Michai Stephens: A “Farrow-tale” Weekend
Updated: Feb 8
EVANSTON, Ill. – They said it was possible and now I believe them! The JMF Motorsports/Conquest Racing West GT4 team and I cemented our forward progress in the SRO Pirelli GT4 America SprintX series at Sebring International Raceway with the honor of holding up a pair of first-place overall trophies. It was almost a surreal experience.
Where this journey began in 2013.
My last visit to Sebring had been back in 2013. I had stumbled across the Skip Barber Racing School in a Google search of “How to become a racing driver,” and this in turn led me to the IndyCar Academy Shootout. It was the vision of RACER’s Paul Pfanner – an opportunity for people with zero racing experience to jump-start their careers – and the top prize was a season of racing in their formula car summer series. All that was required to qualify was participation in a 3-Day and 2-Day racing school, which I was able to do in order to claim one of the 33 tickets to the show. In taking top honors, I had challenged my internal belief and was suddenly offered a glimpse into the reality of my imagination.
Fast-forward eight years, a pair of Team USA Scholarships nominations and handful of immeasurable opportunities later, I now humbly stand as a proven product of their support!
Praying I’ll hit the apex! (SRO).
Our Sebring adventure began with engineering marvels Ian Willis and Mitch Davis giving my teammate Colin (Mullan) and I a set of objectives to knock off in practice. Our overall goal was to run mistake free in light of the lessons learned from our previous run at Watkins Glen.
As bi-turbo monsters echoed across the concrete grounds, a vastly different setting awaited our beautifully prepped Farrow Mercedes-AMG GT4. Sebring delivers its personality in a different way to the polished flow of Watkins, with speed bumps and pot holes conveniently placed at brake markers, turn-in points and apexes. Every lap provided a new way to scare yourself! Having never driven the full layout, nor the infamous Turn 17, let’s just say it will be a long while before I forget my first flying lap.
Stand together, drive together, win together (SRO)
Solid progress continued after our familiar early morning rise on Saturday to be ready for qualifying at 8:00 a.m., and we remained optimistic after our lap times proved good enough for third on the grid in race one and ninth in race two. One Gatorade, eight bottles of water and nearly 100 trips to the bathroom later, it was race time. Our goal in race one was to stay within sight of last weekend’s race winning and pole-sitting Classic BMW, and as the pit window opened, so did my call to “box.” Having secured P2, Colin set off on his hunt for the leader, and with nine laps remaining, he launched us into first place with a fantastic move in Turn 13, all while fending off a challenge from behind.
That evening, Mr. Farrow said, “you know, you only get your first win once,” which summarized our appreciation and respect for the achievement. The culmination of our team members’ 10 individual journeys with different starting points had amassed a phenomenal group of people, who now had secured the taste of victory. The achievement bound us together, but it was the desire for more which kept us hungry!
Just a kid with his booster seat (SRO).
The start of race two saw Colin getting shuffled back in the order, before masterfully rebounding by regaining positions, setting the fastest race lap and handing over a clean car at our pit stop. As he screeched to a stop in our pit box, crewman Michael Berk and I zeroed in on the next 30 seconds of our life and hustled to greet him. The exchange ended with a snap of the side door, and a call to fire up turned a childhood belief into a reality: “Go, go, go!”
I found myself in eighth place after all the stops had been completed, and with Colin’s fastest lap displayed on the dash, I had no choice but to get a move on! For the next few laps, I pushed to get within range of the leaders and an opportunity to secure a second overall victory for the team. The car was magical, and with two laps remaining, a final move to the outside of Turn One put us on the verge of another victory. I could see the entire team standing along the safety fence to bear witness to their efforts as I rounded the final corner, and having proudly watched our Farrow Mercedes-AMG GT4 take the checker the previous day, to think that I was now the lucky one to drive it cross the stripe was very special.
I thought winning might give me an inch — guess not (SRO).
Sebring International Raceway had done it again by rewarding us with the spoils of victory while also reminding me of the journey. In life, just like on the track, there will be sets of bumps and surface changes that you must endure in order to reap the benefit of your efforts.
I stood atop the podium as the beneficiary of a life changing opportunity and tremendous support system. Stemming from the heart of Mr. Farrow himself, this weekend embodied the gift of being able to live life in the present moment. From sun up to sun down, the team’s bond had grown stronger, creating a force field to the outside world. As the famed African proverb states, “If you want to travel fast, go alone; but if you want to travel far, go together.” To have played a small role in the development of this team’s journey is a great honor as our ambitions continue to grow.
I want to thank the SRO series for welcoming us into their championship and the JMF Motorsports/Conquest Racing West organization for their mastery. As we welcome the final round of the Championship at Indianapolis this week, words cannot express my level of gratitude to the numerous people that have stood beside me along the way. I hope that you all know, you’ll forever being riding shotgun!