WESTLAKE VILLAGE (CBS) — Most parents would say “absolutely not” if their daughter wanted to race at more than 115 miles an hour, but instead of slamming on the brakes, Jessica Clark’s family overcame their fear. Now they are helping to fuel her race to the top.
Jessica is well on her way to living her dream of becoming a race-car driver. This 17-year old Westlake High senior has no problem or fear shifting gears and pushing a race car to triple-digit speeds.
“I have never been nervous while racing, I am nervous only on the grid right before the race when I am all buckled down minutes before the race. But the minute I fire up my engine it all goes away,” she said.
But that was not the case for Jessica’s mother when her daughter first got the bug for racing.
“When Jessica started in this at 11- and 12-years old, I was not for this at all. I didn’t think this was a safe sport. I didn’t think this was for girls,” said Jessica’s mother, Julie Clark.
Doubt quickly turned to support after her parents realized that Jessica had major skills and had grown into a tiger on the track.
She is currently the overall points leader in the Western Ford Focus Pavement Midget Car division and is ranked 8th overall nationally. This year Jessica has stepped up her game by also racing in the NASCAR S2 cars. That is just two levels down from running laps with the big boys.
“In the midget it’s really a light car, open wheel. The racing is totally different. It’s a lot more responsive,” Jessica said. “But with the S2, it’s so heavy; the track is so much bigger that it has a smooth style. It’s completely different. You can rub and bump these cars.”
She has come a long way from racing go-karts as an 11-year old. Jessica’s dad, Rich Clark, a Pasadena firefighter, has been there from the beginning hands on, working as crew chief on his daughter’s midget car.
“One thing that we do to make sure Jessica has this passion… At the end of every single year since Jessica was 11-years old, I ask Jessica, ‘Are you interested next year in racing at all, period, or do you want to stop,’” Rich said. “That has given her the option to simply get out of it and it has also given her the level of commitment.”
Jessica is committed to the sport, but her passion and commitment still cannot stop the fact that accidents are part of this sport. It is something she and her family have dealt with. Jessica has been involved in several serious collisions.
“The first one was the most difficult. When she was in the small ford focus midget put into the wall, I wasn’t sure if she wasn’t going to be hurt, but when she popped out of the car and waved to the crowd. First I was relived then I went, oh no! I don’t really worry about the danger. I always feel as though she’s safe. But at the same time it is very nerve racking sport to be on the sidelines and watch,” Julie said.
“I was never scared for my life… You would think that being in a race car going 100 miles per hour and crashing into a wall would be pretty scary, but it’s not scary to me,” Jessica said.
Keeping her behind the wheel has come with some big sacrifices.
“There is a huge financial burden, but we try not to view it as a burden but rather an investment in Jessica’s future,” Julie said.
“I’m proud that I have a daughter that is so committed. She’s after something bigger than she is. So if she never makes it in her racing career, she never does this, we didn’t waste a dollar, we didn’t waste a minute of our time. That’s how proud I am of her,” Rich said.
And Jessica is just as proud of her parents.
“There have been times where I’ve actually felt guilty because they have literally given their lives so I can chase this dream,” she said.