Michai Stephens: Time Flies
Brigstock, England – The past few months have been completely mesmerizing. Having narrowly missed out on the Skip Barber Racing/Mazda scholarship to race in USF2000 this year and not being able to secure a full-time ride in 2015 meant it was time to hit the pavement. Thankfully, aside from some Cooper Tires USF2000 Winterfest races early in the year with Afterburner Autosport and a one-off F1600 ride with JAY Motorsports at VIR in June, I managed to maintain a foothold in the Mazda Road to Indy and the IMSA sports car series which ultimately all helped in my re-nomination for the 2015 Team USA Scholarship.
This was my chance to earn my way back into a racing car. I had grown as an individual outside of the car since last year, and no matter how badly I wanted to be in a car, I continued to remind myself of the leg work that needed to be done…. After Mr. Jeremy Shaw confirmed my selection for Team USA, I checked one of the two remaining boxes off for 2015. Going racing again was one, and securing something for 2016 was two.
The Team USA Scholarship has granted and taught me many things, including the ability to experience life the way I always hoped to see it and getting to know myself in the process. Moving through the days, weeks and months with a sense of personal fulfillment has changed me. Sometimes it’s been tough to see an end in sight, but this year’s nomination has been a big help in keeping the future bright, both in my eyes and others. I simply cannot express my level of gratitude merely through black-and-white text. The only way to truly express my appreciation is to make the most of this opportunity!
The past month and a half has been busy-busy! I continued my adventure after returning from Circuit of The Americas with the IMSA Tudor and Continental Tire SportsCar series, finding myself back in Indianapolis where I met up with Dakota Dickerson, Auston Harris and Kelly Jones from RaceCraft1 for a bit of prep work on the simulator. After three solid days where the focus was on on-track awareness, car setup and team building, I headed off again to Sebring, Fla. Thanks to past Skippy Instructors, new friends and current supporters, I participated in a single-day test with Team Pelfrey. The Sebring course paired with Mazda power and the USF2000 car was challenging but enjoyable. It was great to be back in a race car!
After rushing home for a brief 24-hour visit, just enough time to say hello to family and friends, my good friend from grade school, James Torres Gonsales, who has been a huge supporter of mine, continued his generosity by allowing me to borrow his car yet again – this time to travel back to Indianapolis. Luis Perocarpi from LAP Motorsports had invited me along to Petit Le Mans for the final weekend of the IMSA championships at Road Atlanta. I had a fantastic time, rekindling and making new and important relationships, while witnessing the LAP Mini JCW team score its best finish of the year with second in the Continental Tire finale. It was great for the team and cool to be a part of.
Come Saturday morning and with 11 hours of travel time ahead, it was a flat-out push for home! Then the next four days seamlessly blew by just as had the past month, culminating in another single-day test with Pabst Racing in its USF2000 car at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill. I was thrilled with the fact that something was finally going to be close to home, so hurried to invite what friends and family I could for a chance to witness first-hand what many of them had only heard about or seen in photos. It was a picture-perfect day with sunny skies, a cool breeze filling the air, the sounds of racing cars and great company. Strapping in I had made note of this and could hardly believe my eyes. Everything I absolutely love in life was laid on the horizon of my view from within the cockpit.
My current passion is the art of driving and the challenge of becoming a professional racing driver. While the support of family and friends has helped encourage me along every step of the way, little do most people know what a true global effort it has been to help maintain and further my current path…. My time in the car was great as I began experiencing my first proper feelings of down-force. I walked away this time with a large grin and warm heart!
A single day fell between then and leaving for England. “Where is the time going?” I asked myself. To good times, lasting memories and unforgettable experiences was my answer!
I took off for London Heathrow the following evening and landed the next day. This meant nothing but great things — the 25th running of the Team USA Scholarship was about to commence. I knew there would be a wonderful time ahead of me but I still stumbled into the same silly mistake I made last year by failing to pay attention while crossing the street after meeting up with Michelle Dempsey at London’s Heathrow airport and promptly attempting to hop into the driver’s seat of her car!
No matter, after hooking up with Dakota, we made a quick visit to the Cliff Dempsey Racing shop where we met with Cliff and the crew and put us right on target for a good night’s sleep.
My level of gratitude towards the Team USA Scholarship, Cliff Dempsey Racing, Team Pelfrey, Pabst Racing, LAP Motorsports, RaceCraft1, Nexgeneracers, family, friends, and especially the Valtierra family cannot be put into words. Without the help of these people and many more, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I only hope that everyone who has and will stand behind me continues to understand the massive amount of respect and appreciation I have for what you are doing for me…. The gift of life, as I like to say, is what was once my dream is now developing into reality! Who in the world could ask for more?