Competition. That’s what drives any successful racer, and it’s no different for a racer just getting started in the sport.
For Hannah Grisham, the NASA Teen Mazda Challenge is the most recent outlet for her competitive bug. While the 18-year-old high school senior from Glendora, California has other competitive outlets (most notably water polo), nothing fills the void like racing.
It clearly comes naturally for Hannah. Her father, Tom Grisham, races motorcycles off-road and while he taught his daughter to ride at the age of four, he didn’t want her competing on two wheels.
“I started racing in go karts when I was six,” Grisham said. “I did that for about 10 years, and a man who owned Morning Star Motorsports, James Brown, was looking for a female driver to drive his car. I was the one he chose, so that’s how I got into the car.”
Brown, who plays a key role in the Teen Mazda Challenge and sits on NASA’s advisory board for the national program in 2018, helped Grisham into the seat for the 2016 season.
From there, Grisham was off and running in Teen Mazda Challenge, recognizing the value in both the short-term competition, and the long term.
“It’s just a good opportunity for teens,” Grisham said of the program. “It’s a way to work up the ladder and not have to spend tons and tons of money. It’s grassroots. The teens are usually among the fastest people at a Spec Miata event, or at least in the top half of the pack. I think that just goes to show something. But the main thing that you get out of it is that it’s another opportunity to work your way up.”
And more than that, being a part of the Teen Mazda Challenge has opened doors that may not have been available as a “regular” Spec Miata competitor.
“Being in the Teen Mazda Challenge, some of the Mazda people focus on us and give us some advice,” she said of the support around the events. “They invite us to things we wouldn’t get to do, like Mazda events. That helps give me some contacts and meet people to figure out what this is all about. That really helps, in my opinion.”
One of those introductions was to Lyn St. James, who – while very well known as a racer in her own right – is probably best known these days as a champion for women racers and other behind the scenes causes. One of those causes, the Women in the Winner’s Circle Project Podium Grant is part of the Lyn St. James-led Women’s Sports Foundation and is awarded annually to “provide direct financial assistance in the form of matching grants to women in racing to help further their professional careers.”
Grisham was named one of the recipients for 2018, an honor and a help to her career.
“I went to a seminar at the Long Beach Grand Prix called Racing Goes Safer (a driver safety seminar) and she was there and told me I should apply for it. I did last year and was one of the recipients for 2018.
“There was some money involved, but other than that, Lyn helps me. She’s there for advice, and some contacts. Just her help alone is a lot.”
And every little bit helps as all of the young drivers in the Teen Mazda Challenge launch what they hope is a long and successful driving career. And at this age, that goal is still within reach.
“My goal would be to work the way up the Mazda ladder, and hopefully make a career out of racing,” Grisham said.
There is a fallback plan for Grisham in life after high school – though racing remains the focus at this point.
“I’m going to college, though I’m not very sure what I want to do other than racing. I’m going to a local community college, staying close to home, and figuring out what I want to do.”
In the meantime, you can find Hannah at NASA events in the Teen Mazda Challenge up and down the West Coast, piloting her Spec Miata. It won’t be hard to find her.
She’ll be in one of the cars near the front.