Some girls look forward to owning their own business, being a doctor, a lawyer, or even becoming famous when they’re growing up.
Battle Ground resident Karen Stimson remembers sitting with her step-father and watching the Indianapolis 500 every May.
“It was something I always wanted to do,” Stimson said.
With the help of her husband Michael, who is a combination builder, crew chief and pit crew, and her two children, the 44 year-old has been on local tracks since 2005. Her racing career, however, actually began earlier than that.
“I started racing go-karts when I was in college, then went to the Skip Barber Racing School to see if I could really do it,” Stimson said. “When I came back to Washington, I was able to buy a four-motor Briggs & Stratton sprint car and started racing for a time.”
What got Stimson out from behind the wheel, though, wasn’t anything severe like a wreck.
“I met my husband and we got married,” Stimson said. “Being the wife of an Army veteran, we also moved around a lot, and then we started a family, so it wasn’t anything more than that.”
Stimson’s passion for racing never really went away, though, so she started slowly with getting retrained and certfied through the Cascade Sports Car Club school (CSSC). Then after getting a Ford Taurus SHO and Michael’s installation of a supercharger in it, she participated in nine track days at Portland International Raceway, Seattle’s Pacific Raceway and Thunderhill in California.
“I had a real good time since I could just race,” Stimson said. “It was also kind of fun being in my car and passing a Porsche or two.”
By the fall of 2005, however, Stimson was ready to move up to the International Conference of Sports Car Clubs (ICSCC). As usual, she also had her husband’s help, starting with the car.
“We bought a 1981 Mazda RX-7 to race, so it was mostly stock but had a few racing modifications.” Stimson said. “I raced for two years in the Improved Touring (ITA) division, and was named ‘Novice of the Year’ in 2006, but we soon realized the car wasn’t cut out for that style of racing.”
Taking the 2008 season off to rebuild the car, Stimson returned to the ICSCC the following year in the E Improved Production (EIP) and Super Production (SPU) divisions, with immediate results.
“I won two races in the EIP and finished second in points, and won three in SPU, beating 11 other drivers for the championship,” Stimson said.
The 2010 season was even better as Stimson won seven races in the EIP division, taking another second place finish out of 54 drivers, and was also named Driver of the Year and Most Improved by the CSSC. But, 2011 was by far her most successful season to date, winning 13 of the 15 races she entered and besting 68 other drivers for her first division championship.
Stimson also set division track records for both qualifying and race at PIR, Spokane, and Mission, British Columbia.
The 2012 season has been another strong one for Stimson. As of mid-August, she’s run in eight races in the EIP division, and has moved up to the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) E Production division, taking three of her seven races. She also now holds all four lap records at PIR for the ICSCC.
She also got a chance to try her hand on one of the most challenging tracks in the world in June, California’s Laguna Seca, taking first place on the second day of competition.
When asked about being intimidated by driving at race speed through the world-famous “Corkscrew” turn, Stimson was far from rattled.
“It’s actually easier for me to drive on it than when I practice on the computer,” Stimson said. “It’s a different feel going around corners and navigating the Corkscrew that a computer just can’t replicate.”
For Stimson, her driving strategy is simple, “I run for fun, so I try to be competitive, driving as clean and hard as I can, and get back to the pits in one piece.
Unlike the rough and rowdy world of NASCAR, where drivers are trading paint and getting into the occasional fistfights, Stimson said there isn’t as much pressure for her and her competitors.
“For one, we’ve bought and maintain our own cars, so we don’t want to wreck because it will mean more time and money to fix it,” Stimson said. “We also have a real strong community feel involved across the board. If one driver has a breakdown and needs parts, the other crews pitch in and help them out.”
Stimson also has taken her years of racing saavy and started working with the next generation of racers as an instructor at both PIR and for the Ridge Racing School in Spokane.
“Being paid to teach is a wonderful perk, but even if I wasn’t, it’s something I still enjoy doing,” she said.
The CSCC hosts Friday track days at PIR, as well as special weekends where patrons can ride in a race car or exotic sports car around the track, with the fees being donated to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. More information can be found at www.cascadesportsclub.org.