Women Who Race Series - Keri "Waggers" Mitchell
Who: Keri “Waggers” Mitchell
What: Team captain and head mechanic of her own road racing team, 7layer Racing.
Track Attack has launched a new blog series ‘Women Who Race’, which will feature awesome women who are pursuing their dreams and paving the way for the next generation. #womenwhorace
We recently sat down with Keri “Waggers” Mitchell, who proves ‘where there is a will – there’s a way’. After only four years of racing, she is nearly finished with rebuilding her a car from scratch and has a dream of creating a driving team of 2-3 additional female drivers. Throughout the interview Keri shared valuable lessons that drivers, of all levels, can learn from.
D’Laina: Please introduce yourself.
Keri: “Hi, I’m Keri Mitchell, I am an amateur racer from Spokane, Washington. I’m excited to share my journey with your audience.
Find A Way to Get Started
D’Laina: “How did you initially begin racing?”
Keri: “Although my family was never involved in cars or racing, I had always dreamed about becoming a race car driver for as long as I can remember. I scrimped and saved to buy my first car, a green 1994 Ford Thunderbird 3.8L that I affectionately nicknamed “the lawn mower” because of its rough idle and exhaust leak. I wasted no time in learning how to perform basic maintenance on my new form of transportation, including checking and replacing fluids, pulleys, and hoses.
My next car was with a sporty manual transmission, a Miata, which truly allowed me to begin pursuing a hobby in motorsports. The first performance driving event I entered was extremely memorable: a SnowX Event, complete with nearly 7 inches of snow, in my Mazda Miata. I performed surprisingly well, due to my experience of driving in Idaho, and was thereafter completely and utterly hooked on the thrills of motorsports. In mid-2014 I was invited to pit crew at a local ChumpCar race…and boy, did that really light a fire in my heart! I had never experienced anything so thrilling. I started flagging at local track days so I could earn a track day to learn how to drive on the road course, and by early-2015 was signed up to race solo wheel-to-wheel. By the end of the 2015 season I had already purchased all my gear and traveled to Montana and Seattle for competition events.
After four seasons, I bought a house so my fiancé and I could build a nice shop and install a two-post lift. My cars include my daily driver, a 2001 Audi TT 225 Quattro and a race car classed in EIP road-racing, a 1985 Mazda RX-7.”
Utilize Tools That Expose Your Blind Spots
D’Laina: “What tools do you use to help you improve your driving?”
Keri: “The high price of most data acquisition systems is very cost prohibitive for those who are just getting started. I decided to try out Track Attack, a GPS lap-timer, as a way to cut costs and discovered that the features offered are unparalleled at the price point. For a low-budget novice racer, there is no reason to use anything else due to the wide amount of features, including a GPS lap-timer and an video recorder – captured on my cell phone. Best of all, as soon as my session is complete I have instant access to my data. I primarily use it for track days to improve my lap times between driving sessions.
One thing that makes Track Attack so user-friendly is the ability to quickly and easily review the footage and data, especially between driving sessions. Being able to go out, do a warm-up session, adjust tire pressures, and then review the footage between each session has allowed me to make the most out of every track day. I am now able work consistency of my driving, by being able to narrow down braking zones, and figuring out what driving lines allows the car to carry more speed between sessions has helped me improve my driving a ton!
Women Should Believe in Their Capability
D’Laina: “What is it like for you to be a women driver?”
Keri: “I consider myself as much of a “car guy” as any average Joe, but I often observe that most people make a lot of assumptions about me, including my knowledge, skill level, commitment to the pursuit of racing, etc. before they get to know me. As an example, when I meet someone new at a track I’m typically asked questions like: ‘Who are you here with? Have you even driven on a road course before? Is that your boyfriend’s car?’ My story often surprises people—although in my mind there’s nothing exceptional about my racing adventures…other than I’m a woman driver, I suppose. J
D’Laina: “What do you wish other women knew about racing?”
Keri: “You meet some incredible people in racing! If you feel like you are lost, don’t have a sense of direction, don’t know how to get involved, or don’t even know where to start…just find a way to network! The culture varies greatly between different types of motor-sports, so finding one that is a good fit for you is the key. You can find affordable ways to get involved by simply asking around and by being willing to get involved. The options in motor-sports includes autocross, road racing, circle track, dirt track, figure 8, and drag racing. There so much variety, including price point, to select from! Even if you aren’t able to get behind the wheel to try it out firsthand, attending various events and getting to know some of the racers, cars, and the level of commitment required to participate can help you figure out where your passions lie. Don’t get discouraged if this process takes some time- it is truly worth it in the end!
D’Laina: “What do you think is the biggest hurdle for women to get into racing?”
Keri: “I would say the investment of time and lots of money is the biggest hurdle for most people to get into racing. If we are talking the biggest hurdle specifically for women, I hear a lot of women who are interested in getting involved, but fail to jump in. I have a few theories on what makes women hesitant, but at the root of it I believe women allow themselves to be victims of other people’s expectations. False assumptions and low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophesy to those who are the less iron-willed. People can intend well but can do a lot of damage to a woman’s confidence by saying something to the effect of “you drive well for a girl” or “I don’t expect you to understand what I’m talking about”. If racing is your passion, then let that passion define you and drive you towards your goals. I rely on unbiased resources, such as Track Attack, to help me gauge how well my driving is improving. In addition, having an experienced instructor allows me to review the data and figure out where I have room for improvement. With that mindset, I have found myself 100% at home at the track surrounded by fellow racers. I’m no longer an outlier, but rather just another “car guy” doing the ‘race car’ thing and looking good while doing it.”
D’Laina: “What do you love about racing?”
Keri: “Well, how many amateur sports do you know of, where even the most competitive of participants will readily run into a deadly car fire to try and help rescue a competitor? It happens all the time in the world of motorsports. The community, camaraderie, and spirit of cooperation that can be found in racing, in my opinion, are second to none! I have found a whole network of “my kind of people” in racing and there is a reason that the term “racing family” is used so widely throughout the industry.”
Persistence is Key
D'Laina: “What are your goals this year?”
Keri: “I am in the middle of rebuilding a race car with a lot of heritage—a 1985 Mazda RX-7 I acquired in February has earned trophies in the world of road racing since its first log book entry in 2003. The car was in desperate need of a restoration when I took ownership, so I tore it down to a rolling shell myself and have been sorting through it piece-by-piece. I hope to have it running, rewired, repainted inside and out, and tuned for a competition race this September—its first time passing tech in almost 7 years.”
Seat-Time is the Key to Success
D’Laina: “How do you work on your skills and improve your driving?”
Keri: “Practice, practice, practice! I realize more with every passing season that I am capable of far more than I give myself credit for and need to trust my car, equipment, and experience more. I have so much potential, and yet reaching my peak requires a lot of seat time and the commitment to work through the mental blocks (read: worries) holding me back from further exploring the limits of my car. Attending track days at the local road course is my favorite way to practice, but in the dead of winter you will often find me at the indoor kart track. I also sometimes use a racing simulator at home to casually practice smooth inputs and driving lines. My simulator of choice is Project Cars using a Logitech G27 setup that’s sturdily installed on a platform with a fully adjustable sliding seat.
D’Laina: “Is there anything else you want to share about racing or your career?”
Keri: “I will continue to post updates about my race car build, as well as my racing adventures once I’ve finished restoring it, on my social media channels. I’m hoping to eventually create a competitive driving team of 2-3 additional female drivers to do Lucky Dog endurance races across the west coast with me. My efforts to recruit so far have been met with hesitancy…money, fear of failure, afraid that no one will take them seriously, etc. Hopefully with efforts like your #womenwhorace blog, I will find ladies willing to overcome their fears, make the investment, and set out on a racing adventure with me!