In motorsport there are remarkable stories of resilience and triumph to be found around each hairpin corner, but to date there have been few cases as interesting and compelling as the one we will reveal over the next four weeks in a four-part series.
Today, Open-Wheels is proud to present the first chapter in the Michai Stephens story, the record of a prospective Mazda Road to Indy driver from his first laps in a Skip Barber Racing School Car to an instructor capacity and the next steps at RaceCraft1.
We hope you enjoy the series, and without further ado, the Michai Stephens story.
Chapter 1, “Courage”
In an era of heightened pay-for-play driving and talent losing out to money in motorsport, it is important to make note of those most deserving and drivers going above and beyond to make the most out of every opportunity.
During my time covering and following auto racing, no driver has set a greater example of perseverance and dedication than Michai Stephens, (MI-KIE).
A native of Evanston, Illinois, Michai has withstood one of the most interesting careers in motorsport that one will find. After trying his hand in various stick-and-ball sports, a love for cars endured throughout Michai’s childhood years. At the age of 12, he would fuel his need for speed with Project Gotham Racing on Xbox Live, driving as the relatively unknown alias of “Speedy12.”
Years began to pass as Michai completed elementary school, then middle school, and eventually high school graduation was on the horizon. Without a clear career path in sight, adulthood posed real challenges and anxiety for the young man.
“Graduating from high school… I was terrified,” Michai recalled. “I didn’t know what to do. School scared me, but I knew I could always find comfort in my love for cars. Granted, Mom and Dad do not come from the means to be able to afford motorsport, and little would we know that it’s the most elitist (sport) on the Earth.”
As his high school years came to a close and a passion for cars remained, Michai sought to find his path. Following some directional advice from a cousin who pointed him towards Arizona State University, Michai joined the nationally recognized ASU Industrial Design Program.
At the completion of his freshman year in the desert, Michai returned home with some rekindled ambition. He asked, “What do I want to do before I die?”
Instead of returning for his Sophomore year, Michai sourced Google to learn more about “how to become a race car driver,” using the remaining monies from his college fund, Michai paid for a Skip Barber Racing School Formula Car three-day program.
Michai had singled out a program penned by Paul Pfanner of Racer Magazine for his next step: a diamond-in-the-rough concept that gave aspiring drivers with zero previous racing experience a chance at a full-season scholarship to compete in the Skip Barber Racing School Formula Car Summer Race Series.
When Michai arrived at Road Atlanta for his introduction into driving a race car and the world of Motorsports, he hardly had a working knowledge of a manual transmission, let alone the fines required to operate a stick-shift race car.
However, Michai’s performance secured him an invitation to compete against 33 fellow drivers who too were supposed to be novice to racing. Michai would ultimately finish fourth in the shootout, in the wakes of the only three drivers with prior experience, including GT Academy Shootout finalist and more – contestants who were certainly not supposed to be competing against drivers such as Michai.
After finishing the best out of all rookie drivers, Michai and his father returned home to refine their ever-evolving game plan. Michai would spend the next year working in construction to raise the funds to re-enter the shootout in 2013, bound and determined to make a mark in racing.
Be sure to return on Wednesday, April 11 for chapter two of the Michai Stephens story.
Image courtesy of USF2000.