Updated: Feb 8
EVANSTON, Ill. – 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!!!!
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. : )
P.S My thumb is doing great!