Remember the first time you drove a car? The nerves. The excitement. The unparalleled feeling of freedom. The hopefully unwarranted reactions of fear and critique from your parents, guardians or instructor. For most, these are glimpses of the pivotal transition to adulthood.
However, one young girl is bypassing the traditional checkpoints of growing up in exchange for a shot at being the first to cross the finish line — quite literally.
Bella Chan isn’t your average 11-year-old girl. She’s a racecar driver: one of the best in her age group and one of the only female automobile racers in the area. Chan’s passion to be involved with the sport wasn’t always as strong as it is today, but following a few attempts on the track — and the promise to be taught by a welcoming veteran race team, led by Jeff Parish and his son and current racer, Jon — she hasn’t looked back for a second. In fact, she sees a career in it.
“Everyone in racing is a family, and doing this is just so much fun. There were a few times when I’ve gotten discouraged and wanted to stop, but my mom told me, ‘I couldn’t just quit,’” said Chan. “I’m glad that she did because now it’s a lot of fun for me and a big part of my life. I don’t think I’ll ever stop racing.”
Chan is a frequent competitor in venues such as Spartan Speedway, racing in what’s known as the Bandolero division. A common, entry-level vehicle type and division for youth, Bandoleros are engineered with up-and-coming racers ages 8-14 in mind; this doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly.
Broken into two groups — Junior and Senior — and based on experience and a variety of rules regarding necessary mechanical configurations, Bandolero cars tear around a quarter mile track at speeds of up to 70 mph. Take a second to imagine taking your vehicle around a high-school running track at highway speeds; if this proposition is unsettling, then you might want to leave it to the ice-cold veins of the youngsters in these driver’s seats.
When asked if she’s ever worried about the dangers, Chan is quick to admit that it can be scary, but it ultimately doesn’t faze her. It can be even harder to stomach for parents, but years of innovation, improved craftsmanship and regulations have made the sport safer than many contact sports to an extent.
“I don’t want to ever discourage other drivers from getting involved, but it’s important to understand these cars are built to crash. It’s super safe in comparison to things like go-karting because the cars are enclosed and include safety aspects, like a roll-cage for instance,” said Bella Chan’s mother, Molly Chan. “When she’s in the car, she’s protected from the elements, her hips are tucked into the seat, and she’s even got a neck brace and fire suit. Drivers aren’t allowed inside of their cars without these things, and the smaller cars don’t have enough fuel and a cut-off to prevent anything from combusting in the event of an accident.”
In just two short years and across roughly 16 races, Chan’s intuition, knowledge and performance have heightened, and she’s already found quite a bit of success in the Junior group.
She recently upgraded from a used, entry-level vehicle to a brand new, pristine car of her own – crafted exclusively by INEX Inc., a subsidiary of
Speedway Motorsports, which is best recognized for its racetrack properties including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.
When speaking with Chan in September 2017 toward the close of the racing season, her new pride and joy was a gleaming white canvas, but it was apparently temporary when considering the plethora of sponsors from the previous vehicle.
Her supporters stem through mid-Michigan, and their logos can be seen from the grandstands. Appropriately so, FOX 47 is the lead sponsor of Chan’s #47 car and is joined by Larry’s RV, Streamline Enterprises Inc., Lansing School District, HEAT Blow Dry and Beauty Boutique, and many more.
The off-season for racing isn’t long; in just a few short months, Chan will take on her third season. The 2018 season will include eight races and present young racers with new challenges and new competition, as Spartan Speedway is in the process of extending its Bandolero division in collaboration with Carleton Michigan’s very own Flat Rock Speedway.
As the sport continues to grow, there’s no telling how far Chan will go, but one thing’s for sure — come April, when the green flag is waved, there’ll be nothing stopping Chan and her team from taking home the gold.