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Michai Stephens: Connecting the Dots

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

Evanston, Ill. – Just as Chicago’s brutal weather appeared to be coming to an end, it struck again…and several more inches of snowfall sent me into a tizzy! I sent out a hope and a prayer to the sky above, asking for relief. My answer in return … the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla.! In attendance, too, were all three tiers on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, the Pirelli World Challenge, Robby Gordon’s stadium trucks and, thankfully, me!! Without any on-track activity on the agenda, my goal was to find, meet and understand the people who made and continue to make the world I love possible.

Thanks to Tim Walsh and Afterburner Autosport, I was gifted a place to stay during the week, travel to and from the track, and a continued affiliation with the team. All of which allowed for my next adventures to be possible. I must admit, I learned and accomplished a lot more during a weekend without being in the seat of a racecar than I had expected. After returning home, I looked back and could not have felt more satisfied.

The week began for me on Wednesday as I helped unload the Afterburner hauler. I was then set loose on my duties. This included helping the Andersen Promotions hospitality team, meeting with the Mazda crew, led by John Doonan, and tracking down the likes of Derrick Walker, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kannan, Mike Hull, Tim Cindric, Bryan Herta, Bobby Rahal, Marshall Pruett, Paul Pfanner, Robin Miller, Chris Pantani and Jeremy Shaw. Wow, what a list! So many important names. I felt like a ping-pong ball being smacked in every direction – high, low, short, soft, and at times even with a little bit of backspin. As the step counter climbed, so did my understanding and appreciation for the sport.

Racing, as many of us know, is a passion shared by a wide variety of people. Seeing the weekend from start to finish allowed me to live that experience. The folks in attendance represented all walks of life. With the current craziness of the surrounding world, it was great to see that a common attraction could unify and set many of these conflicts aside for one weekend. Racing is a culture without boundaries, and whether you’re a pure car enthusiast, aspiring mechanic, engineer, crew guy, director, team manager, spotter, event planner, or driver, racing seems to have an avenue for everyone and all with the same goal in mind, to move forward!

Through all my efforts in 2014, the 2015 season opener in St. Pete was a souvenir for me to take home and hold onto. I experienced the ferocity of pit lane and its controlled chaos. Then came the calming of VIP seating, thanks to Cooper Tire and Andersen Promotions, followed by a behind-the-scenes look into Race Control granted by Mr. Brian Barnhart which ramped the intensity back up. My fortunes continued with a tour of the Chevrolet engineering truck presented by Steve O’Connor, whom I met in England last fall when visiting Ilmor Engineering on behalf of the Team USA Scholarship.

My praise and thanks go out to everyone mentioned and those who supported me during this time. The dots are becoming more connected and how all the players come together is becoming clearer and clearer. I used to be intimidated by the fast-moving world of motorsports. But now I have acquired the speed and knowledge to keep up, so please keep an eye out for me, I’ll see you at the track!!


Michai Stephens

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