Jessica Clark is a young woman in a male-dominated sport. She's a teenage racecar driver, and she's good. During our interview, she shares how she got into racing and why she likes it. She also explains how she prays. Her prayers help her handle the competition, drama, and intensity of racing. Read on to discover what she says is important about the business aspect of racing and more.
How did you get into driving?
I've always loved to drive things, anything that moves -- a go-kart, a lawn mower, racecars. I expressed an interest in racing when I was 11, so my dad signed me up for karting school, and that's when my journey began. I currently race Ford Focus Midgets, which are open wheel cars and an S2 NASCAR, which is a full-bodied stock car.
What do you like about racing?
I like the atmosphere. Everyone is really dedicated and passionate. I love the intensity and concentration that racing requires. However, being a racecar driver is much more than driving in circles. There is a whole business side of it, which I have learned to enjoy as well. I have had the pleasure of meeting some incredible people involved in the sport, and I've been able to support charities through racing. Ultimately, I hope to have a professional racing career, but I realize I have to relax, rely on God, and watch it unfold.
Is there anything from the Bible that helps you confidently pursue your dream?
I really love the statement, "With God, all things are possible" (Matt 19:26 KJV). It serves as a reminder not to get down on myself. If something seems impossible to do, like becoming a professional or gaining sponsorship, it gives me hope.
How do you pray about driving and racing?
I look at racing as an opportunity to express the talents that God has given me. There's a Bible passage that has helped me with this: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28 KJV). I race to glorify God. I don't look at it as a thing I do by myself, alone, without God. I look at it as God being expressed by all of the drivers. He leads us all around the track, and we don't have to interfere with each other.
Racing is a team sport. It takes many people for one driver and one car to be successful on the track. Extreme competitiveness is common among drivers, and it's easy to get sucked into the competitive atmosphere where you look at the other racers as adversaries. I try to look at races as opportunities for all of the drivers to express their individual talents.
How do you handle the extreme competitiveness?
While many people see the competition as adversaries, the Bible shows us another way. Jesus tells us, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt 5:44 KJV). From the time I began racing, I made a point to make friends with other competitors. Jesus' command has really helped me do this. My family and I have been able to stay out of the constant drama that goes on around the track.
What do you mean by drama, and how do you stay out of it?
Racing can get pretty intense. Some drivers are rough and will hit anyone just to get to the front. Not only is that dangerous, but it destroys cars. Or, there are controversial drivers, with whom no one wants to associate, because they are unethical. I don't let myself get involved in these disputes. I am cordial with them and give them no reason to disrespect me on the track.
Respect is very important. If you don't have the respect, other drivers won't think twice about driving rough if they are near you on the track. I've been told, "You have my respect. I'll race you clean," by some of the most aggressive drivers in the field. They'll still race me hard, but they'll be safe and respectful.
What's it like being a young woman in a man's sport?
First of all, I don't view myself as a female who races males. I view myself as a racecar driver. However, being the only girl, I have to prove myself in order to be seen as an equal. I try to let my actions speak for themselves, and I love the opportunity to be a positive role model for other girls.
What a great perspective! You have the opportunity to bless many people in many different ways. Going back to intensity -- how do you deal with it during the races?
It depends on what type of intensity. If I'm leading the race, and the people behind me are just as fast and have just as much desire to win, I have to be focused, hit my marks, and drive the same line lap after lap. It takes an extreme amount of focus and mental strength. There are times when people are driving dirty, which can cause you to become angry or distracted. I have to make sure I'm not worried, angered, or distracted by different variables. I do this by listening to God for direction.
When I'm driving, I feel in control. I'm sure it's because I trust in God, and I don't ever feel in danger. Before I go out for every race, I say the Lord's Prayer. I don't just recite it; I pray it. Sometimes we're in a hurry, and I don't get through the whole thing, but that's okay. I think about every line and how it applies to me and to the race. Whatever inspiration I'm able to get from the Lord's Prayer helps me.
You mentioned liking the business aspect of racing. Can you explain more about what's involved?
Not many people can personally fund a racing career, so you have to find businesses willing to form partnerships with you. Thankfully, I met someone at an autograph session who has taken a personal interest in helping me. It's all about connecting with people. You must work with your supporters and create partnerships.
Has it always been easy for you to connect with people?
No. When I was 14, I tested for a professional driver development program, Ron Suttons' Winner Circle, and was accepted. I was really shy at that time in my life, especially in front of people I didn't know. I had a personality, but I wasn't able to go up to someone, shake hands, and start a conversation.
During my first year, I learned about giving good interviews, handling autograph sessions, and interacting with people. My coach set up a business mixer for the drivers to practice our newly acquired "people skills." Our objective was to introduce ourselves and connect with business people.
That was a life-changing moment for me. From then on, I had no problem meeting new people. I actually enjoyed introducing myself and learning about others. I no longer become nervous for interviews in front of live audiences, over the radio, or on TV. I just look at them as opportunities to share who I am.
What's it like being a teenager who races? You probably don't have the typical high school experience.
I miss a lot of school because I'm traveling all the time, so keeping up with classes can be difficult. My closest friends are racecar drivers because we share a unique lifestyle. This makes it very easy to connect and understand each other. My friends at school do not truly understand the intensity of what I do. I miss football games and school dances, but it's worth it. I wouldn't trade racing for anything. I'm grateful for the opportunities I have been given. I've been exposed to life experiences that cannot be taught in high school.
So what do you do after you graduate?
Once I graduate from high school, in 2012, I will have to make a lot of decisions, including where I'll be living. I may have to move to another state to pursue racing opportunities. I feel it is important to get a college education, and I plan on going to a junior college and then transferring to a university. I try not to outline my future. I trust that God has a path for me, and it will be a great adventure.
What does driving do for you?
Racing makes me happy. I express my identity through racing. It will always be a part of my life because it gives me a sense of purpose.