Michai Stephens: Expect The Unexpected
Evanston, Ill. – As a racing driver the art of reflection and process of understanding has become a major part of my life. I have mentioned this before and find myself doing so again as I continue to move forward in life, doing what I love.
Confronting expected challenges and those I never saw coming, the last two weeks has managed to be a bit of a mind game. From the incredible successes to unfavorable defeats, the world of motorsport has taught me it would ultimately always hold the remaining cards. Days, months and even years of preparation can only get you so far, because it is up to you, the team and the circumstances of that single day to bear the fruits of your labor. Only then will you share the greatest feeling of all with the people who understand it most! A small victory in a growing and ever raging war between man, machine, mother nature, lady luck and the desired arena in which we play. What a place!
Having represented the 2015 Team USA Scholarship in the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy, I can confidently say I have walked away with a feeling of self-belief, greater respect and a set of valuable lessons. The final day of the Walter Hayes Trophy really brought things full circle for me yet again. This time last year I had just driven the greatest race of my life and was happy beyond belief. But this time it was a different story. This time I stood amongst the crowd watching the cars circulate in the fading late afternoon light at Silverstone Circuit. A beautiful setting and environment to go racing, and there I sat watching from the sideline. But as I think about it now, maybe I was meant to be there? Maybe I was meant to see it from outside the cockpit this time? Just maybe it was to witness the 2015 calm before the 2016 storm! : )
The Semi Final proved to be a tough race right from the start. Ahead and behind me were championship caliber drivers. I soon recognized that the racing was starting to get a little rough. So I hung within the top five and, with the constant shuffling of positions, those behind, in sixth and seventh, managed to close the gap. I now found myself in more of a compromised situation. I really didn’t want to fall any further down the order due to the effect it would have on my starting position for the Final . . . With three laps remaining we were starting to lose touch with the leaders because of ridiculous battling. While exiting Copse Corner (Turn One) I had a car just ahead and one to my inside. Then all of a sudden the steering wheel was no longer in my hands. It felt like I had been knocked off my feet! “What the hell was that?!” I had made sure to give the inside car plenty of space and was completely caught off guard.
Instantly, I found myself traveling perpendicular along the track and feeling as if I was more of a passenger then anything else. I scrambled to get the car under my control. Heading straight for the inside Armco I was running out of time. Wooo wooo wooo, I gotcha! Straightening back out, I skimmed across the grass and back onto the track.
That’s when my thumb starting screaming with pain. My first thought was that I had dislocated it so I began rehearsing every move I had seen on TV and movies. Well, after battling with it for half a lap, I decided to put up and shut up. With two laps remaining I looked to bring things home. I wrapped up an eighth-place finish, which was still good enough to qualify me for the Final. But after a quick assessment in the Medical Center and words of wisdom from team members and supporters, there was no option except to hang it up. I had sustained a severe blow to my left hand and was deemed unfit to drive. So I adopted the role of team cheerleader and headed to the grandstands to cheer on my teammate Dakota Dickerson and the rest of the Cliff Dempsey Racing drivers.
I flew home the following Tuesday morning, then visited with my doctor later that day. On Wednesday and Thursday I met with two other doctors and finally went into surgery late Friday evening to correct a broken left thumb with some newly acquired hardware, including a plate and screws. I was pretty devastated but not surprised that I was looking at a six to eight-week recovery which would include casting and physical therapy up to three times a week for the coming month. To pull on the heart strings even more, I was scheduled to participate in the 2015 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout and the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test at Circuit of The Americas this week and next. Both were fantastic and honorable opportunities that would have been an awesome way to end the year and hopefully make a great start to the new one.
In true fashion, time and the aspiring life of an open wheel-racing driver hasn’t missed a beat. It continues to introduce me to the unexpected, to the many possibilities that lie within the hours of a single 24-hour day. I have also now realized that some of the most significant scenarios you face are the ones you never see coming!
I want to give a big shout-out to EVERYONE involved with the Team USA Scholarship as we celebrate its 25-year anniversary! Big thanks to everyone who has helped support such a beautiful opportunity for youngsters like myself. My two visits to England have done two things. One, pitting me against some of racing’s brightest talents and two, throwing me into a world filled with cherished life lessons. Lessons and experiences that you couldn’t pay for, and that’s what keeps me going – to see where I will end up, to see where this story will end!
Personally, I like books with a happy ending!
Watch Michai’s Silverstone Heat Race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zR6thHFB-Y
Watch his Semi Final incident: https://youtu.be/UKnVwhfmJfQ