Michai Stephens: Destined From the Start. Driven to the End
Updated: Feb 8
EVANSTON, Ill. – The past six months have gifted me the chance to learn who I am through what I love! The trenches have been sticky, deep and at times difficult to pass, but such hardships have served as the building blocks to the next step. In 2021, I went from working at a fine art and furniture restoration firm to becoming a semi-professional race driver for Mr. John Farrow and the JMF Motorsports / Conquest Racing West Mercedes-AMG GT4 team. During this phase I have learned to cherish the timeline of development, rather than rush its process. Along the way critical milestones have presented themselves to me at times and places that I never saw coming. But by adopting a student’s mentality, the journey continues to recognize when I am fit to handle the next chapter by welcoming its challenges.
The JMF Mercedes-AMG seemed perfectly suited to the track.
The final round of the 2021 SRO Pirelli GT4 SprintX Championship brought us to the temple of speed, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – a place where MPH and RPMs have no limit, a place where commitment is defined and the spoils of victory forever sublime. Having walked away from Sebring with our team’s first two victories painted a target on our backs large enough to be seen from the international space station. Thus, managing this expectation with care and respect certainly added a new flavor to the weekend, but we were up for the challenge.
To prepare, I studied video from the previous year and benefited from the supporting knowledge of fellow Team USA Scholarship brethren Dane Cameron. True to form Dane kindly took time to share with me the experience he had gained from competing in the Indy 8hr the year prior. His immeasurable wisdom would soon pay huge dividends to a fast-approaching weekend to remember.
There’s nothing quite like the IMS podium!
On day one, our confidence began to take shape as we prepared for battle. In qualifying, I managed to slide our Farrow Mercedes AMG GT4 onto the front row starting P2 in race one, while Colin secured P10 only .2 tenths adrift for race two. My goal was to stick with the leading BMW for as long as possible, but like any “good plan” it all went up in smoke. Yet, the team and I managed to claw our way through some early misfortune and bring home another first place overall victory. In utter elation, cheers of joy echoed across the bricks. This victory was further testament to the trust and understanding we had built in one another. Like times before, every member of our team had carried their weight and then some. To stand atop one of the most famed podiums in motorsport was an experience that symbolized our intent to make history of our own.
The conditions were decidedly sketchy for Race Two.
The final day at Indianapolis started off with a bang, quite literally, as one of our air hoses to a wheel-gun shot free from its responsibility — thankfully without any serious consequences — just as Colin was taking the green flag. Also, we had opted to make a rather significant change to the setup prior to the race, in anticipation of rain which didn’t materialize, so we soon struggled to maintain the pace of the leaders. However, our goal remained the same. And when Colin handed over the car to me it was an all-out sprint to the finish. Slotting us into P1 on the second to last lap left the navigation of only 14 corners between our team’s fourth consecutive victory and a fairy-tale ending to the season. Crossing the line to the sight of the JMF Motorsports / Conquest Racing West team in celebration, I dove to the inside wall to salute them for their incredible efforts!
To my amazement as I completed the cool-down lap, I was guided underneath the pagoda to the presence of the warmest welcome I had ever experienced. With camera flashes shooting into the car, the cockpit quickly turned into a ‘70s disco fever. As people gathered, I shut the car down after one of the most entertaining drives of my life and took a moment to give thanks for all that had transpired. Hearing the door pop open, I balled up my fists and threw them to the sky – it was time to celebrate!
There are so many unique features at Indianapolis.
The gravity of this achievement and emotions to go with it were overwhelming. The deed was done and I was proud to have carried the torch. Looking back, I give credit to the building blocks of our team’s growth and experience over each weekend. At Road America, we started our run with a fourth and third place in class; at Watkins Glen we followed up with a pair of second place finishes and at Sebring we started our string of first place overall victories. To even consider such results at the forefront of this undertaking would have seemed ridiculous, but as we grew, so did our perspective. From the jump, John never shied away from the challenge and Eric Bachelart and the team never failed to deliver on the tools needed to conquer new horizons. To be the mere recipient of many wonderful people’s hard work, expertise and consideration is something I will hold onto for the rest of my life. It had been nearly six years since I last competed in professional motorsport and to know that it is not over is a victory that we should all share and enjoy! My heart will forever be with those who have provided me with opportunity, guidance, tough love and privilege to chase my dream!
Colin and I took the stage one more time at the banquet.
To celebrate the season, an invitation to SRO’s 2021 awards gala in Indianapolis was absolutely epic! Everyone was dressed to the nines and the evening provided great opportunity for devoted souls to be applauded for their sterling efforts. As for the JMF Motorsports / Conquest Racing West organization, securing seven out of eight podium finishes demonstrated the potential on hand and finishing third in the championship marked a glorious end to our 2021 season. Colin and I proudly accepted the trophy on behalf of Mr. John Farrow’s remarkable gift, Eric Bachelart’s relentless approach and the team members’ undeniable passion. It was both an evening and a year to remember, one that I never saw coming and one that still shell-shocks me to this day! Like times before, I was granted a glimpse into the world of professional motorsport and my childhood dream of becoming a professional racing driver. This year reminded me that my timeline in this industry is different to most everyone else, but my reason for being here is the same. Motorsport is the vessel I have chosen see me through my life’s journey on this earth. Special thanks to Mr. John Farrow, for bringing hope back into reality – You are the man! (Video link)