Posted on October 19, 2016 11:46 AM by Michai Stephens
Over the past few months, the appropriate definition of being successful has haunted me. Typically in the racing community one can define success by setting a fastest lap or winning a race and/or a championship. But where do you find the encouragement when the results aren't there to back it up? After a mediocre (in terms of results) yet very informative year with RJB Motorsports and missing the final round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, I learned to find success in places I had never looked before.
The ebb and flow of any racing driver’s career can have a titanic affect on their psyche. Having had the privilege and honor of benefiting from a quick rise into the world of open wheel racing, time and its lessons are continuing to help define me as a growing athlete in the sport. I have begun to ask myself, what will I allow define me? Will it be the wins, losses, fast laps, crashes, or time spent teaching, thus making an impact and leaving a legacy? My answer - all the above.
Austin Riley’s pocket rocket.
Thankfully, my life has remained both busy and full of new experiences in recent weeks. With the help of the Skip Barber Racing School, I instructed a two day advanced racing school at the National Corvette Museum, where, by chance, I came across a young man by the name of Austin Riley. Austin is a three time karting champion who happens to be autistic. He continues to show that he cannot be defined by autism, but that it's just a part of his life. The two of us bonded together as I helped him become acclimated to an H-pattern gearbox and heel-and-toe downshifting. When it was all said and done, Austin shared his gratitude by letting me give his insane go-kart a spin in the parking lot. Having never sat in, nor even seen a kart of this magnitude, I was beyond honored to happily skip across the ground.
Working with the kids is SO much fun!
From there it was off to St. Louis and Indiana for some work as an instructor with Xtreme Experience, which provides people an opportunity to drive some incredible supercars. I then shot to the complete other end of the spectrum to have some fun with the kids of Nexgeneracers in their karts on a parking lot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wow. Just wow!
Another shift of gears followed as I paid a visit to my good friend Anthony and his family, which led to yet another experience of a lifetime. Anthony had kindly arranged for me to actually pilot a T34 Mentor owned by Ed Adib, a incredibly generous man - thank you! It was originally used as a military trainer in the ‘50s for the Navy and Air Force. Having had the fortune to experience the sensations of an open wheel racing car, I never once imagined I would one day fly a freaking plane! Well, before I knew it, I was wheels up and climbing to 14,000 feet...To willfully live within the clouds and take to your own path was one of my most liberating experiences to date - I finally touched the sky! :)
Performance Tech’s IMSA PC car.
Returning home only meant it was time to leave once again. With the help of Brent O’Neill, Kyle Masson and the whole of the Performance Tech Motorsports team, I made my way down to Road Atlanta for the 19th running of the famed Petit Le Mans sports car race. I reconnected with various personalities in the sport, including the newly crowned Team USA kids Kyle Kirkwood and Oliver Askew whom I had met during the interview process at Mid-Ohio, and continued my learning from Performance Tech. Unfortunately, I would have to leave the night before the race kicked off, but the trip to the airport was one to remember with the help of Robbie Converse and her son Keith. Funny thing is, Robbie was the first person I ever spoke to when I decided to step into motorsports. With her help, I was signed up for my first Three Day Racing school at Skip Barber which has brought me to where I stand today, sharing with you!
Now I know why the Capes win so much in USF2000!
My final acts of the month once again took place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was hosting its seasonal Chris Griffis Memorial test. I originally planned on gathering information from the paddock while sharing the growing world with my friends, supporters and coworkers Nickolas Williams and Devin Kennedy, plus NXG founder Mr. Rod Reid. Luck would then have it that I’d be able to drive one of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s now older USF2000 Van Diemen chassis. This was a very special chance to get a feeling for what we were up against all year. In the course of seven hours, many of my questions were answered. Closing out the day became bittersweet as I wasn't happy with the times I had posted but had a clear understanding for what I was doing both right and wrong behind the wheel. So thank you, Dominic and Nicholas Cape, for making that opportunity possible.
As always, I would like to thank everyone involved in my life and those behind the scenes as well for joining in on the fun. This journey continually blows me away by its nuances within the many layers of success. With every defeat, I feel as if I am one step closer to fulfilling the target I originally set forth. I will continue to use both the physical and emotional guidance taken from every experience I come across!
Posted on August 13, 2016 11:29 AM by Michai Stephens
A racing season - a short, full-throttle, no-holds-barred, unexpected, somewhat controllable ride to remember. With so many people, places and opportunities, it's a true challenge of self confidence and trust in others. My time with RJB Motorsports and the entire Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires in 2016 has opened my eyes and gifted me with my first proper professional season in motorsport. From the on-track battles both within and against our competitors to the off-track logistical dealings of a rookie team and driver trying to meets the demands of a seasoned veteran, to say I have learned a lot would be a gross understatement.
Rounds 10 and 11 of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda took us to the streets of Toronto, a 1.75 mile, 11 turn concrete jungle that kept your eyes wide open and breath short. Unfortunately, we missed the first session due to mechanical issues, so that put us behind a little compared to the opposition, but we bounced back well. The bumpy nature of the track and the unpredictability of every lap certainly kept me on my toes, but finishing the first race in 13th kept things positive, while Race Two brought us a ninth place result - our best finish so far!
It was great to have my two younger brothers and two best friends from grade school there with me, so it was time to let loose a bit. We decided to zip down to Niagara Falls to view one of the seven wonders of the world - man, oh man, was it worth it! From there, we cruised back to our home sweet home. The funny thing was, in just 48 hours, my responsibilities as a young man and friend would reach new heights: My good friend James had honored me with the role of best man at his wedding! Well, thanks to racing, I had already held a microphone to my face a few times before and was ready to take on the challenge . . . But as we danced the night away, my mind and focus began to slowly shift to the coming weekend at Mid-Ohio.
Boom!! Rounds 12, 13 and 14 were here! Thanks to Steve Welk and Aaron Telitz I was able to arrive on time and in comfortable fashion (thanks for the ride, guys!). The longest weekend on the season's calendar was going to consume the team and I for the next 96 hours. Thursday's on-track progression was filled with many new things, including the arrival of Jake Eidson, who drove our team’s second car and my own during the test sessions and was able to give us some valuable feedback. He didn't manage to go any quicker than me but his helpful opinion also allowed me to iron out a few thoughts of my own - thank you very much, Jake!!
The following evening I was honored to join Jeremy Shaw, his supporting cast and the 2016 Team USA Scholarship nominees for dinner and interviews. In true Team USA fashion, the Andersen Promotions tent was jamming with incredible people representing just about every facet of the racing industry! Having been through this process twice before, it was enlightening to finally get a taste of what it’s like on the other side of the fence! Trust me, it's nerve-wracking for the candidates but a tremendous opportunity to learn.
The fast, flowing and technically demanding 2.258 mile 13 turn Mid-Ohio road course was a dramatic change from Toronto. Having refined my attention to detail, it was time to lay down some Team Cooper Tire rubber and let that Mazda power sing. Our weekend’s race results included a 12th place finish in Race One, a 14th place in Race Two and a 13th place finish in the finale, which might not sound great but we learned a ton - again - and I was able to turn pretty competitive lap times by the time it was over.
There was one final duty before we packed up and shipped out - it was time to tackle my stage fright on the Cooper stage with the help of Rob Howden. A vocally charged and excited Rob exceeded my expectations of his past and current knowledge on my racing journey (THANK YOU). It was fun catching up and reliving all the great people and opportunities that got me here. But the best part of all was closing out the weekend in front of my younger brothers, father and friends speaking about what I love!!
So that’s all she wrote, folks. The cookie has crumbled and my RJB family won’t be making the trip to California, so my participation in the final round of the USF2000 series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca hangs in the balance. My current hope is to do all that I can to be a part of the action - or at least watch. My ride with RJB Motorsports has been a cherished adventure from start to finish. It goes without saying just how grateful I am to Fred Edwards, Ryan Barth and the team for sticking with me through it all. I would also like to express my deepest appreciation to everyone within the paddock for the tremendous support and fantastic competition.
The next few weeks will consist of making advancements towards next year and reconnecting with the kids of NXG at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This young group of boys and girls has helped keep me young and connected to our youth. With only three weekends left, it’s sure to be a thriller! From there, I plan on continuing my work with Xtreme Experience, Skip Barber Racing School, RaceCraft1 Motorsports training and the Team USA Scholarship.
As I look to continue my connection with the world of motorsport and all that comes with it, I can officially claim my addiction to its thrill of a lifetime!!
I can’t thank all of you enough for helping me to live out my dream...
Posted on July 9, 2016 11:09 AM by Michai Stephens
From the fire that burns inside to the one shared among our comrades, a challenge is a challenge no matter the circumstances, and for us lovers of motorsport, we believe "she" is the greatest one! As we head into Rounds 10 and 11 of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda for the Honda GP of Toronto, I can’t help but to think of all the memories already shared and the ones soon to follow. With only three race weekends remaining in my rookie season of this USF2000 series, thanks to RJB Motorsports, it’s time to break free from the past to make room for the future!
With things moving at their usually fast pace, our cherished weekend at Road America for the Kohler GP has already come and gone. The weekend as a whole proved to be rewarding in many ways. From family, friends, beautiful weather, early mornings to late nights and finally some heart pounding on-track action, the team and I walked away with 13th and 20th place finishing positions in the two races.
Race One set the ball rolling in the right direction after we struggled in practice and qualifying. Starting on the back row of the grid in 20th, I managed a progressive charge to 13th before a full course caution and green-white-checker restart blanketed the field. On the final lap, I found myself blasting through flying dirt, colliding cars and finally hanging it around the outside of two cars on the entry and exit of the Carousel :) However, I would ultimately fall back to 13th after being pushed wide and overshooting my marks into Canada Corner (Turn 12).
With higher hopes for Race Two, I looked to make the same calculated charge through the field. Our mission was unfortunately cut short due to a mechanical issue which dropped us back to 20th to end our day. Needless to say, it was a balanced weekend with mixed highs and lows, both showcasing our development and needed areas of improvement for the coming rounds.
My experience within this team and series in 2016 will undoubtedly go down as one of the most educational times of my developing career. With the ability to wear various "hats" throughout a weekend or even voice an opinion on certain subjects and decisions has been a great honor, I am immensely grateful for this opportunity and the flexibility that has come with it...From logistics to rebuilding an entire corner - by the time we blow this popsicle stand, I PROMISE you, I’ll be a new man, ready as ever for the start of the next chapter!
Many thanks go out to Fred Edwards, Ryan Barth, Metalloid Corp., RJB Motorsports and everyone on the team, Wild Board Energy Drink, Andersen Promotions, Mazda, Cooper Tires, the Mazda Road to Indy and all its supporting cast. A special thanks also to the Valtierra family, Kelly Jones from RaceCraft1 Motorsports Training, Skip Barber Racing School, the Team USA Scholarship and RACER Magazine for the help in getting me here!
When in doubt...persevere!! ;)
Posted on June 1, 2016 11:03 AM by Michai Stephens
The hidden beauty behind learning how to maximize our opportunities continues to define the character of myself and the RJB Motorsports team. Having competed in three of the four race weekends of the 2016 Cooper Tire USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, we find ourselves achieving a greater understanding for the task and goals at hand.
Rounds Three and Four at Barber Motorsports Park in late April uncovered an interesting set of challenges. We first had to identify, then comprehend and resolve the various issues. It seems this three-step process has found its way into nearly everything I do now : ) But, such a procedure only helps eliminate future mistakes and misunderstandings.
Thanks to a promoter test day, we had an extra day and ample track time to prep for the race weekend. The weather and car balance threw some interesting curve balls at us as we looked to march up the scoring pylon, but having yet found the head of steam we were looking for to push forward, the starts in each of the races made for a good opportunity to turn things around.
I’m happy to report both starts went well and I was able to launch from 22nd into the top 15. After that it was a bit of a struggle. Race one became more of a personal endeavor when a mechanical failure made the car extremely challenging to drive, although I was happy to be able to complete the full race distance in one piece. Race two began on the right foot as well. I made another good start, only to be nailed in the left-rear on the turn-in for corner five by an overzealous rival. This spun me back to the rear of the field, but with the help of a caution period and single file restart, I was able to pick off a few positions before catching my teammate in P14 and crossing the line in his slipstream.
Then came the month of May and a welcomed noticeable change from this time last year. "Magical May" is how I described my emotions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015. My past status of a driver without a seat marvelously turned into a fitted office of my #19 Wild Boar Energy Drink and Metalloid sponsored USF2000 car for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend.
The Speedway already holds a special place in my heart and career within the first three years of my journey. Whether it be on or off the track, the teachings that have come from this place and my time here have been tremendous. From being the first place I ever drove a USF2000 car, to helping secure a Team USA Scholarship nomination, being the first place my family had the chance to see me perform, supporting the youth karting program of NXG, whom I work with on my down time, Indianapolis already has facilitated many powerful and inspiring memories for me. As we move forward, I only hope to maintain and better my relationship to her pure beauty!
I found myself toward the rear of the grid in both Indianapolis road course races due to some misfortune and mechanical gremlins in qualifying. But, just as we had done at Barber, the starts proved to be our strong point. Exiting onto the front straightaway in a clockwise direction certainly threw the brain into a tizzy but, laying in 22nd, I began to peep through the rear wings and roll hoops of the cars ahead and was able to spot the front two rows. This was perfect, because as I had learned at Barber, there was a little game to be played before we set sail. I prepared for launch as the call came over the radio - "green, green, green"! - and fired out of my starting position like a bullet out of a gun. With the Turn One brake markers off in the distance, I looked to secure as many spots as possible. Both races began the same way, but with different line choices headed into Turn One. With fingers crossed I took the "around the outside" approach in race one, while in race two I took it to the inside and rode more curb then I had all week :) Fortunately, I made it through the opening laps free of damage and back inside the top 15 in race one and rounding out the top 10 in race two.
As the laps wound down, we struggled to keep pace with the leaders and began to fall back. However, this did not mean we didn't have a good time taking note of our areas of needed improvement and the fun aspect of playing with our race craft. I would like to thank the team, the Speedway, Mazda, Cooper Tire and Andersen Promotions for the GOOD times! Finishing race one 19th and race two in 15th meant we certainly still have some work to do, but just because we haven’t risen to the top of the scoring stand does not mean we have not made massive improvements as a TEAM!
Ultimately, as a team, we decided to skip this past weekend’s race at Lucas Oil Raceway. Instead we look to channel our focus to better prepare ourselves for the upcoming series test at MidOhio.
With the remainder of the season fast approaching, it’s time to buckle up and get back after it!!
Thank you everyone for keeping up to speed and for all the FANTASTIC support!!
Posted on April 21, 2016 10:42 AM by Michai Stephens
Hello everyone, Round two of the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda is just hours away. Yippee!
Clawing our way through the GP of St. Pete for the first races of the Mazda Road to Indy season served the RJB Motorsports team and me quite well! Our continued unification and understanding of the pressing objectives has risen and will continue to grow. Now everyone on the team is excited to return to an already familiar place at Barber Motorsports Park. Hopes remain high across the board!
Family time has been at a premium lately, but the sizable break in the schedule helped make up for lost time. Having shared a room with my younger brothers our entire lives, the distant times have only exaggerated how far we have all come. Having the three of us back together again was very special. Sachi, 20 years old and the middle child of the family, has a colorful and progressive life away at college, while Tayis, 17 years old and the youngest, continues striving through his final days in high school. Sharing our life adventures and experiences has become a cherished must-do. Needless to say, I learn as much from them as they do from me - love you guys! "Big bro"!
As the days progressed following my USF2000 debut with the RJB team at St. Petersburg, a neat opportunity landed in my lap. Thanks to Cal DeNyse from Xtreme Experience, Scott Friedland from IOM Cases and the AT&T flagship store on Michigan Ave in Chicago, I found myself posed alongside a McLaren, Ferrari and Lamborghini smack in the middle of my home city!! The premise of this gathering was to help promote the launch of his new IOM iPhone case, inspired by the artistry of modern day supercars. Just imagine what kind of attention we caught : )
The following week I shifted my base to Indianapolis, Ind. I started by connecting with Kelly Jones from RaceCraft1 Motorsports and blasted collectively into the future. Settling into his familiar handcrafted simulator cockpits meant it was time to get to work! Throughout the week I also visited with various people and prepared for the upcoming race weekend in Alabama. My final two days in Indy were spent with Rod Reid, the founder of Nexgeneracers, an incredible Youth Karting program operating out of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the first weekend for our new and improved GP1 and GP2 kids who were all looking to kick off the season the right way. Well, the cold weather couldn't hold them back as first time winners and believers surged forward.
Next, after a brief return home, came another wonderful opportunity, thanks to the Valtierra family. We collectively ran from the nasty cold of Chicago and Madison, Wis., respectively, to the sunny shores of Long Beach, Calif. The 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach awaited us in all its glory and we were ready to soak it up! The weekend was filled with all the sights and sounds you could ever want in a single weekend. While running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I ran into many familiar faces and a few new ones as well! Saturday evening was particularly special as the 24th annual RACER Magazine party kept the spirits and the future of this sport and my dream alive!!
L. to R.: Doug Mockett, Michai, Spencer Pigot and Neil Alberico
Suddenly, it was Sunday afternoon and race day for Round Three of the Verizon IndyCar Series! With the cars taking to the false grid, people flooded the pits like working ants on a charge. A bubbling environment to say the least was waiting to explode as the spirits of our national anthem echoed across the sea of people. As the command was given for drivers to start their engines, it was time to find a cozy viewing spot. Thanks to long time Team USA Scholarship supporter Doug Mockett, I was suite approved and smile applied! The view was incredible, and familiar faces and former Team USA nominees made it all the better. Enjoying the action came easy and was an absolute pleasure to experience it in such a way! Having mingled with some of Doug’s AWESOME staff, the real pleasure came while spending some quality time with the man himself...They were moments to remember.
Having filled our bellies with all the goodness California could offer and raised spirits for the coming weekend, the Valtierras and I packed up after the race and shipped out Monday morning. It is now Wednesday, and with an early wakeup call set for a bright and early departure to Birmingham, Ala., it is time to sign off and catch you later. Bring on Round Two and the lessons it will surely bring.
Ready - set - GO!!
My deepest thanks to everyone in this sport and my supporting cast. It wouldn't be the same without you : )
Posted on March 16, 2016 10:20 AM by Michai Stephens
Returning home from St. Petersburg, Fla., marked another major stepping stone in my journey. The 2016 chapter has officially begun with the conclusion of the first round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. With 14 rounds still remaining, I believe we are all in for a special treat!
How cool is this new Sparco race suit?
The first stop was Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., for the official Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training preseason test. It was a great opportunity for me and the RJB Motorsports team to gain some track time with most of the other full-season contenders. Arriving at Barber brought a very welcoming sight - for the first time I got to see the RJB hauler in all its glory; our new home away from home for this season.
After three full days of jam-packed media training and six on track sessions, the team and I really started to build on our foundation. Being a part of such a wonderful leap of faith has already taught me a great deal and will only continue to do so! It goes without saying how grateful I am to Fred Edwards and Ryan Barth for such a magical opportunity.
Sliding into the Tampa, Fla., area the following day brought an opportunity to have a chat with our next generation. Turner Bartels K8 Middle School welcomed our belief in perseverance, heartfelt living and a positive attitude to accomplish whatever dream or goal imaginable. We showcased the race car, gave a personal presentation and answered questions in front of over 300 students. Turner Bartels’ education is focused around #STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - which made for a great tie into understanding the building and operating of a racing car. With a final - Hip Hip Hooray which nearly tore down the building, we headed on to our final destination for the weekend.
On the streets (JAM Motorsport Photography)
Arriving in St. Pete raised the hairs on my arms and quickly shocked me back into reality. I was here, I was actually here!!! Time then seamlessly shifted into high gear as I fought to keep those thoughts from leaving me in just the blink of an eye. This also served as a pleasant reminder as to how fast this sacred world moves. The on track activities kicked off with a shortened evening practice on Thursday that brought the fading sun directly into my line of sight for Turn One. It was sensory overload and after reaching for my turn signal a few times I pinched myself back into reality and got on with the program :)
Courtesy of MS Photography.
The plethora of visual cues, echoing Mazda power screaming off the walls and howling Cooper tires only added to the harmonic melody of the song and dance. It was a very special privilege to finally be orchestrating it all! A smile please, more like a beaming grin of joy from ear to ear!
After practice two and qualifying, it was time to go racing. Having misjudged a few things in qualifying I was going to be starting the first of two races in 16th among a super competitive 26 car field. As the green flag flew, so did many aspirations of making it through the first corner without some sort of carnage. With cars scattered to my left and right I dove down to the inside and picked my way through the wreckage. After multiple laps behind the safety car and a few humorous jokes over the radio, we were going green the next time by.
It took only 100ft past the start/finish line to find myself tearing towards another cloud of smoke. I slowed to reframe from being caught up in the mangle once again, but unfortunately lost a few spots in the process. Having been under caution for most of the race, we had about six laps remaining to sort things out. By the end I had avoided two additional collisions and crossed the line in 11th place.
The Wild Boar car charging (JAM Motorsport Photography)
As we crawled through pit lane and back to the paddock, there was a clear knocking noise coming from the undercarriage. After radioing my suspicions to the team, I hopped out to recap the race. The knocking would soon be discovered as a broken frame rail, located underneath the engine. Having found the problem, the team sprung into action and hustled to get her all buttoned up for Race Two. The guys got within 10 minutes of completing the job but just simply ran out of time. It was fantastic to see the immense heart and dedication put forth to getting me back on track. My teammate Clint McMahan, however, was cleared and ready to race, so I made myself useful and sprinted off to the Turn One grandstands. From there I managed to provide Clint with some information throughout the race.
With lessons learned, objectives met and new goals set, RJB Motorsports and I are ready to take on the challenges Barber has to offer in the next two races in April. It was an honest TEAM effort from every single member of our crew and I can only imagine what the limits will be in the future. My sincerest of thanks go out to everyone at RJB Motorsports, Fred Edwards, Metalloid Corp., Wild Board Energy Drink, the Mazda Road to Indy, Cooper Tires, Andersen Promotions, the Team USA Scholarship, RACER Magazine, RaceCraft1, SAFEisFAST.com, iAdvance simulators, NXG, Skip Barber Racing School, the race fans in St. Petersburg, INDYCAR, Bell Helmets, Sparco, JAM Motorsports Photography and everyone who helped get me to this point. I will forever cherish and respect your incredible support!!
PS. WE MADE IT!!! :)
Posted on February 14, 2016 9:33 AM by Michai Stephens
Today marks another experience and one more step toward accomplishing my ultimate and current goals for the year...
There she is - ready for our first proper test!
As I sit on a pocket of air over the shop floor at RJB Motorsports, I can’t help but look to my right and see my past, present and future - with a big smile on my face! Next to me rests my 2016 Cooper Tire USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda WILD BOAR energy drink sponsored Van Diemen-Mazda.
It’s an image I have been yearning to see since the moment I stepped foot in a Skip Barber Racing School car. We last caught up back in December at the PRI Show in Indianapolis when I officially became a driver for RJB Motorsports - a joyous statement and reality that I would be racing once again! Well, things haven’t missed a beat and the fast-approaching season has only increased the level of controlled chaos.
Inhospitable weather hampered our first test
I have spent the past few days at the team’s race shop helping out where I can and aiding in the logistics for our next test. The team and I recently returned from Savannah, Ga., where we conducted our first official test as a new team! It was a jampacked couple of days filled with the many new experiences one could expect. With the coming together of new faces, equipment, understandings and procedures, the weekend taught us a lot about what’s to come. Having driven down with team owner Ryan Barth and good spirited Paul (the truckie), we had the pleasure of getting to know one another a bit more. Other key members of the team included John, the team engineer and AJ, my newest friend and crew chief!
Filming for a MINI SuperBowl commercial!
The week before our test, I had one of the coolest and most unexpected things happen to me. Thanks to Luis Perocarpi, owner of the JCW MINI team in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and Tonine McGarvie, MINI Event Specialist, I was cast for a spot in their Big Game commercial to be aired during the third quarter of SuperBowl 50! The idea was to promote MINI and their newly refined models. The coolest thing about it all was that they were doing so by applying the hashtag #DefyLabels. Only after being swooped up from my home, taken to the airport, flown to LA and then driven directly to the studio did I actually realize the magnitude and amazingness of all this! I mean, you have to believe it hit me that moment I noticed a car outside waiting to take me to the airport! I knew it was special, but the shock value carried ALL the way until I returned home.
I spent a total of three days traveling and filming and was able to end my onset shooting with a chance to share my story. This came with a crazy cool looking camera rotating just inches from my face. While telling my story, I quickly realized the similarities of the #DefyLabels idea and myself, just like the other sport and TV personalities on hand. We had all been defined or labeled as something generally negative and have pushed beyond them. But what seemed so special to me was the MINI Cooper’s physical and emotional attributes and how closely they related to me as a young man and racing driver.
As the screen board slammed shut and the director yelled, "That’s a wrap"!! I felt this kind of weight lifted off my chest. I say this not in a negative context, but in a way I felt like I had finally shared publicly who I am, who I want to be and how I honestly felt about it. You know it takes a different kind of courage to share your honest opinions on something that means a great deal to you, especially when the world might not completely agree. But I do have to say - IT FELT GREAT!!
So, as I sign off and lay my head to rest, it’s a great feeling knowing that I at least have an idea for what is to come. In 2013 I took the leap of faith; in 2014 I raced my heart out; in 2015 I found the desire within...I can’t wait to see what 2016 has to offer!!
Many thanks to RJB Motorsports, Wild Boar Energy Drink, Metalloid and the tremendous people who have helped get me here. From new friends, family, business, and the beautiful world we all share and live in.
Posted on December 19, 2015 9:02 AM by Michai Stephens
I am Michai Stephens, a new and proudly signed racing driver for RJB Motorsports sponsored by Metalloid Corporation competing in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2016. Hip hip hooray!!!!
Onstage at PRI with Fred Edwards and Dan Andersen.
The past two and a half years have been the most influential of my life. It has been a relentless learning experience about the world and my place within it. My story started and will end with a vision, a vision I had as a little boy when I found myself bouncing around my mother’s bed as I lined up all of my Hot Wheels cars as if it was the start of the Indianapolis 500 or the 24 Hours of Le Mans! It was a multi-class event that had everything from open wheel racers to a big green tractor!
An early fascination for anything with wheels.
I would spend hours playing with my cars, and later would often plop a squat on the street corner to simply watch cars pass. My mother and I would spend hours together, picking out our favorite ones. Looking back on my childhood, I can’t thank my mother and father enough for always encouraging and providing me with the tools for imagination. We surely didn’t have it all but we had enough to promote creativity and limitless possibilities.
As time passed, I held my dream close while using any means available to express the racer in me. The love of cars or anything with wheels is a common trait with young boys, especially when you have two younger mini-mes right on your heels. The point is, this dream never stood out and nor was it supposed to! Having graduated from high school it was time for a new chapter in my life. I decided to attend Arizona State University in pursuit of an Industrial Design major. My hopes were I would one day design a racing car that I could then physically drive on track. Towards the end of the year I lost both my great grandparents and some of the most influential people in my life. I also realized it would take up to five years to get my ideas to paper, let alone a complete car. So I asked myself, what do YOU want to be remembered for, what would you see if you looked in the mirror?
Learning at the Skip Barber school.
Unsurprisingly, I saw the 2 year old racing driver I had always dreamed of being. So I searched Google "How to become a racing driver"? The answers came up as Skip Barber Racing School and, as it was called then, the INDYCAR Academy Shootout, which was specifically aimed at drivers with no karting or other racing experience. I still remember my nervousness when calling, and look back at it now as my first official step to becoming the greatest racing driver I could be! Now, fast forward just two and a half years and you see me where I stand today - an aspiring American who is defining the feeling to himself as being "Destined from the start and DRIVEN to the end"!!
As I headed into the 2014 Skip Barber Racing School Championship Shootout at Road Atlanta, which followed soon after the greatest race of my career so far, a podium finish in the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone, I had a new found self confidence and honestly thought I had a good chance of winning the thing - and a scholarship to move into USF2000. Well, as part of the unknown master plan, I ended up finishing a respectable second. That podium finish would alter the course of my career and change the rest of my life!
Walking away from that shootout I didn’t feel like this was the end. I must admit, I had no idea what the next step would be, but I had to leave room for possibility! Having been selected for the Team USA Scholarship in 2014, this past year presented me with an opportunity to interact with the world of motorsport. It became my place of study, my way of LIFE! With the continued help and support of Jeremy Shaw and those who respect what he has done and continues to do for our sport, I was able to interact with more people in a single year then I had in all my life to this point. It was tough not being able to drive on a regular basis but I learned how to keep pace and remain goal-driven.
Inspiration from Dario Franchitti and Jeremy Shaw.
My commitments for 2016 are a direct result of the many long days and the incredible support of MANY people! It goes without saying that I could not have done any of this without their guidance, tough love and encouragement in the belief in my future and myself. Life has begun to move at a pace I never knew existed, but it feels appropriate for the life of a racing driver.
One of the best parts about racing is the stories it has fostered. From my perspective, this one ranks right up there with the best! The transformation in just one year has been almost unbelievable, but it seems to me that the collaboration between RJB Motorsports, Metalloid and myself was somehow meant to be. My level of gratitude to Fred and Tom Edwards, along with Ryan Barth and the growing crew at RJB, is immeasurable. On top of all this, having the opportunity to announce our partnership at the PRI Show in Indianapolis atop the INDYCAR stage made it all the better, because I was able to look into the crowd and recognize a lot of faces - smiling faces. I know there’s a LOT of hard work ahead of us, but we’re ready to get started.
Family support is huge!
Everyone from the Skip Barber Racing School, the Team USA Scholarship, Mazda, Cooper Tires, Allen Berg Racing Schools, SAFEisFAST, RRDC, the Mazda Road to Indy, Andersen Promotions, INDYCAR, IMSA, Continental Tire, NXG, RaceCraft1, RACER Magazine, Racetalkradio, to various families and friends, none of this would have been possible without your acceptance of me, and for that I owe all of you a massive THANK YOU.
People say things happen for a reason and now I know why! Having stepped into a world filled with passion, desire, love, success and failures, it’s impossible to have all the answers all the time, but I have learned something. Sometimes giving those answers time and room to grow is the only next step, and in return, the right answer might just come to you. : )
PS My thumb is doing great!
Posted on November 10, 2015 4:52 PM by Michai Stephens
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 among 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! : )
Chasing 2014 WHT champion Wayne Boyd across the finish line in his Heat race (Jack Mitchell/JAM Motorsport Photography).
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.
The moment of impact
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.
Ready to go under the knife...
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 guess I won’t be driving for a while...
I want to give a big shoutout 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!
Posted on October 28, 2015 4:13 PM by Michai Stephens
The 40th running of the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch proved to be an absolute thriller in every possible way. The field was littered with ruthless and skilled drivers from across the globe. Varying track conditions then added to the intensity and unpredictability of the weekend making for nonstop action through every breathing moment.
The week started off in similar fashion to last year and had me scratching my head as to why? With testing having gone well leading up to Brands, I might have been a touch optimistic. I began to struggle in the same areas in which I did last year. This was keeping me from obtaining those final few tenths that ultimately separated first through 15th. When it came down to the racing, I was able to secure a decent starting positions which aided in my ability to learn from those ahead. I knew it would be very tough to win the Festival, let alone a heat, but I did hope to improve upon my results from last year of not having finished a single race. So making it through to the grand final was priority number one!
I qualified fifth for my heat race and finished second in tricky conditions. When the skies opened I first thought, ohhh sh@#*t! But the Cliff Dempsey crew helped settle me down by reminding me of our respectable pace in the wet during testing. I dropped the clutch as the four red lights went out and let her rip. Since it was wet, I was holding minimal revs in an attempt to eliminate wheel spin. Having managed to do so almost perfectly, I made a pass for fourth right away and soon moved up into third. From there my objective was to hang with the leaders and bring it home, but with two laps to go I slid into second when the car ahead of me fell off the circuit.
Next up was the Semi Final on Sunday morning. I now found myself sitting on the front row in second, next to fellow Cliff Dempsey driver Michael Adams from Team Canada. Conditions remained damp but were drying quickly. The peaceful and encouragingly clear sight into Paddock Hill Bend (Turn One) was amazing. A small feeling of accomplishment hit me having remembered where I started this race last year!
Leading the Semi Final!
The 30 second board peeped from inside the pit wall and soon was followed by the five second board. Then the lights began to fade out of sight - what was happening? My excited breathing was fogging the visor - oh no! "Take a deep breath, Michai". The haze cleared as the four red lights shot on, then vanished into the fading sun. I managed another cracking start and had secured the lead into the first two corners. Exiting Druid’s (Turn Two) and down into Graham Hill Bend (Turn Three) several cars collected each other to bring out a red flag. As we snaked our way back onto the front straight I started heading for pit lane, then immediately realized no one was following me and felt panicked, "what do I do?" From my past experience it was normal to bring the car back into the pits under red flag conditions. Thankfully, I noticed the marshals poking up onto the front straight. Geeez, was that a close one! Laughing to myself, I popped back in front of the grid and found my original starting position. I was going to have to do it all over again, but felt confident I could. Out came the 30 second board. I reminded myself to breathe. Five second board, "you got this", lights on - get ready, GO GO GO! Blasting off the line I was clear of the field by the entry to Paddock! As the volcanic explosion erupted behind me I then noticed something really neat. I was actually leading the race! How cool was that? With massive pressure from behind, I defended for about four laps and would ultimately drop down to third. The race proved to be a tremendous bit of fun and helped remind me why I had worked so hard throughout the year to experience this again.
It was now time for the grand-daddy of the weekend - the 40th running of the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch! I was very pleased to have accomplished my original goal of making it into the Final and now set that aside. I was planning for the unexpected and hoping for the best. Starting ninth behind my teammate Dakota Dickerson out of the 30 car field wasn't too shabby and kept us in contention. The following 20 laps of racing would prove to be like nothing I had ever experienced - from running with a teammate, to street fighter-type aggression, blown engines and a red flag restart, the 2015 Formula Ford Festival certainly didn't disappoint in my book! I would have loved to finish higher than seventh but am comfortable with the reason as to why I didn't. It was incredible to have felt the emotions you can only experience inside of a racing car - completely disconnected from the outside world, skimming the face of this earth while fighting for inches of asphalt against other noble worriers. Man, what a feeling that is and will always be!
Hectic action in the Final (courtesy of Jack Mitchell/JAM Motorsport Photography).
This weekend has brought me back to the place I love. The incredible support I have received the past five months and currently from the racing community has been unbelievable! Having traveled to new places and made new friends along the way has been very cool. The more time I find myself spending in motorsport, the more a place of encouragement and possibility it becomes. I believe this to be a very special world and can't thank the people who support and live within it enough for accepting me as one of the group.
What a cherished honor this is and will continue to be!