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Catch her if you can

The need for speed sprouted in Lafayette race car driver Sarah Montgomery at an early age

Romero & Romero

With her hands placed at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, an anxious fire ignites within Sarah Montgomery. The hum of idle horsepower rattles throughout the frame of the vehicle and when the flag drops, it becomes unbridled.

The intensity forever emblazoned across the face of this 23-year-old freckled redhead is hidden behind a helmet and shield, providing temporary anonymity the obvious outlier relishes. Out here on the track, she’s not different, she’s not a trendsetter, and she’s not “a story.” She’s just a racer.

Enduring a ruthless test that is equal parts mental and physical, Montgomery straddles the line between speed and control like one of the Flying Wallenda circus performers, while sweat pours at Patrick Ewing levels. A long left. A tight right. A slight brake then punch of the gas. She’s in complete control of this savage motorized ballet, maneuvering her car like a Tetris piece…if Tetris pieces zoomed in excess of 140 miles per hour, that is.

Best of all, two years from now, Montgomery — the lone “Cajun Queen of Cars” — will finally be able to rent one from Hertz or Enterprise without a co-signer.

“I don’t really look at it like that, look at everything I’ve done,” Montgomery says. “I’ve always looked forward. I appreciate the things my team has accomplished in racing, and I’m proud of those accomplishments. But I’m always looking for, ‘What’s next?’ It’s just the way I see racing, just to push forward and go faster.”

Which is why this summer seemed endless — and not in the cool 1970s surfer movie kind of way.

In mid-May — during the infancy of her first season racing the Pirelli World Challenge Series for Shea Racing — Montgomery rolled her car several times in Turn 2 at the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Ontario. The Lafayette native was examined on-site before being transported to a local medical facility for further observation. Montgomery doesn’t remember much from the accident, but media reports claim her car flipped eight times. Montgomery suffered a concussion and a few broken ribs — enough to end her 2017 race season prematurely.

When asked about the crash, the usually loquacious Montgomery is at a loss for words…whether organically or intentionally. Either way, her social media accounts provide the most insight into her current state, the most enlightening posts authored on July 13 and August 16, respectively, which read “I’ll be back in the cockpit soon,” and “God has a plan.”

“It’s not so much the rehab that’s the issue, it’s finding the sponsorships,” Montgomery says. “That’s really the main focus, not if I can race. There’s no question about that. I’ve been racing my whole life.”

This never-before-seen (Montgomery is the only female professional race car driver in Louisiana, after all) love affair between little girl and loud engines materialized when Montgomery was 10 years old. Her parents took her to an Indy Car race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. In the field that day was Danica Patrick — the most successful woman in open-wheel racing. Added on top of that inspiration was the sensory overload attached to the event — the noise, the smell of burnt rubber and spent fuel, the flash of color racing across impressionable eyes. Montgomery was hooked.

“Just seeing someone do that, my instinct was, ‘I want to do that, too!’” Montgomery says.

Unlike traditional sports like baseball, football and basketball, car racing doesn’t have an organic or established path to professional stardom. There’s no high school auto racing teams, no AAU summer circuits. So Montgomery and her family did their homework and got their then-little girl into the regional go-kart dirt oval track scene at age 13. We’re talking tracks hidden amongst myriad backroads, places GPS still hasn’t found. The crowds were minimal. The conditions were Spartan. The grind for Montgomery’s parents — spending free time hopping from race to race — was beyond real, but the passion Montgomery exuded was genuine.

“Being out there just felt right to me,” Montgomery says. “This is where I belong. This is what I’m meant to do. And the years you spend doing that, where there’s not a lot of glory and there’s not a lot of attention on you, will test if you really want to race. And I really wanted to race. I didn’t stop.”

While majoring in marketing at University of Louisiana at Lafayette (a degree that’s come in extremely handy as she essentially sells her merits to potential sponsors) Montgomery raced on weekends and between semesters. After a few years spent dominating the Specs Miata racing circuit, Montgomery joined ALARA Racing in 2015 and drove the Lemons of Love/Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission car in the Pro Racing Battery Tender MX-5 Cup — a league with tour stops across North America. Montgomery’s driving prowess and ability to attract eyeballs caught the attention of Shea Racing earlier this year, as they added the up-and-comer to their Pirelli World Challenge Series lineup, specifically racing in the TCA class.

No matter what or where Montgomery has raced, the fact that she’s a girl in a guy’s world is always a topic of conversation — a conversation she doesn’t duck, but embraces. Montgomery wants to be a role model, wants to blaze a path for followers and — as she so often hashtags on her Twitter account — wants others to know it’s OK to #drivelikeagirl.

“It’s not too much,” Montgomery says of attention usually being the only female on the track attracts. “It’s not a burden. It never has been. If someone looks at me as an example, then that’s just an honor.”

 

 

 

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