Modern auto racing is a team sport. While most of the competing is done by a single driver at the controls, there are countless hours of work put in behind the scenes, away from the racetrack and the crowd. Those hours spent away from the limelight make it possible for the driver to put in the best on-track performance possible. This can be seen throughout the entire SCCA Pro Racing Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich® Tires paddock.
At every level of the sport, family fills many of these behind-the-scenes roles. Often times, their part in the race weekend is equally important to that of any mechanic that works on the car. In what can be a very chaotic atmosphere, trusted family members can give each driver a sense of ‘normalcy’ and calmness. With the high level of competition in the Mazda MX-5 Cup, having a clear mind can mean the difference between finishing at the top of the podium and finishing dead last.
Historically, racing has been a male-dominated sport, often shared between fathers and sons. However, that stigma is going away as more females, including mothers and daughters, make their way to the racetrack. Not only are these women showing up at the track, but they are taking a more prominent role in the race weekend. In many cases, these female family members act as ardent fans and coaches – roles often attributed to a father or another male presence.
John Dean, of Sebring, Florida, is the current Championship point leader of the Mazda MX-5 Cup. His mother, Sandy, is one of his biggest supporters. The series holds races all over the United States, and up into Canada, so Sandy is not able to make it to each race. However, when she is at the racetrack, she wears several hats throughout the weekend.
“If I am physically present at Johnny’s races, I prepare and serve food and beverages as they are needed,” Sandy said. “When John’s on track, I will walk to different turns to watch testing, practicing, qualifying and the race to cheer him on.”
Sandy is also able to tap into her own motorsports background to bolster and coach John during the race weekend.
“I’ve always encouraged his racing, coaching and ownership of a team, like Sick Sideways, as I was a drag racer when I was in college,” Sandy said. “I understand the excitement in racing and winning.”
“I am so proud of him, as he is not just a driver. He literally is a mechanic on these cars by helping to prepare them at the shop, then helps drive the rig that transports them to every race. Once arriving at track, he helps prepare his car and those of his teammates. Then, he climbs in and races to win! It’s amazing what he has accomplished.”
Kenton Koch, of Glendora, Cali., an engineering student at Cal State Fullerton, sits second in the Championship standings. Kenton’s mother, Karen, is also a very supportive and active during Mazda MX-5 Cup race weekends.
“I don’t have a specific role,” Karen said. “I just offer support if there is something Kenton needs. I also make sure his six-foot, four-inch body is fueled with food and water. I also manage his schedule and get him where he needs to be during the race weekend.”
Like Dean’s mom, Koch’s mom is his biggest fan and supporter.
“I love watching him race!” Karen exclaimed. “I have been to almost every race of his since he started kart racing at the age of eight. We have been at a track at least once a month ever since. I knew at a very young age he was going to be doing something with wheels.
“We tried all the other sports, such as soccer, baseball and football, but racing was his passion. I have tried to cultivate that the best I can. I never thought we would have gotten this far along in the racing industry. We still have a long way to go, but it is exciting to see it unfold. I have to admit it is very hard on the nerves, but I know how badly Kenton wants to succeed at this. So, I give him all the support I can.”
These two moms also try to be as attentive as possible during, and after the races.
“I prefer to go somewhere alone at the track to watch,” Karen said. “I have to get in my own little bubble.
“It is difficult for me to be around my husband when Kenton races, and he [her husband, Chris] knows that. He is more vocal and usually has a radio, and I don’t want to hear all the goings on. Kenton and I also don’t speak too much before a race. If he needs something he will let me know. He has to get his mind set for the race, and I just let him be. I pray a lot too.
“I’m an internal wreck about a week before we head out to a race. But, I can’t let Kenton see that. It is not good for him to see me nervous, so I do my best to hold it in while he is around. As much as I love to watch him race, I am always happy when it is over. I just want him to be safe with no crashes. A podium is always a bonus.”
Dean’s mother, Sandy, is much the same.
“If you want to know where I am at end of race, I am literally running from where I was located, as a spectator around the track, toward the podium area,” Sandy said. “I know he will be there. You can pick me out, as I am right in front of the podium yelling ‘GO JOHNNY, GO!’ I have always called him Johnny. I hope this doesn’t embarrass him too much!”
The sons, daughters, siblings and significant others who double as the role of driver on race weekend, are in action this weekend at the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.