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Vroom vroom: young ladies on the fast track

Kelly Adams, 17, spends every Saturday from April to September racing a 1989 Honda CRX with her number 007 painted on the side. The other member of Adams Racing, her team, is her older sister, Elizabeth, 20.

Kelly said she got into car racing because her dad did it and his dad before him. “I’ve been at the track since I was in my mom’s stomach,” she said. “I’ve been underneath the hood of a car since I could pick up a wrench.”

Her family travels 45 minutes every weekend from their home in Winchendon, Mass. to the Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H., where Kelly’s father raced for 15 years. Kelly races against about 50 other drivers, mostly male, competing for approximately $200.

“On my track you go up this really big hill and then you just drop onto the track. You get butterflies in your stomach,” she said. Kelly said her best friend, Hannah, is also taking up racing. “Some people might think we’re weird,” she said, “but it’s normal to us.”

And it is becoming more normal for young women across the country as well. The Lyn St. James Driver Development Program, held last year in Phoenix, helps aspiring women sharpen their racing skills and learn about business aspects of the sport. In 1994, the first year of the program, the 24 participants were all acquaintances of St. James, who was the second woman ever to race in the Indy 500. Now she gets hundred of applications a year.

The average age of participants has dropped from the early twenties to the teens, said St. James, who had her first experience drag racing when she was a teenager in Ohio. “I knew I could drive well and fast and I won,” she said. “It was significant to me.”

St. James credited Title IX programs, which mandated equal opportunities in schools for females in sports, with having an indirect influence on the rise of girls in motor sports. Even though racing isn’t taught in schools, parents are now used to their daughters being able to do everything their sons do.

There are also a lot of broader lessons to be learned from racing, St James said. It will make you a better and safer driver, build confidence—even force you to use trigonometry to analyze turns.

“You learn how to solve issues and how to approach challenging situations. You have to be very analytical and feel a piece of equipment and connect to it.”

St. James said things are very different than they were when she got into the sport in the 1970s. Now girls have role models, drivers like Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher, and movies like the Fast and Furious which features female racers.

“There isn’t really a ceiling,” said Jenny White, 24 who races stock cars. “The Danica Patricks of the world are proving that.”

White started racing quarter midgets in Kansas when she was 7 and won two national championships. She estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the people she raced against were female. There was always a female presence at the amateur level and it is now becoming more visible at the professional one, she said.

Back in the 70s and 80s, when Kelly's dad Scott Adams was racing, things were not that way at all. “There were no ladies running with us,” he said. “There were only powder puff races, where the wives would go five miles an hour.”

The success of Patrick, who got started on Go-Karts when she was 10, is a definite influence on Kelly, but her older sister, Elizabeth, was the real inspiration. Once Elizabeth started racing it was only matter of time before Kelly wanted to beat her sister at her own game.

Their father, whose track name was Scooter or Scoot Man, said he is proud of his daughters but usually paces back and forth while they zip around the circle track. Although they are outfitted with harness a helmet and protective nets, he doesn’t like to see them spin out.

For Kelly, racing causes no such stress. “When I’m out on the track,” she said, “everything goes away.”.