“I want to try stock car racing! Please?”
Mom said no. Dad said yes. And after the requisite long pow-wow, Anna Jent ran her first race and is now an up-and-coming regular at Jasper’s Thunderdome Race Track.
What was Dad’s argument that won Mom over? “If you have kids, you know in their free time they’re always exploring,” Brian Jent says, “and there are things you don’t want them to be involved in. I just felt racing was a good thing for her to go into.”
How did friends and relatives respond when they heard about Anna’s new pursuit? “Some of my classmates think it’s kind of cool,” she says, “but most of them think I’m crazy. They’re like, ‘Are you serious? Are you trying to get yourself killed?’”
“Her granny and her aunt won’t even come watch,” Anna’s mom Joann reports. Anna’s racing class is known as “Buzz,” for smaller cars (hers is a Chevy Cavalier) and is often a choice for beginning drivers. “It’s a good, cheap class to go into,” says Brian, “and see if this is something you really want to do.” The cars run stock motors and stock tires, but are required to have a racing seat, quick-release steering wheel, a fuel cell, a roll cage, and window safety netting. A driver’s license is obviously not required, but her parents have to sign a permission form. “We figure when it comes time to take her driver’s test in a couple of years, there’ll be nothing to it,” says Brian.
Top speeds are around 60 mph, but Anna says she never looks at the speedometer while racing: “All I know is either fast or slow,” she says.
The races for her class feature between 10 and 20 cars on a given day. There’s one other female, but Anna is the youngest in her division.
She’s always gravitated toward wheels, Joann recalls, learning to drive a golf cart when she was five.
And she got her first driving lesson on the empty race track — in a straight-shift car, besides. “The battery was kind of weak,” Joann recalls, “and Brian said to her, ‘When I tell you to, pop the clutch and mash the gas.’ She said, ‘How do you ‘pop’ a clutch?’”
As Anna says in retrospect, “That was a pretty adventurous day.”
But her taste for adrenaline goes back further than racing, her mom says: “When we lived in Boldo, she grew up at the volunteer fire department. When the tone went off, she’d be ready to go. Her godfather would take her on runs, and show her what it was like. She’s even been in a burning house before.
“We’ve not held her back. We’ve sort of let her experience things.” Would it be fair to say she’s an adrenaline junkie? “Oh, definitely,” Anna responds.
Race fans in the community have been quick to support Anna’s new venture, Joann says: “We had a hundred T-shirts printed, with her racing number, and they were all gone in a single day.”
She’s also signed up several sponsors in a relatively short amount of time: Cagle’s Automotive, Carmichael Law Firm, Evans Welding, Green Top Barbecue, Skidmore Signs and United Motor Company.
Wrecks are an inevitable part of the process. “If it’s just dents, we leave ‘em in,” Anna says, but her Cavalier is temporarily in the shop from a crash two weeks ago when she hit a wall and broke the car’s A-frame. Which was especially a disappointment “because she was doing so good,” says Joann. “She had just come from last place to fourth in half a lap.”
She makes it a point to pray before each race; afterwards, she says, “I thank God for his blessings on me.”
Anna’s dad is her pit crew, and her mom is the track scorekeeper — which can have its ups and downs.
“A few weeks ago I could see that her car was running hot, but she couldn’t tell,” says Joann. “I told the flagman to ‘black flag’ her — meaning she had to go to the pit for safety reasons.
If the water sprayed out and got on the tires, she might not be experienced enough to react in time.
“When she got out of the car, she went straight to a pit official and borrowed his radio to start fussing at me. Then when I saw her coming across the track, I laughed and told them, ‘Lock the door! Here she comes!’ She let me know she didn’t appreciate it one bit.”
Racing is Anna’s passion, but not an obsession. She plays basketball, is in the band’s color guard and the Beta Club. She’s also a fan of the TV series “CSI,” and hopes to pursue a career in forensic sciences.
“Right now she’s earning respect on the track,” says Joann. “She always chooses to start in the rear spot because she doesn’t want to mess up any of the guys with more experience. But she’s getting there.”
In the next few years she hopes to move up to Sportsman class, and to race at other area tracks.
This year, her parents put an ad of congratulations in the school’s yearbook, featuring one photograph of Anna with her race car and another of her dressed up for the school dance.
“The headline we used was ‘High Heels, Four Wheels,’” Joann says. “We figured that sort of summed it up.”
Dale Short’s email address is email@example.com