Fashionista to Off-Road Racer in Five Exhilarating Laps
Imagine, idling in front of your pit in the middle of the desert, your team doing final tune-ups and checks to make sure your racecar will return in one piece. To make sure you return in one piece. Testing the microphones, wrapping you in kidney belts, making sure the GPS system is linked to your racecourse, making sure your harness makes you part of the car in case of a roll….this is Wide Open Adventures, and they do this everyday. The only difference in this particular day is that it’s an all-female race. This is the 4th Annual Powder Puff Race for the Cure, benefiting Cedars-Sinai Women’s Cancer Center in Los Angeles. Last year, $115,000 was raised by 150 racecars. This year the goal is $150,000, and over 240 cars are entered into the race.
Meet the Team
Nothing could have prepared me for this. Sure, I did my research. I cyber-stalked Wide Open Adventures online for videos, I watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s desert racing scenes for Wide Open’s theatrical debut, but that was a walk in the park compared to the carnage my driver and I were in for. Brad and Angelina barely broke the seal, whereas we were about to rip it off, chew it up, and pin it to the wall with our Stilettos.
I arrived the night before the race and met the rest of my team, made up of three women from three totally different worlds. I work in the beauty and fashion industry, and I’m as girly as they come. I can’t drive a stick shift, so I could only be a co-driver, i.e. the navigator. One of our drivers is pro-snowboarder, Tara Dakides, a seasoned extreme athlete in it to win it. Her big question to Wide Open was, “what’s the record speed for this car?” She planned to break it. Everyone seemed afraid of her. The other driver is Quintessa Cu, who works for a big Hollywood production company, with a smile from ear to ear. She’s also driven before, but this will be her first race. Quin had an aura about her that led me to believe she’s tougher than she looks.
Falling in Infatuation
My team and I checked in and signed our lives away with the race authorities, and then Wide Open’s tour operations manager, Nick Johnson, took me to see the car. I had arrived late, so the other team members had already been introduced to the soldier Wide Open had chosen to protect us. It was parked beside its trailer—a gorgeously painted purple shimmer covered in pink ribbons and sponsor logos, also in pink. It was a real life Baja racecar, estimated to be worth over $100,000. And I was going to get to ride in it! I crossed my fingers that nothing would come up between now and the start of the race that might prevent me from participating. In particular, I hoped I wasn’t considered too girly to be able to keep up with the other racers. The wheels were obviously made to wrestle anything a desert could throw at it, with massive 3-inch thick tread and shocks as big as my body. There are some pretty serious looking harnesses in place of seat belts, and two GPS computer screens, one for the driver and one for the co-driver. The crowd began to dissolve as ladies anxiously headed back to camp to rest up for tomorrow. No one would be sleeping tonight. As I nervously sized up the competition, my very existence was interrupted by what could only be described as the earth opening up to swallow us whole, anyone within earshot stopping to gawk and stare, jaws hitting the ground faster than I could gasp. I looked up at the sky for evidence of disaster striking. I balanced my feet on the ground in case we were in for a quake. No disaster. It was just Nick preparing to get the car on the trailer. It was overwhelming! My whole body could hear that engine revving! Not the typical roar from movies and streetcars: this was a low, beefy grumble which made it clear this car’s got a whole world alive under that hood, and this was nothing compared to the show it’ll be putting on tomorrow. It was merely clearing its throat. I did a double take when I thought I saw the car smirking. My whole body broke out into a sweat. We all headed back to camp to bonfire and strategize for tomorrow, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the car; I was utterly mesmerized by the mystery of what this thing was capable of. I was infatuated.
Just as I predicted, I barely slept Friday night. Racecars were doing pre-runs outside our window, and I could hear frantic repairs being made all night, followed by test runs and voices. I heard the squeals of other cars, but none of them haunted me like Wide Open’s purple punisher. It was in my dreams. I had never felt such a pull to a vehicle before. This was my first race! This was my first time in the desert! Why did I feel this way? I sat up quickly and checked to make sure the car was still on the trailer. It was pitch black, but I saw its silhouette against the moon like a ticket to an invincible life. I felt the car would free me. All of this after standing next to it with the engine idling. I couldn’t imagine what today would bring. While I brushed my teeth outside of camp, and rinsed with my water bottle, I realized I wasn’t scared at all. This car wasn’t a death trap; it was made to survive anything. I was safer in that car than I had been, sleeping in my Toyota 4Runner the night before. I was normally an extremely careful driver, barely getting above the speed limit, but over the years I turned into a vulnerable, fearful adult, always nagging my husband to slow down and be cautious. Better safe than sorry, right? But I’ve been missing out on a lot of wonderful things in life that are worth their risk! I’ve been so afraid to die, I was forgetting to live. Right then and there I decided this race is going to be the first day of the rest of my life. I threw some sunscreen on my face and ran over to find my teammates, my first time without makeup in ages.
Nick and the three team members figured out how to work one co-driver, and two drivers, into a five lap course without wasting too much time pulled over to switch off. Obviously, I couldn’t drive the car without knowing how to drive a stick, so Quin and Tara were the only drivers. Who would co-drive with professional snowboarder-turned professional racecar driver Tara? She was our biggest chance at doing well, so she needed someone who could guide her through the storm. Neither Quin nor I had experience racing, but at least Quin had a test run under her belt, and had driven the car before. I only had my brief introduction to it. Then I heard the verdict, “Katie you’ll be co-driving for Tara the first lap, then Tara will co-drive for Quin, then they’ll switch for the remaining three laps.” For the second time in twelve hours, my whole body broke out into a sweat.