Just one look at Kerstin Smutny's racing resume and you'll see that she's got the makings to be a racing superstar in any given series around the world.
Intelligent, charming, and optimistic, the 20-year-old Belleuve, WA native is preparing to make the jump from the dirt tracks and road courses to the bullrings of stock car racing.
A budding NASCAR driver and University of Las Vegas student, you could say that Smutny's used to her world moving a bit faster than the rest of us - to be precise, let's generously say at a little over 160 miles per hour.
Where some of us deal with the rat race that comes with going to work via train or bus, the pride of Washington is diligently working hard on finding the right opportunities with stock cars as well as learning about stock markets and various aspects of International Business.
For Smutny, it's been an incredible journey so far as a driver who's had to change gears in a very literal sense. As you'll see, her career aspirations had to shift, but as with any kind of change, it's usually for the better.
With the new year just around the corner, perhaps nobody's looking forward to 2011 more than Kerstin Smutny, who's the latest interviewee in the "In the Driver's Seat" series. You'll get the sense that she keeps it real, with her responses being very personal, candid, and quite gracious.
When you want Smutny to get the most out of an opportunity, you don't have to try too hard, as she understands the sport and respects those not only who follow her but grasp the concepts of the ways and means of a racer.
Keep an eye on her heading into the upcoming short track season, particularly with the stock cars. She just might have what it takes to be a future NASCAR star, given her racing pedigree as well as her determination to do whatever it takes to make it to the top!
Ladies and gentlemen, buckle up and let's get "In the Driver's Seat with Kerstin Smutny, NASCAR Racing Prospect!"
Rob Tiongson: When I came across your biography on your site, it mentioned how you started racing at age seven after attending the Puyallup State Fair. That’s 13 years now that you’ve been in the motorsports scene!
Does it take you by surprise when you realize that despite your young age, that it’s been that long since you first fell in love and started your racing career?
Kerstin Smutny: Sometimes I feel like having started at the age of seven is late compared to those who started racing at four and five years old! But yes, looking back, it is amazing how fast the time goes and it is crazy to look back and think where I was five or six years ago and how far I have come.
One thing that is really fascinating to think about is what my goals were five years ago (I wanted to be working my way up the Formula car ladder) and how I am on a totally different, but rewarding path with stock car racing now.
RT: You’ve driven a myriad of racing vehicles, like Volkswagen Jettas, USAC cars, and just recently this year, a late model stock car. Has there been anything that you’ve applied to the cars you’ve driven in the past that have proven valuable with your current plan to pursue a stock car career?
KS: Learning to drive the late model has been totally different from any car I have driven before, but I think the path I have taken in a way has been beneficial because racing the USAC Midget allowed me to get a feel for these short track ovals.
Then driving the Jetta TDI Cup cars gave me experience racing a full size sedan, which at the time, was the largest and heaviest car I had driven, and driving a big, heavy race car is probably one of the biggest learning curves I have had with these stock cars.
RT: I’ve asked some racers this before, and I was just wondering, how’d you cut your teeth in racing? Was it a smooth introduction or one that took you for a ride?
KS: I started racing in Quarter Midgets near where I grew up around the Seattle area, and my introduction to racing was kind of unexpected as I was the first person in my family to ever race.
My Dad was a fan of racing and that was about it. We went to a free ride day at a local Quarter Midget track and after that I was sure it was what I wanted to do forever!
From there, it was a little bit of a struggle between me learning how to race and my Dad learning how to work on the cars, but overall, I would say it was fairly smooth.
Once I had some experience I was always one of the cars to beat out on the race track, which is a feeling that is totally amazing and I am always striving for.
RT: We’ve mentioned this a few times in private but is there a particular routine that you get into prior to a race? Do you have any superstitions that coincide with your prerace rituals?
KS: Before a race, I just relax and try to visualize different starts in my head. As far as superstitions, I don’t have too many. I always won a lot of races in my green car, and I’m not totally sure about some of those other things, but I do always put my right glove on before my left.
RT: Your website lists Mario Andretti as your hero. How much do you look up to the open wheel legend when it comes to your career and have you had the opportunity to meet your inspiration?
KS: I definitely admire all the success he had in different sorts of race cars and he has always been a favorite of mine from the time I first remember going to Indy Car races with my Dad at a very young age. I have been at several events where I have seen him and gotten his autograph, but never actually met him.
RT: At just the tender age of 20, you have a diverse background in terms of your racing pedigree as far as the tracks you’ve raced on. What tracks do you find the greatest challenge with and which venues do you say to yourself, “I absolutely own this place?”
KS: I find tracks that are small and tight to be the greatest challenge as they tend to be the most technical. A track that I feel very confident on would have to be Road America in Wisconsin. I have only raced on that track once with the VW Jetta TDI Cup but I would have to call it one of my favorites and I perform well there.
RT: Over the years, I’m sure you’ve met some folks who’ve helped you along the way. Who would you consider to be your greatest mentors as well as your friends in the racing scene?
KS: Over the years, I would have to say the most help has come from my parents and other family members. They have been so supportive and I could not do it without them pushing me and always believing in me.
I have met some great friends along the way, and by far, the best friends I have are all people involved in racing as I think it is very difficult to understand the sport if you’re not right in the middle of it.
There are certain qualities I admire in every person and every driver that I think are great to learn from.
RT: One of the neater and distinct aspects about you is that you’re a college student who’s also embarking on a motorsports career. What’s it like trying to balance out your academics with racing?
KS: SUPER TOUGH! I ended up finishing my senior year in high school doing Independent Studies through my school district because I was missing too many days of school. The school I went to was extremely supportive though.
When I went off to college, it was much tougher to balance. I will admit to having my grades fall a little because when it comes to school and racing, racing is always going to come first but I am starting to get better at the balancing act and I really enjoy school now that I’ve learned to manage my time.
RT: Say for instance, I’m your team owner for a race and you’re driving my stock car in a 200-lap event at a short track. It’s your first time at this facility – what can I expect from you that’ll leave a lasting impression for me?
KS: This is such a good question! What you could expect from me is nice level of professionalism as well as being personable because I love to be able to joke around but I know when to be serious as well.
At a new track, I like to get up to speed and learn the track in practice. During the race, I would settle into the field and work my way to the front since it is such a long race and there is no need to go out and win the race on the first lap or even in the first half of the race.
I think the biggest thing, when at a new track and new team, is to bring the car home in one piece with a nice solid finish.
RT: Free Association time, my friend – might have the twists and curves of Road America. Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with the following words…starting now!
Full throttle racing.
KS: A car with a lot of power!!
KS: A class I never took in high school!
KS: Something that no one should be able to take away from you.
KS: Essential to always keep doing.
RT: Entrance theme song, if I had one, would be…
KS: Eye of the Tiger!!
KS: Something I’m always on the look out for.
KS: You have to overcome it!!
RT: Stock car racing.
RT: My future in racing looks…
KS: Bright and I will never stop working at it!
RT: You’ve really made yourself known to new fans with your social networking mediums. How important is it for you to not only have a Facebook or Twitter but to indeed let the fans know it’s your using these sites?
KS: I know personally, when I’m looking at a celebrity who I admire, I think it is a lot more fun and a lot more personal if they do their own social networking.
I love to connect with fans and I guess I am modest in the way that I can’t believe I actually have fans! I want to let them know I appreciate it and connect with them as much as possible and let them know not only what I do as far as racing, but what I do to prepare and do when I’m not racing.
RT: I have to ask you, being it’s the holiday season – how’s yours been going? Are you back home with your family and friends and are there any particular things you’re looking forward to doing over the break?
KS: The holiday season is going awesome! It is my favorite time of year (besides race season) and I have been at home in Seattle with my family for a couple weeks now. It is always a lot of fun getting ready for Christmas! I am looking forward to seeing all of my extended family and spending time with them!
Author's Note: My special thanks go out to Kerstin Smutny for the wonderful interview during these busy times! If you'd like to learn more about her or decided you're a new fan, follow her on Twitter (@Kerstin_Smutny) as well as "liking" her Facebook page right now!