The Only Woman on the Track; a Racecar Driving (and Fear-busting) Story
I checked off a bucket list item recently when I took my car to the track and learned how to drag race. I was the only woman racing that day. Let me tell you a story about overcoming your fears, and living a next level life, even if you’re the only one who seems to be doing it.
My 2016 2.3 liter Shadow Black Mustang Ecoboost convertible is my dream car. Ever since I had to sell the bright red ’66 hardtop I drove when I was sixteen, I’ve been pining for one. The practical demands of life wouldn’t allow for that kind of fun, until I gave myself permission to have some impractical fun and bought the car last year after my separation.
Fear busting moment #1 — What will my husband think when he finds out I traded the SUV in for my dream car?
After buying said car no buyer’s regret ever came. I waited for it. It’s not like I didn’t realize the impulsivity with which I was behaving. What about carpools with the kid’s friends? What about the dogs? What about the college funds? My brain was full of what ifs.
Fear busting moment #2 — What if you really are a bad (irresponsible, crazy, impractical) person for doing this?
I love driving my car. From the test drive to the moment on the track, there hasn’t been a moment I’ve not loved driving it. Even in carpool. Even to the grocery store. Even to the airport in really crappy traffic. Driving with the top down? Total heaven. Even in weather a little too cold for top-down driving. I donn the sweatshirts and down it goes. Driving a car I’m in love with is bliss.
Fear busting moment #3 — You’re not allowed to feel this good. This’s a luxury. You don’t deserve it.
Shortly after purchasing and embracing the dream-come-true feeling of it I decided I needed car buddies and created a MeetUp group for local Mustang and muscle car owners. I wanted a way to connect with and pick the brains of other car people. That’s when Ben found me and invited me on a cruise with a local car group. Thanks MeetUp! Turns out Ben’s won shit with his Mustang.
Fear busting moment #4 — You’re going to be the only woman driving on this cruise. You up for that?
The group of 25 muscle cars, a mix of Mustang, Porche, and even motorcycles cruised up (270) and through the Catoctin Mountains that day. It was a blue sky, top down day and I kept up with the Cobra in front of me the whole time (the goal of the cruise, aside from having fun, was to not lose the person in front of you).
I was able to play with what the guys call, “spirited driving,” for the first time since purchasing Jamie and the rush was real. Yep, my car’s name is Jaime. If any of you grew up in the Bionic Woman era, no further explanation necessary.
The group of guys I met from the Mid Atlantic Cobra Association that day welcomed me in like any other car addicted fool and after I was done getting over my shyness and “What must they think of me” shit, I had the day of my life and the thought of racing, like I was hearing some of the guys chit chat about, started wiggling its way into my brain.
Fear busting moment #5 — They’ll think you’re stupid. They won’t like that you’re different. They’ll call you names behind your back. You won’t be accepted. (Y’all hear the kindergarten level at which my fear voice operates?)
This was the point my new car friend Ben started shooting car lingo at me and much to my surprise, was extremely patient with the multiple sideways looks and tentative head nods I gave him. I had the “Mods” (modifications) bug. Jaime needed some upgrades if I wanted to keep up with the big dogs.
I was ready. So Ben called his friend Brad at BG Racing and Bill from B.A. Performance and we outfitted Jamie with a new tune, air intake, exhaust, and intercooler systems. We also slid in some new springs which lowered the car an inch or two for better handling (and a few hundred license plate scrapes until I could get used to it).
Ben added me to a couple car groups on Facebook and sent links for educational purposes and for other shows. We attended a local show together and I got to park next to some badass Mustangs. I started to learn the lingo — sort of. But what I really wanted to know was when we’d go to the track.
Fear busting moment #6 — Who do you think you are doing all this shit to your car and acting like you’re 18 again? You’re a mom for God’s sake. Act your age.
“We’ll rent the track out and everyone comes up to race their cars and test their mods. It’ll be fun, you should come!” Ben had me at “race.” Several years back I’d done the driving school at Richmond International Raceway. Eight laps in a stock car and I knew I’d been Danika in a past life. I was the only woman that day too. And now I was going to get another chance to race. My own car! “When?” was my reply to Ben.
Fear busting moment #7 — You might die. What if you crash? What if you do something stupid/look stupid/act stupid? (I think the fear of looking stupid actually overpowered the fear of death at this point.)
As the JPC Car Show and Track Day approached I could feel myself getting more nervous. The what ifs were torturing me. I tried to distract myself with laundry and errands. I checked in with Ben a few (hundred) times in the days leading up to the event to see if I needed to know anything. He sent racing tree apps so I could practice my reaction time at the staging area and the rules page from the event site.
“I need a helmet?” I texted him. “I don’t have one. And why do I need a helmet?” “You can borrow mine,” Ben assured me he had me taken care of. “It says I need a roll bar?” I texted next. “Only if you go over a certain speed,” he assured me again. “You’re not quite there yet,” he said. My relief was audible as I stared at the bleeping dots, waiting for his next instruction.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, this will be fun!” Ben seemed sure. I wasn’t so sure and remained nervous as I went to bed the night before after setting out my smiley face shirt and jeans, and closed-toed shoes for the next day. I’m thinking only a woman would decide what she’s going to wear for race day — but guys, correct me if I’m wrong.
Fear busting moment #8 — What if you look stupid, wear the wrong thing, look too much like a girl, or are just too much?
Race day morning was a challenge in butterflies. I forced myself into my cup of coffee and an egg, but couldn’t muster the english muffin. It sat on the counter getting stiff with one bite taken out of it when I decided I just needed to leave the house and get to the meeting spot early so I could stop freaking out.
I got to the Starbucks on New Hampshire Ave where Ben and I decided to meet and ordered a chai latte I knew I wouldn’t drink. A couple sips later I trashed it and sat and waited for Ben. We drove in my car to the Safeway so he could grab a sandwich for later and so he could feel the shift issue I’d described to him that week. After pushing my racing tune the car felt different. Duh. But I was worried that meant it would blow up on the track and wanted Ben to feel it.
We practiced a little power breaking in the parking lot so I could feel how to use my left foot on the break and right on the gas at the staging area for the best take off. Turns out I’d get scolded for that little trick at the start because I didn’t know what I was doing and did a burnout in the wrong place at the starting line. I didn’t hear any “You idiot!” coming from anyone after though. They were nice. Rookie mistake.
(Hee hee, I actually did a burnout.)
The drive to the track was awesome, top down, accompanied by some Van Halen, I was excited more than nervous finally. We got in line at the entrance and a super mean sounding Corvette pulled up behind me. Shit, I’m actually going to do this, I thought. And turned up Running With the Devil for a few minutes while I waited to pay my entrance fee.
Ben was ahead of me in his Ford 150 and I followed him into the pit area to park. We set up chairs, hit the restroom, found a few of his car buddies to say hi to, and waited for the first “Test and Tune” to be announced on the loud speaker. They had classic hard rock playing in between announcements. I was home.
“It’s too hot for racing,” Ben said. Ben taught me that boosted cars, turbo or supercharged thirve on cold air. “We’ll make sure to come back in the Fall when it’s cool and you’ll see all the cars running faster.” All I could think of was making it to the staging area. This was when a few second thoughts blasted their way in. You don’t actually have to do this, they reminded me. It’s okay to back down. No harm in it. “Are you fucking kidding me?” I’m not sure I didn’t actually say these words out loud in response to the voice.
Fear busting moment #9— You’re here. You can’t back out now. It doesn’t matter what happens. Just trying it is going to be the win. You’re racing yourself today. Just have fun.
I was nauseous despite this more pleasant and helpful voice. I had dry mouth. I was going to die. Ben knew. And he got me moving. We walked all the parts of the track. He explained everything. He answered all my questions.
We walked onto the track so he could show me the staging laser box thingy. We walked to the other end so I could see clearly where the finish was. He reassured me there was plenty of room after the finish to slow down. And then he drove me down through the exit and the ticket box so I’d know what to do when I was finished. He let me try on the helmet and adjust my seat when my head hit the roof. He helped me (by making me do it) strap it on.
“Test and Tune, Test and Tune, lanes 7 and 8, lanes 7 and 8, suit up!”
This was it. I was going to drag race my street car now. Ben sat in the passenger seat and we drove to the start where all the cars lined up. I was first in lane 8, next to another Ecoboost Mustang in lane 7. I’d later meet Richard, the owner of that Mustang and chat about his car getting stuck in second gear half way through his run. In the moment I thought, oh man, this guy has to race a girl. I wonder if he cares.
Ben chatted me up until I was called into the staging area. “Try to go around the water box, “ he said, “That’s for doing burnouts. You don’t need to do a burnout.” “Oh good,” I replied. I’d been watching some other races that morning and the part where they enter the staging area — there’s a spot where a guy with a hose waters the track down so that the guys can burnout and melt the rubber on their tires to make them stickier. I like my Goodyear Eagles, thanks very much, I think I’ll keep some of my rubber for carpool next week.
Ben got out and I rolled up my windows. He called me on my cell so he could talk me through everything. That was dope. I got to hear Ben’s voice telling me what to do at every stage of the run. Turns out I couldn’t hear him very well. So when he yelled, “Don’t let up!” I heard, “Let up!” and took my foot off the gas half way down the track.
I rolled around the water box and inched my way up to the tree. First staging light — yellow. Second light meant you were ready, but you had to wait for the car in the lane next to you to get his two staging lights on. When both sets of yellows were lit, you could expect the next set of lights to go. Yellow, yellow, yellow, GREEN! Except my instructions were to hit go on the third yellow.
I had my left foot on the break, and right on the gas, revving the engine to between 1000 and 2000 RPM’s — but I wasn’t looking at the gauge, and ended up pushing the gas too hard without breaking enough and burned out at the staging area. The guy with the head phones guiding us in walked up to my passenger window and said, “No burnouts in the staging area!” Shit, I thought. Meanwhile, I red lighted, because my car jumped and the silver Mustang headed down the track without me.
I backed up a little and waited for the next car to stage. Took a deep breath and set my left foot on the break again. This time revving the engine to about 1000 RPM’s, as Ben instructed through the phone. He was probably saying a lot of other things at this point but I don’t remember any of them.
First yellow, second yellow — he was ready. So was I. Yellow, yellow, yellow — GO! I lifted off the break and slammed down the gas pedal and made it to the other end in 13.857 seconds. Not bad for a rookie. My reaction time off the line was .135 — also not bad. I felt my heart. I heard my breathing.
“Don’t let up!” Ben yelled through the phone but at that point the volume was too low and I wasn’t about to reach for it. “Let up!” is what I heard and for a second my foot let up on the gas and then I remembered he’d said NOT to let up before so down it went again. As I passed through the finish and between the light-up boards, I rolled down the windows and sighed.
I found the exit, followed the other car through the lane to the ticket box and smiled as I pulled up to the window. “Thank you!” I said with a grin on my face the size of Texas. I’d pull that little receipt out of my pocket to show my new buddies about a hundred times later that day. And they would all dutifully look at it and make awesome comments about my first run. Thanks guys. Ben, Carlos, Rachel, Richard and Jason specifically — thank you for being so nice and making me feel so good.
I’d end up running the car one more time that day and improving both my finish and reaction times. I’ve always been a quick learner. It also helped I remembered to put my car in “Track” mode the second time, and not let up on the gas. The second run was 13.406 seconds and I’d hit 105 miles an hour. Reaction time came in at .079! That was cool.
Ultimate final fear busting moment #10 — YOU FUCKING DID IT, EVEN THOUGH YOU WERE SCARED SHITLESS!
On the second run I was nervous, but only a little. When you realize you were only afraid there’d be something to be afraid about — everything relaxes. Your heart, your breathing, your shoulders. I was more excited to run the car the second time because I’d had the first experience. I started imagining this feeling comfortable even — and me getting good at it.
Fear’s a funny thing. So paralyzing. So cruel. Until you get that doing it with the feeling, despite the feeling, is the answer, you’ll stay paralyzed. I’m learning to hear the voices and feel the knot in my gut and do it anyway. To make my body move with the feelings. And boy did I move this time. A quarter mile in 13.4 seconds!
Next mod? A rear end gear swap. I’m trapping in 3rd gear and need to be well into 4th. Let’s see what a little torque manipulation will buy me in the 1/4 mile!
“Hey Ben, when’s the next track day?”
You can see the video of my second run HERE!
Laura Di Franco, MPT is a holistic physical therapist, published author, poet, blogger and black belt with over two decades of experience in healing. Her transformational programs combine the empowering tools of body awareness and therapeutic writing to help you learn the language of your intuition and gain the clarity you crave for your life and business. Laura’s enthusiasm is contagious and the spark that’ll inspire you to make the change you’ve been afraid to make. She’s the sherpa you’ve been looking for! Want a workshop that’ll give you practical powerful tools you can use today? Find them at www.BraveHealer.com And more free inspiration on my Facebook page HERE.