 in the All-American Soapbox Derby. I made it to Akron three times and finished my last year nationally ranked 8th in the Master’s division. When I transitioned to the Google Gravity Games, I broke the record for fastest time. Then, I returned the next year and beat my previous time; I still hold the record for fastest run.

For most of my life, things have come easily to me. Math. English. Music. I seem to have a knack for all of it. But it is impossible to succeed in karting without failing first. I wasn’t disappointed at the end of my first race. I was the only teenager and the only female in the contest. By the end of the race, I was hanging with the pack. I didn’t wreck. My driving was clean. My times had improved by over a second since the beginning of the race.

Racing has been a part of my life since I was a toddler and my dad was building a go-kart in our basement. Whether it’s soap box derby, Gravity Games, or go-karts, I enjoy the time I spend working on my own car, getting ready for the next race. I’ve gone from barely knowing what a screwdriver was to welding support beams for my steering wheel and making my own tool to calibrate axles. To some, this never-ending improvement may be demoralizing. For me, it’s all part of the fun.

The best thing I can do in racing, and in life, is improve. No one cares about my age, my gender, or how many trophies I’ve won in the past. I just have to take the wheel and do the best I can. Eventually, I’ll make it to the top.

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