Archive for Wednesday, February 2, 2000

Racing is her life

Area teen-ager surprises friends with her love for the oval track

February 2, 2000

Jenny Stark lives a double life.

Unbeknownst to most, the tall, willowy brunette with blue eyes and sweet, shy smile who runs a cash register at B&J Applemart is also a racecar driver.

One might wonder why, when other members of her 1999 McLouth High School graduating class are embarking on traditional paths such as college and matrimony, Stark, 19, would want to race cars.

The reason's simple, she said.

"I like it for the speed," Stark said. "It's the adrenaline rush that you get when you're competing with other people it's the excitement."

And if Stark can have her way, the excitement will continue.

"My goal is to be a professional NASCAR driver," she said.

Lee Stark, Jenny's father, said Jenny had been involved in one type of motor sports or another throughout her life.

"She was two weeks old when we took her to her first race," he said.

At age 5, Jenny began riding all-terrain vehicles.

"It was fun," she said. "Something to do. It was outdoors and we took trips as a family. I got to see some of the country."

A family scrapbook shows a very young Jenny driving an ATV over sand dunes in Mexico, surrounded by thousands of other riders.

When she was 11, her father gave her a choice.

"Dad said I could have a horse or a four-wheeler," Jenny said. "I chose a four-wheeler."

She soon graduated to cars.

At 14, she entered her first car racing competition at Thunderhill Speedway in Mayetta.

From there the action continued, albeit sometimes breathtaking.

At 15, she rolled and crashed her first car, a Pinto, during a race at Thunderhill.

"I remember spinning out," Stark said. "I was sideways on the track facing the infield. I don't remember rolling it. I just remember opening my eyes and seeing that the car was on the drivers' side."

Jenny was wearing her helmet, a fireproof racing suit and was strapped in. She knew she was going to be fine. When the paramedics got to her, she said there was only one thought on her mind: "My Dad's going to be mad when he sees the car."

But her father had watched the car spin out of control and roll four times with his daughter inside.

"I was numb, virtually numb," Lee Stark said. "But on the same token, I knew she was OK. The car had roll cages, she was strapped in, and it was all good equipment."

The accident didn't slow down her love for racing.

At 17, she started racing at Lakeside in Kansas City, Kan.

"This was different because it's an asphalt track. All the other ones I'd raced on were dirt," she said.

Jenny credits her father with giving her the confidence to race.

"He gets me ready mentally and emotionally," she said. "When we go to a racetrack, he gives me a pep talk all the way there."

One thing her father has taught her is visualization, she said.

"You have to race the race in your head before you go out on the track," she said. "You make up different situations, like if such and such happens you're going to have to do this."

Racing in practice sessions with the same drivers each week gives her an edge, she said.

"You know each driver's individual quirks," she said. "You make a mental picture of what that particular group of guys is going to do in the first lap it all depends on who's in front of you."

When this year's racing season kicks off in April, Jenny will be there with her 1981 Mustang ready to go. Meanwhile, she continues her job at the grocery store, often amazing people when they find out that she races cars.

"Sometimes they don't believe me," Jenny said, "And I have to prove to them that I honestly do have a race car."

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