At first glance, Mianna Wick seems like an ordinary 16-year-old girl. Her favorite subject (she has always been home-schooled) is algebra.
She recently turned 16 and got her driver's license. She prefers driving the family's Pontiac Solstice, because it's cooler than the van or the pickup. She likes to sing and dance, and enjoys hanging with friends and talking about their interests. You know, chassis, top speeds, how cars are designed to jack.
Wick is one of a handful of female drivers breaking into the highly competitive sport of go-kart racing. Her room is quickly filling up with trophies and ribbons.
The daughter of Suzanna and Mike Wick of Delta, Mianna discovered karting at age 12. Mike, a graduate of Olathe High School, raced motocross "before it got really crazy and people started going upside down." The family has always been active, said Mike, a former ski instructor. A few years ago they were living in Kansas, a fairly limited state compared to Colorado when it comes to outdoor activities. Driving was one of the sports they could enjoy on the flat Kansas landscape.
The family returned to Delta, and Mike installed a paved track on their one-acre home site. It was actually built for their older daughter, who also had an interest in the sport, "But when she would quit, Mianna would just drive until she ran out of gas," said Mike.
Wanting to keep her interest piqued, Mike took Mianna to race at Grand Junction Motorspeedway, and she loved it. She was eventually invited to join club racing, and was offered a kart and other incentives and has picked up sponsorships.
Her first race kart was a touch and go, or Tag car, with a restricted engine that tops out at 80 mph. Wick soon graduated to a "shifter kart," which can do 120. "You can't get to 120 mph on these tracks because you have to gear for corners," said Wick. But she's tried.
The key to a good race is to pass as many cars as possible and stay out of trouble, said Wick. She's been in minor crashes and has had one concussion. Last year, a driver overturned and his car fell on top of her. "You try not to but you just get yourself into trouble every once in a while," said Wick. "Going that fast and racing that close, you're just always in incidents." A GoPro camera mounted to the hood catches the action, including crashes.
Occasionally the karts are overturned, said Mike, "which is the worst because they don't have a roll bar. That's a nasty crash."
Suzanna admits it can be hard on the nerves, but if Mianna can get a good start and make it past turn one, she's usually fine for the rest of the race.
Her sport leaves little time for other hobbies. Wick practices several days a week, and can be on the road for days at a time during racing season. All her hard work is paying off. In August, Wick won the S5 division of the Rocky Mountain Pro Kart Challenge, the final stage of which was held late last summer at Grand Junction Motorspeedway. The win guaranteed her a starting position at SKUSA SuperNationals XVI, dubbed "the pinnacle karting event of the year," and held Nov. 11-18, at Las Vegas.
Two other girls competed in her division, but that's an unusually high number, said Mike. While women like Danica Patrick and Janet Guthrie pave the way for female drivers, it's still primarily a men's sport. She is very petite, and even in all of her safety gear, her kart needs extra weight to meet the minimum requirement of 340 pounds.
"I'm definitely one of the few," said Wick. There are only a couple of serious female racers in the state, including her friend, 18-year-old Sabre Cook of Grand Junction. A Division S2 senior racer, she made history when she claimed the first female title at this year's SuperNationals.
Racing season ended with SuperNationals. The 2013 pro tour begins in April with SpringNationals. Next season, Wick plans to graduate from the junior S5 to the S2 senior class. But she'll have to work at it. While racing may not seem physically demanding, "It's a very disciplined sport," said Wick. "You definitely have to be physically on top of your game." The best way to stay in shape is to drive, so she often drives until she's worn out. She also lifts weights, and, reluctantly, runs. This winter she plans to play racquetball.
Wick understands that there's more to the sport than driving. "It's very crucial that I start learning the mechanics of it," said Wick. That knowledge will help her be a better driver and give valuable driver feedback to her crew. They can use that information to finely tune her kart to her specifications, which can lead to faster times and better results.
But it's an expensive sport. The chassis alone can cost about $5,000, said Mike, who works in agriculture. The Wicks live in a small house and live a modest lifestyle. Mianna races with Team CRG-USA, her main sponsor. CRG and other sponsors provide her kart, mechanics and other benefits. "There's no way normal people like us can do it without sponsorships," said Mike.
To get sponsors, drivers must also prove their marketability, said Mike. "Danica Patrick isn't the best driver, but she's marketable. It's how the driver represents the sponsors and label on their car, how they do interviews," that attract sponsors. Mianna said she watches the big races not only for the driving, but to see how the racers act, how they carry themselves, what they say and how they interview.
If finances and sponsorships work out, Mianna would move to open-wheel car racing. Once she turns 18, she can graduate to a small car, much like an Indy car which can do 240 down the straightaway. A small car has top speeds of 150-160 mph. She hopes to stay with open-wheel, Formula 1 and Indy style racing that is popular in Europe, as opposed to closed-wheel racing, such as NASCAR. But there are several routes to consider, including coaching. Moving up would also require more travel, since the closest places to train are in Arizona and California.
"You kind of have to be the best of the best to get the money, though," said Wick. It's one the most difficult sports to break into, since drivers from around the world compete for a coveted and very limited starting position.
"She has the talent," said Mike, "she just has to wow a sponsor."
Mike and Suzanna know that racing is a high-risk sport, "but there's risk in everything you do," said Mike. "You know, as a parent that's a hard choice. This is what she's good at, what she likes to do, and there's more risk in not letting them do what they're good at."blog comments powered by Disqus