By Vanessa Remmers The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Lauren Edgerton says that since the first time she hit a dirt go-kart track, she hasn't stopped. Edgerton says she's never been able to get over the adrenaline rush that comes with crossing the finish line first, though she won't show it when she wins. The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
Wherever Lauren Edgerton goes, a lug nut dangles from her neck. It's a necklace she bought in a North Carolina store that sold items related to her favorite NASCAR driver, Jeff Gordon.
Her thumb is wrapped where she says her car "bit" her the previous week, and a finger-shaped burn is visible on her palm from an incident with a tire iron.
"My car bites me all the time," she said.
Her car is her life, she said. The self-described loner works as a mechanical engineer during the day, but spends much of the rest of her time in her garage or on the track. The 26-year-old's best friend is a guy on another racing team who is her dad's age, she said.
The Caroline County resident is one of five women who compete at Southside Speedway in Midlothian. There are 85 racers total at Southside, General Manager Jennifer Mullis said.
Edgerton recently made history, becoming the first woman to win in a modified race in the speedway's nearly 60-year history.
She can't remember how old she was when she first drove. She was 13 or 14 years old, she says, when her father went to a neighbor's dirt track to try out some go-karts. But she does remember how her father soon stepped aside when he realized how well his daughter was handling the track by herself.
"That's when I fell in love," she said.
On the track, her mind can go blank.
Since that first time on a dirt go-kart track, she hasn't stopped. She's never been able to get over the adrenaline rush that comes with crossing the finish line first, though she won't show it when she wins.
She won for the first time in 2007.
"I had been running Southside in this piece-of-crap car. I had no experience. I didn't know any better. And I got flagged for leaking [fluid] from the [lead position]," she said. "Next time, I led every lap. And won."
In 2010, she competed in 100 races, taking home a championship trophy for one. She was 20 years old then, and usually the only woman in those races, she said.
As years passed, Rookie of the Year awards, sportsmanship accolades and championship trophies have piled up. She hopes to one day race in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
"Everybody is telling me just to have fun. But for me, fun is winning. If you're going to do something, why not do it right?" she said.
Her cars have become more advanced and the races faster--with some reaching speeds of up to 90 mph--and her parents continue to worry for her safety.
"They thought I would grow out of it and just be normal. But that never worked to their advantage," Edgerton said, laughing.
"I've always done more boyish things."
There have been times when she believes other racers have had a problem with her gender.
"I just don't care. I'm sure some people have issues with it," she said. "You'll have only some people who make that obvious when they win."
Another driver once slammed Edgerton's car against the wall during a race while she was in the lead, then later waved as Edgerton's damaged car was being wheeled off the track.
Sexism isn't the only hurdle that Edgerton has had to clear. Unlike many other racers, she owns her own car and fixes it up herself.
Her job provides the thousands of dollars needed to keep her car running each year.
"A lot of teams have a driver who never touches the car. They just show up in their helmet. But you know, I bought everything on the car. The only thing that dad owns is the truck and trailer. Nobody buys anything for me. I do everything on the car," she said.
Much of what she has learned over the years has come from working as part of other racing teams. That guidance helped her go from racing in U-cars to a modified racing car. She even built her own engine.
Years before she completely took over, she and her dad manned her cars.
"Dad isn't a mechanic. Some of these kids have parents that have been racing their whole life. But we had to learn ourselves," she said. "I think he wore out with it."
It's hard for her to forget the day she won a race in a car she had worked on completely on her own. Her father told her afterward that he couldn't take credit for any part of the win.
Like that first day on the dirt go-kart track, it was "all her," she recalled him saying.
For more information, visit Lauraedgertonracing.com