Jessica Dana is, for the most part, a normal 18-year-old. She talks on the phone. She gets her nails done with her mom. And she likes to drive fast—except her version of driving fast is whipping around Evergreen Speedway at 150 miles per hour. The Tumwater native has been driving since she was four—first ATVs, then go-karts—and now, after just two years of racing stock cars and being one of only 17 drivers invited to Nascar’s Drive for Diversity Combine last fall, she’s already making a national name for herself. Talk about not wasting any time…
I’m not a guy. I’m nothing like them. I’m a girl. I like doing girl stuff, with the exception that I race cars.
My dad, he kind of warned me: “There are a lot of people who still don’t believe in girl racers. They’re going to want to try to mess with you. They want to see you break. They want to see you react. And you just can’t.” We didn’t see that in indoor karting. It wasn’t until we went to full-sized cars that we started getting phone calls from other racers, saying they didn’t want me on the track and threatening us.
Somebody told us, “If you put her out there, she’s going to have a target on her back.” We’ve had people intentionally drive through me. They come through the corner without touching their brakes and just deliberately push me out of the way to see if they can get a reaction out of me. It never works.
I always say, “If the car can’t tell if I’m a girl or a guy, then the other racers on the track should not be able to tell the difference.”
My rookie year, we were always fixing the back bumper. Getting hit in the back means you’re driving too slow, and hitting people with the front of your car means you’re faster. So my dad said, “I don’t care if I have to replace the front nose every race, as long as nobody touches the back bumper.” After that he had to replace the nose almost every race.
You don’t really notice how fast you’re going until you have to hit the brakes. That’s when you go, Oh gosh, oh gosh. And you feel it in your butt. If you were a racer, you’d understand that one. Okay, when you get really nervous you kind of tense up, right? You feel it in your butt.
If we had a corporate sponsor, we could be racing nationwide. You go to a corporate sponsor and they say, “Well, you need a national platform for us to even consider sponsoring you.” And then we think, Well, we can have that national platform—if you sponsor us.
We got told early on that driving is only one-tenth of racing. Driving is the treat after all the work that you have to do. I didn’t really get it at first, and now I really, really get it. Because I’ll be at school, looking up places that I can call and beg to sponsor me, and then I’m on the phone with people who sponsored me last year to see if they want to responsor me. Then you have to do appearances, parades, interviews, TV shows…
Before I started racing, I was just a normal kid. I hung out with my friends. I stacked firewood. Oh yeah, that was my chore. Most kids have to clean their room or do laundry. Not me. I stacked firewood. We’d be out there in the snow, and my dad is splitting firewood and I’m stacking it. That’s how I grew up.
I cannot fly. I get really bad anxiety when I’m not in control of a situation, so I hate not being in control of the plane.
Students will come up to me at school and say, “You’re the racer girl, right? What’s your name?” A lot of people know I race cars, but they don’t know who I am. I’m kind of quiet and reserved at school. I’m just going there to graduate, and then I’m going to focus on racing after high school.
My friends always drive as fast as they can on the road. I drive slow. They’ll say, “You’re a race car driver. Why don’t you go fast?” I can go fast in my race car. There’s no point in going fast on the roads.
The friends that I do have, they’re awesome and amazing, and they understand that racing comes first. They support it all the way. That’s enough for me. I don’t have to go to football games. I don’t have to do that kind of stuff to make myself happy. What makes me happy is being out here in the race shop, doing interviews, going out on the track, being with the race team. They’re my family. They’re my best friends.
I get super stressed out about going to homecoming. I have every time I’ve gone. I’m not used to having to get dressed up. But I do not get stressed whatsoever going into a race. I’m as calm as calm can be.
Best advice? The funniest was, “Don’t let off the throttle until you see Jesus…and then go a little further.”
I want to be a household name.
Published: January 2013