Michai's Blog

Posted on December 8, 2014 11:00 AM by Michai Stephens
Categories: General
The concept of time has taken over my life these past seven months. This is the result of being involved in the world of motorsport. The value of time is both exciting and scary. Time is everywhere around us and this past summer has shown me the many possibilities that lie behind the hands of time.

I say exciting and scary for a couple of reasons. There are moments in life when you wish you could stop time in its tracks, like when you and the world seem in perfect balance, flowing with ease as the perfect lap appears to be at your fingertips. Then time can take a turn on you, when you would like nothing more than to hit Fast Forward three times on your remote to move things along. Learning how to manage my time and stay truthful to the moment has been a big thing for me. Pursuing my dream of building an auto racing career has undoubtedly improved my appreciation for life and the time we all have on this earth.

In an earlier blog post I mentioned participating in the Skip Barber Racing School Championship Shootout. Two days after arriving home from England my father, mother and best friends began our road trip down to Road Atlanta. The 12-hour car ride was no joke but proved to be a great opportunity to share stories of my adventure in England with my family.

The Championship Shootout took place over three days and was packed with a total of five races. For the first time I felt what people call momentum. It was an interesting sensation - was it confidence, was it rhythm, belief or focus? I would have to say it was all of the above. I had learned such a great deal during my time in England that my accumulated knowledge was at an all-time

After three very intense days of competition, the total points were calculated and I found myself standing on the podium with a respectful second, just shy of winning the scholarship dollars toward a ride in the 2015 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. Passing the checkered flag that final time, I knew the result I was yearning for had fallen just out of my grasp. I was devastated and began searching for answers. Then I reminded myself of what I had learned earlier in the year: Maybe all the answers won't come in this very moment, so stop and believe that the answers may come later.
The Championship Shootout was still very special to me. Back in May, my game plan was to learn as much as I could, then peak just at the time of the shootout! At the conclusion of those five races, I recognized I had achieved my goal. Don’t get me wrong, winning the scholarship to move up to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda was one of my primary goals. But I was able to realize just how far I had come. I had experienced some of the tremendous highs and lows that this sport has to offer. 

Emotions run deep in the sport of auto racing, learning how to control and take advantage of them is all part of the driver’s challenge. People say all the time how we shouldn't let our emotions get the best of us, but what if we could channel our emotions to get the best OUT of our skills?

During the shootout I was able to push myself to new heights! The continued great support and coaching from so many people made that possible. After the final group photo was snapped, the final line to this summer’s chapter was written. In just seven months’ time, I have been successful at making my mark in the racing community and I hope to keep it that way! There are higher mountains to climb and wider rivers to cross, but I look forward to facing them head on. I will soon head to Indianapolis to attend all three days of the 2014 PRI Show. Afterwards, it is straight down to Sebring, Florida, to speak to and observe the very competition that started it all for me - the Skip Barber Racing School IndyCar Academy Shootout. It will be my epilogue for 2014, another honor and
privilege that I never saw coming at the start of this year.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday break!
Posted on November 3, 2014 10:55 AM by Michai Stephens
Categories: General
It is 6:20 am Monday morning as I find myself up and ready for action! After almost a solid month of racing and living the dream, my body has become acclimated to the early rise. You would think after yesterday’s excitement that one might want to sleep in a bit, but for me I am ready to do it all over again. 

The 2014 Walter Hayes Trophy Event at Silverstone will go down as one of my greatest memories and experiences. I would have to say that many other folks would have to agree with me on this as well. The sense of joy and enthusiasm for the sport of motor racing at the track was unmatched to anything I have been a part of before. The atmosphere was absolutely wonderful and, as they say, the racing was "brilliant". To finish on the podium was just amazing. 

The number of people in attendance was so cool. From the numerous teams, drivers, mechanics, marshals, fans, stewards and organizers/ promoters, the respect and loved shared for what we were all doing was great. Everywhere you turned a genuine smile could be found. I must admit that I had to learn how to do the same. With the level of competition present this year and the many different personalities and cultures, it took way less energy to just roll with the punches and let the chips fall where they may. 

My objective heading into the weekend was to do my best to make it into the Grand Final. After not having finished a race the weekend before, I thought that still might be pushing it a bit. With track conditions changing by the second it was tough becoming confident in any specific area. The best thing to do was to go out and feel the car and observe what the other drivers were doing, so that’s what I did. I think one of the biggest contributing factors to this weekend was to go into everything with an open mind and no real expectations. I wanted to finish the race, of course, but beside that I did what I could to not put any added pressures on myself. This was only possible due to the many magnificent people who supported me all along the way.
The entire gang from Cliff Dempsey Racing, the Team USA Scholarship, marshals and racing fans were all very supportive. Even so, there were many occasions were they had higher hopes than myself. With so much positive energy rolling around, getting in and out of the car became very enjoyable. For the Semi-Final and Final race yesterday, I was the most relaxed I had ever been in a racing car - I sang songs and tapped at the steering wheel as if it was a drum pad while I waited for the races to start. When the lights went out the rest became a fun flowing adventure with a bunch of great folks just inches away.

During the course of those two races, I focused on everything and nothing at the same time. It was all one big picture; cars sliding around, people colliding with one another, the constant changing of positions was FUN! As I have been told by other Team USA candidates in the past, I believe Aaron and I both can attest to this being some of the best times we will experience in racing. From on and off the track it is definitely an experience that I wish many people could have.

Patience, a bit of self confidence, support and genuine love for what you are doing can speak volumes and carry you far. I have learned so much over the past month, and I will never be able to repay all those who helped made it all possible. From life lessons to racing lessons, you must push on through the hard times and continue to try to find meaning behind every good and bad. To reap the rewards of the good, you must preserve and understand the bad. Because as I have learned while over here, life is more grand with a smile : )
Posted on October 30, 2014 10:40 AM by Michai Stephens
Categories: General
Hey there folks, the weekend of the 2014 Formula Ford Festival finally came to an end, and the constant action of on and off-track experiences was amazing! It included a full five straight days of motor racing, by far the longest stint I have ever been a part of. Every day was different from the other; some were good while others not so much. The people and the atmosphere were amazing and to see and to be a part of it all was so cool. The Team USA Scholarship, along with all its great supporters deserve a tremendous THANK YOU for sticking behind my teammate Aaron Telitz and I, allowing for such a grand experience. 

Once Aaron and I arrived at Brands Hatch, we took to the track on foot along with the Team Canada driver, Chase Pelletier, who joined in on the adventure. The circuit had very impressive features to it. The pure cleanliness and pristine feeling were immediately noticeable, and the elevation and camber changes smacked you in the face as well. The track was still damp and at times we found ourselves sliding along rather then walking. We took note of all the details we could pick up and shared different scenarios with one another. 

With a busy day ahead of us, Aaron and I found the hotel’s pool/sauna, then made it to bed. The following morning we finally laid eyes on the Cliff Dempsey Racing hauler at full sprawl. It was definitely a sight to see - the already impressive hauler was now sporting an attached awning that ran its entire length. Cliff had also managed to snag a primo parking spot, so you couldn’t miss it even if you tried. Wednesday and Thursday’s four 45-minute practice sessions allowed for a good amount of dry running, for which I was very grateful. The short track - just 1.2 miles - paired with long running time was helpful. I found Brands to be pretty challenging. Like all the other circuits so far, Brands definitely demanded and rewarded a sharp mind and precise car placement. Aaron and I set off trying to bring our times down lap after lap. At day’s end we had both had made some great progress.

Another bit about Brands that was cool was the location of the hotel where we were staying. It was literally within walking distance, right next to the main entrance. So in the morning and evening Aaron and I were able to stroll to and from with no hassle. We continued on our second day of testing on a high. Aaron was showing great pace while I was lacking just four tenths behind. We fed off one another’s data to help put together the perfect lap. After another long day, a well-deserved rest was in store.

Now onto Friday, and the final driver for Cliff Dempsey Racing, James Raven, showed up to join in the action. James has been racing with Cliff for a couple of years. The team felt as if it was always growing. From the moment we got there until the moment we left, more and more people swung by to visit. It made for a great atmosphere. Hospitality was off the charts, mechanics were on point, and the driver coaches were top notch! 

The day would also start a trend of not so great luck for me. The first two sessions were damp/ wet. Under braking into the first corner, Paddock Hill Bend, I misjudged my line and locked up the front brakes. As the gravel trap and tire barrier got ever closer I scanned for a way out. Fortunately I managed to point the car just a bit down hill. This allowed me to brush up against the padding and walk away with no damage. The second session presented even wetter conditions and a mix of cold tires, brakes, driver and misinterpreted bias setting caught me out once again. I locked up the fronts once more as I was entering Turn Two, Druids, and found myself panicked for a way out. Unfortunately this time I was unable to redirect the car and made a beeline for the tire wall. A rookie mistake to say the least and one I am not looking to make again. That would end the day for me, so I spent the remainder of the time observing and studying data and video of my teammates.

Finally, the first day of the 2014 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch was upon us. The sun shone through the hotel window as Aaron and I looked forward to the day. I believed all my misfortune was behind me at this point and looked forward to turning it all around. A 15-minute qualifying session was first on the chopping block. Trying to find a proper gap would allow me to run some consecutive laps while improving my time lap time. I began warming up to the circuit and started to knock off the time. A few laps into the session, my pit board read "P5" and I knew there was much more time on the table. As I was rounding the final corner, Clearways, exiting onto the front straight, I came across a slower car, and as I dove to the inside of him, I suddenly noticed his car moving in my direction. I tried to sidestep him by inching onto the grass. Then it all went wrong. His car continued to turn down on me and I had nowhere to go. The steering wheel was ripped from my hands and his car began to take flight. For a fleeting moment, time stood still, then quickly snapped back into speed when I realized the wall was approaching fast!

I managed to gather her up and stayed off the wall. Red flags came out and from that point forwarded I battled yellow flags around the back portion of the circuit. I wasn't able to improve on my time while a couple of others did, so I rounded out qualifying in seventh and was reasonably content because I knew there was more pace to be found.

An hour or so later it was time for the heat race. Within that time I watched Aaron take control of his heat race and bring it home. Just watching all the cars take to the grid was a sight to see. It was then time for my own heat race. The nerves were buzzing like crazy as the lights lit up. I brought the revs up and slowly backed out of the clutch, the lights went dark and away we went! After a missed gear on the restart followed by more yellow flags, I found myself back in 10th. With a few laps to go heading into Surtees, I played the gofer and found the spilled oil left by another car. This caused me to lose the back end entering the turn and sent me spinning off the track. I was unable to restart the car due to a starter motor failure.

This result consigned me to the back of the grid for my Semi Final race, and meant I would have to fight my way into the top 14 in order to advance to the Final; a challenging but not impossible task. As I took to my grid position, the nerves had fallen away. I felt confident and focused. The start of the race was crazy with cars heading in every direction. In Skip Barber this year, we have had at most 12 cars on track. I was now looking down the back of 28 racing cars all with one goal and a mind of their own. A few laps in I began making my way through the field. I was finally beginning to find a rhythm and was really enjoying myself. Looking to my pit board, I noticed I was in the 14th position, mission accomplished! With more cars just ahead I continued pushing because every position was worth a row on the grid in the Final. So the higher I finished, the closer to the front row I would start.

Soon I was up to 13th and right on the gearbox of the guy in 12th. I quickly noticed that this gentleman was not going to be as polite as the others. I began to get schooled on the intensity and aggression behind the racing in England! Every which way I went I was getting my nose chopped or being run off the road. After three laps of pure headache, I found my opening. Around the outside of Clearways presented itself with two laps to go, so I began motoring around the outside. All was well; the pass was going to stick. As my rear right was just clearing his front left, however, I saw a green nose pop in my direction. I thought, oh, crap, not again! I tried to sidestep the inevitable but couldn't escape the misfortune once again. I was then sent spinning off the circuit and into the gravel trap. RACE OVER and more importantly I lost the chance of being in the Final.
Jack Mitchell/JAM Motorsport Photography images.

Through the many ups and downs, you always have to look to turn things around. I learned a tremendous lesson this weekend about perseverance and luck. One you can control and one you cannot. No matter the circumstances doing your best to rise to the challenge is all you can do at times. Continuing to and always having faith in the possible rather then the impossible will keep you going.

I want to congratulate Aaron on a job very well done and thank absolutely everyone for the wonderful weekend. All the supporters of the Team USA Scholarship and everyone at Cliff Dempsey Racing will always have a special place in my heart. I might not have walked away with a victory, or even finished a race. But I know where I stand and I know I have keep faith!

Thanks for helping to keep this dream alive!
Posted on October 21, 2014 9:46 AM by Michai Stephens
Categories: General
The Team USA Scholarship gang has been armed and assembled. My teammate, Aaron Telitz, arrived and our Ray chassis were primed and ready for two full days of testing at Donington Park and the Silverstone National Circuit. Yup, you heard me right, Donington Park and Silverstone. The history between these two places speaks for itself. It was remarkable to drive this combination of circuits on back-to-back days. An opportunity I am well aware that not many people will ever have...THANK YOU!

We were told about a museum just inside the gates of the circuit that hosted an immense collection of racing history. Michelle Dempsey, Aaron and I hurried off to get there before closing. Upon arriving at the circuit we could feel the history all around us. It wasn't completely modernized yet, and for a moment it reminded me of an old air force base. Once through the gates the museum stood front and center. As we burst through the entry doors, we knew it was going to be a photo-finish to the front desk. The man behind the counter said we had made it just in time and we were going to be the final visit of the day. So, Aaron and I headed off to our historic blast from the past. 

The halls were filled with notable Formula One cars from every era. As expected, Aaron and I spent most of our time drooling over the Senna and Mansell displays. My first time seeing a Formula One car from any era in person was definitely one to remember and it brought to mind the pure respect their drivers demanded back in the day. As a child I used to think I could just hop into one of those cars and start turning laps. With the experience I have now, there is still a lot to be learned before ever sliding into the cockpit of one of those bad boys. 

Another bright and early morning was in store followed by our first jampacked day of on-track activities. We signed in at registration and made our way back to the Dempsey hauler and garage. There seemed to be a lot of activity throughout the paddock. A multitude of teams with different types of cars sat next to each other in a great display. To be honest, all of this became a little intimidating as the unspoken "sizing up" was in full swing. The more I walked in and out of the hauler the more comfortable I became with my surroundings. 

You could tell when a session was about to start as engineers fired up the motors to bring them up to temperature. The sounds would echo down the pit lane along with a sudden surge of energy and excitement. It was go time! While taxiing down the pit lane to the end of the pits, I quickly noticed how small a Formula Ford was in comparison to a full competition-spec Audi R8 LMS car. The beautifully crafted front headlights came piercing down as they reflected into my side mirrors. Priority number one became obvious; get the heck out of its way!

The session began and the track conditions were damp. Like Oulton Park, this circuit was demanding in its own right. The first sector of corners was like riding atop a slithering snake. Right to left, up and down, it was scary and exciting. I could feel the front of the car just losing grip with the road as I crested one of the rises. The rest of the session went well while I continued to get comfortable with the car. All the sessions were 50 minutes in length and we had three more to go! This was definitely going to be one of my longest days behind the wheel. 

The sessions allowed time for major improvement. The lap times began to slowly come down as I started getting into the flow of things. After each session I debriefed with Cliff in the hauler. Video and data were logged and put on display for all to see. It was great learning from the data as Aaron and I both showed our strengths and weaknesses around the course. By day’s end, everyone was very happy with the results and we loaded up for Part 2.

That evening we slept inside the highly modernized walls of Silverstone. It felt like past to present all in one day. We slept in what they call snooze boxes: a shipping container converted into a tiny hotel room. It was very entertaining and cozy all at the same time. The next morning arrived before we knew it. We headed for registration again and made our way to the garage. A young and very talented man by the name of Carl Breeze accompanied us on the track walk and explained the nuances to turning a quick lap. As we walked he kindly reminded us of all the great racing battles that took place over the years. It was one thing to see it on television but quite another to be standing in those very spots. I felt as if I was walking along a filmstrip; the images became so vivid it was hard not getting goose bumps. Respect reared its head yet again. Without even driving the circuit I knew it took great skill and belief in one’s ability to pull off some of those masterful moves. 

Time quickly snuck up on us as we hopped the pit wall to head back to the garage. It was time to strap in. The pit lane was filled with mostly open-wheel formula cars, some old, some new, but all with drivers very eager to get on track. Today we would have four 45-minute sessions and another not so normal long day for myself. A common trend here in England, the first practice session was damp. The damp conditions have become very beneficial for my starts in the mornings. It helps me to quickly get in touch with the car and the car control needed to operate quickly. The four sessions ended with great improvements from myself and the team. Every session we are learning more about one another and it is making for a great team atmosphere. Considering the circumstances, our times were respectable in comparison to our competitors, so we were happy once again. The pure respect and desire to push ourselves in motor racing is proving to be a blast. My time here so far has been great!

Finally...I had to save the best for last! As we returned home from our eventful days of testing we were treated to the sight of a shipping box near the neighbor’s door. Aaron quickly noted the address and we instantly knew what was inside. The treasure that lay inside was our beautifully designed SPARCO Team USA Scholarship racing suits! We joked about Christmas coming early this year as big smiles filled the room. To see my name on an actual racing suit nearly brought tears to my eyes. Another box had officially been checked on my racing list of "todo's" and one I was very proud of. It was a lovely way to be rewarded for all our hard efforts in testing. A huge thanks is certainly due to all the supporters who are continuing to make this all possible. 

Off to Brands Hatch this week with more time and room to grow. TEAM USA SCHOLARSHIP 2014! Yaaaaaahhhhhhooooooo!!
Posted on October 14, 2014 9:30 AM by Michai Stephens
Categories: General
To live the dream. 10 p.m. departure from O’Hare International Airport, arriving 12 noon (the next day), in London Heathrow. The emotions began to well up as I said my goodbyes to friends and family. After being shuffled through security, I caught a glimpse of their eyes and stretched for one final wave. The security scanner made its final pass, and then I was off, taking the first steps on an adventure that will mold me as an individual and as a better racing driver. With every passing step I was walking, breathing and feeling my dream.

I arrived at the gate with a drink and a sandwich in hand. Once I set eyes on the plane, it was clear that this would be the largest aircraft I had boarded. It felt like a scene from a movie. There were rows and rows of seats, with First Class seating looking more like mini space pods then anything else. I found my seat and chatted with my fellow travelers. I quickly made note of the many different types of people on board; not a single race nor culture was spared. I found this to be interesting and kinda cool at the same time. After cycling through the onboard movies I found a couple of good flicks and settled in. 

Two movies later and one heck of a snooze, I awoke just as the plane was landing - I had arrived. After speaking with the customs agent it was time to go find Mrs. Michelle Dempsey. I didn’t have the chance to look left or right before she had eyes on me! She gave me a great big hug and we headed off to the car, which is when things started to become interesting. In the movies you see folks driving on the opposite side of the road and the police cars painted in yellow and blue. But it all felt so surreal. It was definitely a different world than what I was used to. I approached the car and naturally got in on the wrong side, a trend that would carry over for the next couple of days! We pulled away from the parking garage and merged into traffic. Yet again my American brain had me all confused as I got quite a fright. Driving on the left side of the road seemed very confusing at first. 

Michelle and I headed straight for the workshop to meet the man behind Cliff Dempsey Racing. The sight of the all-white hauler, plastered with CDR and Team USA Scholarship logos was beautiful. The magnitude of what I was a part of started to really hit home once I saw the beautifully crafted Ray GR08/09 chassis. To know that one of them would be fitted and tuned for me sent chills down my spine.

The next day Michelle took me to the local ASDA (our Walmart) to pick up a few things. On our way to check out, I spotted an AUTOSPORT magazine. “Secrets of Overtaking” starring Mansell, Hakkinen and Hamilton had caught my attention. I shared my find with Michelle and she informed me of the magazine’s stature and quickly flipped it open. My eyes lit up as the same Ray chassis I had just seen were now wrapped in Team USA colors and stretched across the center of the page! I was in disbelief with the find as it read, “Telitz, Stephens win U.S. Prize.” Michelle and I both got a great kick out of the find and, of course, I purchased the magazine.

Over the following two days we adjusted pedals, seat and shifter to a more comfortable position. In the course of doing so, I had to get in and out of the car many times over. It became an exciting and fun thing for me because every time I got back in, it felt more and more comfortable. By day’s end we were happy with the results and loaded up for Oulton Park. The objective was to participate in test sessions on Friday and two races on Saturday.

I jumped at the chance to ride with Cliff and the gang in the 40foot long hauler. The best way to describe it would be like riding in a giant fish bowl. The cab sat about 15 feet off the ground on air bags the size of me! With every turn came a gentle pitch from left to right as we were treated to a gorgeous drive to the track. The sun was just setting as we arrived at Oulton Park, so with an early morning ahead of us, we locked everything down and headed for the hotel.

A slightly damp and cool feeling filled the air that Friday morning. But there was no need to fear as the sun and modest breeze started to clear things up a bit. We arrived at the circuit and, boy, was it a sight to see - my first circuit outside the USA! From the look of things it seemed to be a lovely, flowing place with elevation changes and a great mixture of corners. We set up base camp and prepared for Practice One. The session was going to be 30 minutes in length and was open to my own discretion. Feeling out the new-to-me H-pattern gearbox configuration was priority number one. After working into it, I turned my attention to feeling out the balance of the car and understanding a few of the corners. By session’s end I was grinning ear-to-ear. 

The circuit was wonderful, full of challenges and demanding of respect. The conditions were wet/damp and by the end of the session parts of the circuit began drying out. Simply pulling off into the pits and cruising back over to the hauler was a pleasure. By the time I had gotten out of the car, the next session was just minutes away. There wasn’t much time to go over the objectives for the next session, but my confidence level in the car was rising and I continued on. 
As the second session got underway, I found myself on the gearbox of two other cars and I took in the different atmosphere. As we picked up speed, the car’s balance and limitations began to appear to me. At this stage many parts of the circuit were dry, but one section of corners, leading into a fast double apex right-hander called Druid’s, stayed dark and wet. Cliff and others had pointed out the tree cover that lay heavily over that part of the circuit. From what I could see, the entry was drying out lap after lap. I started picking out turn-in points and I prepared for the loss of grip just after the apex. About five laps later the beautifully crafted Oulton Park bit back at me.

At the turn in, I ran just a hair wide, turning in on a damp patch. I lost the rear end of the car and did my best to correct it, but slid wide onto the grass and the rest was history. Colliding with the tire barrier, I dropped my head in disappointment. I knew what it took to get here and felt horrible for letting the remaining sessions and day go to waste. Thankfully I wasn’t injured, but the car was a different story. After being cleared by medical, it was time to pack up and head home. This was the quickest I had ever arrived to and then left any track. On the ride home I replayed the incident in my head many times over. I composed a list of all possible factors that could have caused this and where my calculations went wrong. It wasn’t until Cliff and I sat down later and watched the video that we saw the cause of the crash.

Reviewing the video brought a slight sense of relief as notes were taken on what not to do. Since then I have been hanging low and studying all the information that I can.

I want to thank everyone for their tremendous efforts in helping me to learn these very valuable lessons. The rollercoaster ride of being a racing driver is continuing to teach me something new everyday. Good, bad or indifferent, dwelling on the past and not learning from your mistakes won’t help. Taking hits and getting back up is all part of the game. It’s how you get back up that matters!
Posted on October 7, 2014 2:21 PM by Michai Stephens
Categories: General
Ever wondered what it would be like to live out your greatest dream? To wake up every morning with desire, passion, love, and most importantly, gratitude for every step that you take? I’m talking about your heart’s greatest desire! I have recently been blessed with such a feeling. My childhood dream was and will always be to become an openwheel racing driver. About 10 months ago that vision became tangible as my dream took its first step towards reality.
My name is Michai Estin Stephens, born January 22, 1992, from Evanston, Ill. I am the eldest of three sons and a first generation racing driver. At age 22 I have come to respect and believe that things happen for a reason. No matter the outcome something can always be taken away from the situation.
In 2011 I attended Arizona State University in pursuit of an Industrial Design degree. My hopes were to design a vehicle that I would one day be able to drive on a proper racing circuit. That’s what I believed to be the most logical path to getting behind the wheel, and boy was I wrong! At year’s end I came to a crossroad – continue with my studies, or face the chance of possibly becoming a racing driver. For the first time in my life I searched “how to become a race car driver” and the Skip Barber Racing School was there with the answer.
In 2012 I was invited to participate in the first annual Skip Barber INDYCAR Academy Shootout based on my performance in a 3 Day Racing School and a 2 Day Advanced Racing School. I would finish fourth out of 32 competitors. The following year I participated once more and secured top honors in the 2013 Skip Barber INDYCAR Academy shootout, earning a scholarship to race in the 2014 Summer Series.
The stars aligned once more in my favor. RaceCraft1 Motorsports Training was also offering a scholarship to the winner of the shootout. A formal meeting was held on January 25, 2014, just three days after my 22nd birthday. An understanding of both parties’ commitment level was reached and became the greatest birthday gift of all! To push the envelopes of development was our goal. Since then, over 50 days of training have transpired. RaceCraft1 has played a monumental role in my racing career, allowing me to take full advantage of every on track opportunity. Opening up a plethora of knowledge that is kept close to me both on and off the track is only a start. Words alone cannot express my immense appreciation for the work we have done as we continue to look into the future, willing to learn and to grow.
By competing in the Skip Barber Summer Series, my opportunities and my understanding of racing and the racing community have continued to grow. I currently stand second in championship points with two race weekends left on the calendar. My efforts within the series landed yet another opportunity of a lifetime. I was selected as one of six candidates for the 2014 Team USA Scholarship Shootout. My jaw hit the floor when I heard the news.
Such a consideration has allowed me to refine my approach to racing and my future. The Team USA Shootout pitted me against some of the brightest young talents in the sport. It also introduced me to the many people who have played an influential role in the racing community. I had the pleasure of getting to know these individuals as I studied to see what made them so successful. It was very comforting to see such prestigious racing personalities being everyday people, just like you and me. I walked away from the Shootout having experienced a new car, track, and tire. I gained new friends and supporters, plus a greater respect for the sport that I love.
Returning home the following day allowed me to retrieve my jaw from the floor. The very next day I received word about the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Given the circumstances, I was facing a slim chance of getting in the car and participating in one of the practice sessions. Two one-hour sessions would be held on Saturday and two sessions on Sunday. I had absolutely no time to waste and thanks to tremendous friends and family I was able to secure travel arrangements to be in Indy that Friday afternoon.
Upon arriving at the Speedway and meeting the team, I was cemented in place with glazed eyes. A wave of emotions overcame me as the truly wonderful team of ArmsUp Motorsports welcomed my dream and me with open arms. I spent most of Friday and all of Saturday helping the team with preparations. My spare time was spent obtaining the proper forms needed for me to be released on track the next day. Thanks to many wonderful people present at the Speedway, I received the green light to test on Sunday. In disbelief I realized the only proper safety equipment I had in my possession was helmet and racing shoes. I began searching far and wide for the other essentials. I was pleasantly surprised by the sense of unity found in the sport. Many folks were happy to loan their gear to help make this opportunity come to life.
Sunday morning came in a flash! The chance of a lifetime was just ahead. Everything about that day felt, and still feels surreal. Not a moment passed where my appreciation and respect for what I was doing lingered. The day was filled with many first time experiences – walking in and out of the team trailer and garage, riding the team scooter, interacting with an engineer and racing team, getting towed by the tug, communication by radio, driving the car to and from the garage, and finally turning laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One could say that many boxes had been checked!
I will never forget those who helped me achieve these experiences. If it weren't for your love and support, none of this would have been possible. At this stage in my life, I wouldn't change it for the world. My childhood dream is becoming an evolving reality right before my eyes. With a maturing understanding of life and its great fortunes, I only hope and pray that many others one day can feel what I feel now!
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Michai Stephens

Phone: 847-461-3147