Four years ago local racer Mackena Bell, then barely 11 years old, took to the track in a Box Stock Outlaw Kart, a scaled-down dirt sprint car powered by a glorified lawnmower engine.
Through hard work, native talent, and a supportive family, she quickly became a contender, winning championships in increasingly fast and powerful karts. When she turned 14 she became eligible to drive a Legends car, and took to asphalt like a duck to water. Bell capped her budding career with a championship in the competitive Legends division in the last season at Champion Speedway.
Talent will be recognized, and Bell has been one of the few drivers selected nationally to attend the Lyn St. James Driver Development Program, to be held in Phoenix, Ariz., Nov. 18-22. A young driver has to have a solid racing resume and the potential to rise to the top levels of the sport in order to win an invitation to this prestigious program. Former students include 2005 Indy 500 and IRL Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick, former IRL driver Sarah Fisher, and Erin Crocker, who broke into the NASCAR Busch series this season after successful runs in ARCA and World of Outlaws sprint cars.
Lyn St. James is one of the most successful women in racing with experience in high-powered sports cars and Indy cars. With seven Indy 500 starts under her racing belts, St. James has the credentials and the desire to give young racers, particularly females, the skills required to reach the top levels of racing.
To that end she founded the Lyn St. James Foundation in 1993 to promote automotive safety and driver development. To date, the foundation has trained more than 150 drivers from 38 states and two countries. There's post-graduate help available, too, from a network of former drivers who support graduates of the program in various regions of the country.
The program consists of all the things a driver needs to do to be successful in today's highly competitive, media-intensive world of racing. Classes include business related issues; public speaking and media training; sports seminars on hand-eye coordination, cardiovascular fitness training, and nutrition; and track exercises at Firebird Raceway.
Bell is understandably excited about the program.
"I think it's a great opportunity considering I'm only 15," she said. "It's an awesome time for women drivers. It will be nice to see my name on the list of graduates with some of the other women who have attended the program."
Bell's role models are Patrick and her friend Amy Barnes, another Outlaw Kart alumna and current USAC sprint car driver. Barnes attended the Lyn St. James program twice, in 1995 and 1996.
Bell is hoping to win one of the Kara Hendrick scholarships that are available for deserving young women attending the program.