Michai Stephens: A Family Away From Home
A dozen drivers originally were nominated for the 2015 Team USA Scholarship. This number would be trimmed to only six who were invited to the second and final round of the shootout. A few days later, the echo of my phone rang in the distance, and prompted a panicked sprint up the stairs. Mr. Jeremy Shaw was on the line; I paused to catch my breath, and then answered. After a few minutes of conversation, he told me I was invited to round two of the shootout, which would take place at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
In the following days I sat anxiously awaiting to hear who else had been chosen. When the news came, I was excited to see a few familiar names . . . ding, ding…here was a text from a friend and now fellow Team USA Scholarship nominee Dakota Dickerson that read, “YES, congrats man!” We soon jumped into action in an attempt to plan for the coming week. We both managed to secure and share a single test day with Huddy Motorsports at Willow Springs, Calif. With the fantastic support of the Dickerson family, I would fly in, complete the test in an F1600 Swift DB-6 and remain at their home until the shootout.
The test with Huddy Motorsports and the crew was a scorching hot blast! Having been away from the cockpit of a racing car for some time, I found myself having to work my way back up to speed. Both Dakota and I were happy, and planned for a multi-day cool-down back in San Diego. Playing in the ocean was a first for me but very enjoyable and relaxing. The first day of the shootout was upon us faster than expected and the instruction of Jim Leo from Pit Fit Training filled the morning. Jim did a fantastic job introducing us to multiple types of exercises and a further relaxed state of mind. The timing couldn’t have been better when Dr. Jacques Dallaire followed up with a complete seminar. We worked through mental exercises showcasing the power of our minds – the perfect ending to a day that led us into the mental war zone!
The single day on track made for an interesting dynamic. I figured the format would be similar to last year, but that was not the case. One subtle surprise after another kept me on my toes the entire time. A fantastic group of people were present, which added to the learning curve. As the day came to a close, I felt the exhaustion kicking in. The willpower put into a day like this compares to nothing else. After our goodbyes and quick stop at the local In-N-Out Burger, Dakota and I were headed home!
The following week brought yet another new experience. Luis Perocarpi, owner of LAP Motorsports and the John Cooper Works Mini team, had graciously invited me along for the ride down to Circuit of The Americas. In attendance was virtually the entire world of sports car racing: Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup series, Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo, the TUDOR United SportsCar series (IMSA) and WEC would take to the track by storm. About 20 hours later, we arrived and set up the LAP Motorsports resort! Our view – the entire back straight and the entry to Turn 12. The sights and sounds matched the empowering nature of this track. It honestly got me thinking of the many possibilities and potential opportunities that lie within the sports car world.
The days moved quickly, but the debilitating heat never broke! I aided in cleaning, setup and set down, driver development and more. It was fun getting my hands dirty and gaining a better understanding for a car mechanically. Everyone on the LAP John Cooper Works Mini team was extremely helpful and encouraging. We worked, played and ate like a family. The team faced many challenges throughout the week but remained focused and driven to overcome. Plus, much of it was to be expected due to it being their first year.
Having set sail for home, I had plenty of time to reflect on the week. I met some tremendous people at every level of sports car racing. Thus, many thank-you notes were soon to follow. The technology, level of professionalism and jaw-dropping character of the WEC cars brought a big smile to my face. My level of respect for sports cars and everyone involved had risen a ton as well.
There are many people to thank for opening their doors to me. Special thanks to Luis Perocarpi, O’Gara Motorsport, the entire judging panel of the Team USA Shootout, the Team USA Scholarship, RACERMagazine, Allen Berg Racing School, the Dickerson family, Huddy Motorsports, NEXGENERACERS, and finally, family and friends!
That light at the end of the tunnel is getting ever brighter. . . Only time will tell what lies beyond; it’s time to take the next step!