Don’t underestimate an Asian woman with mission and a passion. Verena Mei is a member of True Car Racing’s “Women Empowered” Initiative and a Rally America Driver. She’s appeared in the blockbuster movies “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” and “Rush Hour 2.” I got a chance to meet and talk with the beautiful and affable “fastest Asian-American female in the US” at the Indy Grand Prix Sonoma races this past Saturday.
How did you get into this business?
I started as a model for the automobile industry and wanted to get behind the wheel. So I put myself through stunt driving school, built my first Drift car in 2004 and spent 5 years competing in Formula Drift and transitioned into Time Attack which led me to my dream of participating in Rally Racing.
What is Rally Racing?
Rally Racing is a two person “survivor” type race where we drive through rough conditions, mud, water, snow, rain. Each race has 60-70 cars at the start and the race is about time and crossing the finish line. Each race course (and conditions) is different. It’s normally a 2-3 day race where my co driver and I spend 8-10 hours per day in the car. There can be between 11-24 stages and we are timed for each stage and the total quickest time in all stages wins. We get “Stage Notes” for each race, which is thick spiral bound book describing the conditions of the course. The only time we do a run-through of the course is the day before the race where we drive about 15-35 miles/hour and edit the Stage Notes based on our perspective. On race day, I must trust and depend on my co driver Leanne Munilla and just “go for it.” Compared to other types of races, we only “see 1, 000 corners once” so it’s very challenging.
Which championship did you just win?
In mid July, my co-driver and I won the Rally America National Championship in the “B Spec” class. This was the first time an all female American team won this race. Since this is my first year, I really want to learn to be the best driver I can be. I drive a 2011 Ford Fiesta which is a “slower” car, relatively speaking, but I believe if I can learn to drive a slow car fast, then I will be able to drive a fast car faster.
What’s it like being a women competing Rally racing?
First off, I want to thank True Car for giving me this amazing opportunity to have all the tools (a car) to compete. Perhaps an advantage for Leanne and I is that we’re lighter than other teams however if our car flips, crashes or breakdowns, we can’t call a crew to help us. It’s up to us to lift our car out of the mud or turn it over so that could be a difficult. This sport also requires mental strength however in Rally, men and women can compete on a level playing field.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now and what’s your training like?
I grew up in Pearl City, Hawaii and ethnically Chinese. I live in Littleton, New Hampshire now which is close to the best top Rally race school in the U.S. I am a pescatarean, eat well and work out a lot. When not racing, I practice on different types of tracks but spend most of my time editing Stage Notes so when it comes to race day, there’s no thinking twice when my co driver calls out a command.
What are your goals?
I want to be a positive role model, empower women, and to educate teens about car control and the importance of safe driving.
In December 2011, Verena signed with TrueCar, as one of six female race car drivers that make up the TrueCar Racing Women Empowered Initiative. 2012 is her first year in the Rally America National Championship, and has finished 5 out of 5 races, with one more to go. Verena is currently 1st in the B-Spec National Championship, and 5th in 2-wheel drive. Check out the other female speed enthusiasts: Katherine Legge and Shea Holbrook racing at Indy Grand Prix Sonoma; Ashley Freiberg, Shannon McIntosh, and Emilee Tominovich.