Michai Stephens: Racing Into the Future
Evanston, Ill. – I believe tremendous knowledge and great inspiration has been the driving force in the evolution of motorsport. Last year my efforts were focused on learning as much as possible inside of a racing car, to grasp the concepts of what it took to go fast: Vehicle and track knowledge, the effects of weather, mental acuity, physical endurance and time. All these things help us, as racing drivers, determine the definition of speed!
During the past few months, my journey has taken an unexpected turn. I have always been a student of the teachings of life. As a child, I recognized and looked up to those who were knowledgeable. I sought life experience to push my understanding far beyond my belief. That is exactly what the racing community and my dream of becoming an open-wheel racing driver has done. This is, and will continue to be, one of my proudest accomplishments, one for which I will always be grateful.
Skip Barber Racing School came back swinging with a fantastic opportunity to instruct with them. A Three-Day Racing School was first in line, and a Two-Day Advance course was right on its heels. Over those five days a lot of things came to mind. First, I noted this opportunity as a grateful gesture towards my development. Having spent only a year in cars, I was quick to check myself before opening my mouth! But I soon became comfortable with what I was seeing, and confident with what I was saying. The challenge for me was to connect my eyes with my mind’s perception of what was going on. I had to find the vocabulary that would help me articulate to the student what was happening on track, and what changes needed to be made.
Taking on another Three-Day, Two-Day and Formula Car Race Weekend meant keeping pace with a barrage of questions. I found myself answering more questions than I could remember asking myself last year! Despite their similar nature, each one of them held equal value. I say this because the circumstances were always different, but the situation was the same: bringing man and machine together, to work in harmony, to conquer a racing circuit and outperform our opponents. Each person would come to me with a different set of life experiences, views on life and current/ future goals. I found myself thoroughly enjoying every second, and soon recognized the unbelievable benefit behind it all. I was using this time to refine and further my own understanding! It was helping me identify the different ways I retained information. I soon began applying my own life experiences and knowledge to my explanations. This, without a doubt, became the coolest aspect of it all, as I began to understand who I was, what I had been through, and what I could pull from to overcome any obstacle in my path.
This sport we love has no limits, as its people and technology move hand-in-hand with the development of one innovation after the other. It has been cool watching myself became a part of this process of evolution. Becoming a professional racing driver is where I am today. The lessons I have learned and the knowledge I continue to acquire will only propel me further. Having watched the sport grow for many years, I now experience that same growth on the inside!
My continued development was recently noted by nomination for a 2015 Team USA Scholarship. Having been selected last year, I nearly feel to my knees when the news came through. This was the opportunity that helped nurture me in 2014 and has sense spring-boarded many of my new experiences. Well, the 2015 nomination would soon follow in its footsteps. All candidates were asked to attend the TUDOR United SportsCar Series race weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., where round one of the shootout would take place. Saturday consisted of multiple team and series organizer visits, a lovely meal at Marion Champlain’s hospitality, and concluded with interviews in the comforts of Mazda Hospitality. It felt like a day well suited for a rock star!
Coming from the now familiar scene of IndyCar, I wasn’t entirely sure how things would turn out. Would I know anyone, would anyone know me, would I be able to connect with them? Well, the answers to those questions were yes, yes and yes. This did two things for me; it furthered my recognition of the impressive history of the Team USA Scholarship and the place and time period I now represent because of my nomination. I witnessed this fraternity come to life before my eyes, as past winners littered the paddock. It was unbelievably encouraging and extended my inner drive to continue to one-day walk in their footsteps.
With the falling sun came rising nerves; it was time for business. Names rang one by one from the moonlit Mazda trailer. Then, my name was called, a shot of nerves leaped from inside me as I headed toward the stairs. Stepping through the glass door my nerves took a final jab, and then faded away as I embraced why I was there. Having familiar faces fill the room nearly brought me to tears. I shared with them the newly refined Michai Stephens, a young man looking into the future. I used to run away from challenges, but now I run toward them and recognize that an opportunity such as this is only motivation to keep me moving forward.
I can’t thank the Team USA Scholarship, all of its supporters, Skip Barber Racing School, my family and friends enough for continuing to believe in me. Their support and inspirations elevates my personal goals and understanding of the possible future. This sport and my journey within it has taught me a great deal. I look forward to continuing my contribution to the community that has given me so much life!
P.S. Tragedy has struck the cockpit of a racing car . . . It has become a sacred place in many of our hearts; may his spirit continue to drive on in all of us as we take to the track for many years to come… R.I.P Mr. Wilson – forever remembered.