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8 Questions with Amy Lerner - International Off-Road Racer

Posted in News on February 25, 2014
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Photographers: Jeremy Cook

Off-Road racing has been growing considerably over the last few years from King of The Hammers to Jeepspeed racing classes in MORE and BITD racing series. Even the average Jeeper can wrench, weld and grind their way into a competitive off-road race vehicle. With so many different race series available for enthusiasts and weekend warriors to compete in, off-road racing is still very much a male dominated sport but the gender barriers are slowly but surely being broken down by many brave women who are strapping into race trucks all across the globe.

We had the pleasure of meeting with international off-road racer Amy Lerner of Team Lerner Reina to check out her awesome American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) ‘12 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon race Jeep that has been outfitted with race-proven parts and technology to make it to the middle of nowhere and back. Amy Lerner and her sister, Tricia Reina competed in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles in Morocco as well as the Australasian Safari where they completed the entire Safari from start to finish in their AEV ‘12 Jeep Wrangler JK which coincidentally was the only production vehicle to finish the entire Safari.

Not only did Team Lerner/Reina earn the fastest safari female award, they also won the Production Class A1.2 while also winning the Safari Production class overall. As if all those accolades weren’t enough, Team Lerner/Reina also won the coveted Dakar Challenge which earned them a spot on the entry list for the 2014 Dakar Rally.

Amy and her sister Tricia began their off-road career by competing in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles in Morocco in a Hummer H3 in 2011 but luckily they came back from the dark side and have raced a reliable Jeep Wrangler ever since. The Famed rally has been held annually in Morocco for the past 26 years. Using only a paper map, the rally itself is done entirely off-road and covers more than 1,500 miles through rocks, silt beds, harsh terrain and massive sand dunes all while racing to hit every checkpoint in the correct order using. Yup, you read that right – No GPS, no Lowrance navigation system, not even an old flip phone. This is a real-deal, old-school race that requires both the driver and navigator to know how to find their bearings in the middle of nowhere. The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles is truly one of the toughest rallies in the world.

So what’s it like to be an international off-road racer making dust and breaking gender barriers? We had the opportunity to sit down with Amy Lerner recently and ask her a few questions about her off-road experiences. Here’s what she had to say!

Jp: What's the wildest off-road experience you've had while racing?
Amy Lerner: Literally wild was, hitting an emu. Almost hitting a kangaroo and narrowly dodging a dingo.

Jp: Wow, how fast were you going?
Amy Lerner: We were actually okay. I mean, everybody there will tell you, you gotta watch for the wildlife and if you hit something just keep going because there’s nothing you can do and you’re on a little track and someone’s coming up behind you and that could actually make it worse but we actually; I think, just barely brushed the emu.

I did hear that the dingo sighting was exciting apparently because there’s not a lot of those around that people see. Yeah, in terms of wildest, we’ve had some pretty good (stuck’s) in Morocco, (particularly) in the dunes when you get into the big massive Merzouga dunes. Especially our first year out, we got stuck, stuck, stuck and stuck and then the more you do it the more you learn how to read the sand, the dunes and mostly how to not stop and keep your momentum up.

Jp: What was your most most memorable racing moment?
Amy Lerner: I think probably pulling through that big inflated arch at the end of the Australian Safari Rally because we went into it with little experience, a lot of research, great equipment and a lot of training but we had never done any event like that and it’s hard. It’s hard on the vehicle. It’s hard on the driver. The navigation and mental strain as well as the physical strain are tough. The fact that we did it, we finished, and completed 100-percent of the event is just amazing. We came in 11th on our first time out and that was a great feeling.

Jp: Are you looking to branch out into any other Motorsports divisions? (SCORE, BITD, Ultra4?)
Amy Lerner: I don’t know. Unfortunately you have real life and what we can do. It’s kind of opened up sort of a whole new world and it’s really a question of finding some balance between racing and life and this format seems to have worked for us so far. There’s a lot of events and a lot of really great places in the world for us to tackle where we don’t have to commit too much time every weekend. But yeah - we’re open; it’s all way too much fun.

Jp: What was going through your head the first time you strapped into the race truck?
Amy Lerner: Yikes!

Jp: How did those first 10 miles go?
Amy Lerner: The first time we did the Gazelle Rally (which was the Morocco race), I had such a lack of experience. I had never even really driven off-road until we started to train for it that I think my naiveté sort of carried me through and kept me calm because I had no idea what to expect so I wasn’t really worried about it. When we raced in Australia in the Safari Rally, there were some nerves in the beginning but for me, the worst day was the last. The last day was three 45-minute stages (super short). Half a day! Nothing! No real challenging terrain and I was just almost shaking the entire time because we had made it so far and I had one last day and I couldn’t screw up because we just wanted to finish the entire race. That was probably my worst day in terms of nerves.

Jp: Is there anything you’d like to add that you think might be worth mentioning?
Amy Lerner: I would mention the fact that at Safari in Australia, I got a trophy for being the fastest Safari female. My first though was, “Oh great, I got a trophy for showing up.” and then I thought, “You know what? I got a trophy for showing up. There aren’t any women here… why not?!” It really is a great sport and it’s a lot of fun and there’s no reason there should be any gender barriers. We haven’t encountered anything in our racing, and if you want to go do it, do it.

Jp: Just finishing the race is pretty rewarding because not a lot of people that start the race are there at the end. It’s a big deal to finish and is one of the most unique trophies you can get.
Amy Lerner: Winning the Dakar Challenge, you know winning the production class… that stuff is all phenomenal but just finishing the entire race... is... amazing. It’s an incredible accomplishment in something like this. You really don’t understand it or seem floored until you do it, and realize how much of an accomplishment that is.

We were talking to one of the guys who actually designs the Safari course and he goes out and he does all the Scrutineering and he sets it up and he kept telling us, “Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it, just think about finishing. You have no idea what that is to finish.” Having done it now we finally realized it’s hard. It is tough. Your vehicle has to be tough and all around we were fortunate and we made it. And now, we want to go do another one!

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American Expedition Vehicles
Wixom, MI 48393

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