I'm approaching turn three in the lead. The car vibrates as it screams up to 7000 rpm. I hold my breath. The outside wall is getting larger in my peripheral vision. I tap the brakes, coast down the steep bank, make the turn, hit the gas and zoom down the straightaway. 107 miles per hour. 3,200 pounds of machine. 465 horsepower. One lap to go.
I grew up in New York City, where most people don't drive. They take the subway. They walk. They don't race cars. But I fell in love with racing when I was 10. I left the East Coast after high school to spend my days in class at Stanford. Evenings are spent working out and making calls to racing teams and companies. I'm a 20-year-old woman establishing myself as a world-class racer who wants to race everything.
My sister, brother and I were raised on the Upper West Side. I took the 2 or 3 subway to get to school. Central Park is where we learned to ride bikes, jaywalking has become an effortless skill, and we have our Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Afghan, Ethiopian, and Indian menus stacked by the phone. I went to Stuyvesant High School for math and science, worked tirelessly, and am now at Stanford University (go Card!). I live a double life -- as a NYC student in California and as a young racer trying to make big things happen.
It was a crisp September afternoon when I first got behind the wheel of a 9 horsepower Go Kart, whizzing down the straightaway. I didn't know what to expect at first; I was seated very low to the ground, my helmet felt heavy, and I could barely see over the steering wheel. Driving put me in control of this vehicle and I wanted to stay on the track all day. At age 17, after racing in formula cars (Indy and F1 type), I earned my NASCAR license.
Even though I felt the need to be a racer from a young age, it was hard to find people to work with. Many people didn't expect a 12-year-old girl to have talent. I was extremely fortunate to finally attract the attention of a phenomenal coach and mechanic who saw my abilities. Together we won a lot of races.
This past summer I interned with the NASCAR Cup team Earnhardt Ganassi Racing. While eating lunch with the engineers and mechanics in the break room, I learned that they started preparing for races months in advance. The engineers simulated car set-ups and driver racing patterns. The PR team gathered information for press releases and media events. The mechanics practiced pit stops in the parking lot. I also realized that the work I had personally been doing was similar in concept to what this big team was doing. I knew I was getting closer to my dream.
Today Julia Landauer Racing is operated primarily out of my dorm room at Stanford, in between studying for Psych 1 and "Science, Technology, and Society 101." The right side of my desk has my logo ideas, press materials, business plans, media pitches, to-do lists, and my "JLR Racing Notes." The left side of my desk has my Statistics textbook, Maus I and II, and my TI-84 calculator. I reach out to individuals for advice, to companies for proposed partnerships, and to team owners for races. Conference calls are coordinated with the East Coast post-lunch but pre-gym. Chaotic and crazy, it's what gets me revved up (pun intended).
It's tough to accept that not everyone embraces my dreams. Marketing directors stop returning my calls. Interviews gather little traction. Cold-calls get responses like, "Julie, we have no interest in this market." My name's not Julie...
But there are victories, too! My alliance with Ann Taylor LOFT began with an email. Online marketing allowed me to connect via Twitter with various groups, such as 85 Broads and the Levo League. I also work with the national organization Girls for a Change, trying to help others achieve things that "can't be done."
There's no "right way" to become a racer and each path must be created from scratch. But it all started when I sat in the Go Kart for the first time, barely able to reach the pedals. I'm ready to show the team, fans, and partners that it's time to win big.
Last lap, he's right on my tail, pushes me into the corner, but I'm still ahead. I turn the car perfectly, full throttle out to the wall, CHECKERED FLAG!... I pull into the victory lane and see the crowds of people around me. I take a deep breath and every muscle in my body is spent. I'm dripping sweat as I take off my helmet and pull off my gloves, and my breathing is heavy. I climb out the window of the car, fist pump and cheer, and jump to the ground. I did it.