Friday, March 28, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> CJHN student racing for cure on dirt track

Leader sportswriter

After a successful rookie campaign, Cabot Junior High North freshman and stock-car driver Rebekah Harris will be competing in her first full season at the Plumerville Super Speedway in Plumerville this year, and at the end of the season, she’ll donate half of her season’s winnings to a great cause.

Harris, a 14-year-old Ward native, will be the lone female competitor in her age group at the track this season, and half of her winnings will go to the Breast Cancer Foundation of America once the season ends in October.

Harris won the Rookie of the Year award and finished seventh in the overall points standings last year at Plumerville, and even though she’s set her goals even higher for this year, she wanted to do something more, and that’s what led to her decision to donate to a greater cause.

“I have friends and a lot of people I know that have had breast cancer,” said Harris. “My mom actually came up with the idea. I’ve always been somebody that likes to give back to other people, and when she mentioned the breast cancer idea, I thought it was a good idea.”

On the back of Harris’ customized No. 99 Chevrolet Monte Carlo it reads ‘Racing For The Cure… All Through The Year!’ Harris is carrying on her family tradition of racing at the dirt tracks, something she got into by watching her father, Jerry Harris, do competitively at the I-30 Speedway in Little Rock.

“I watched him race every Friday and Saturday night,” Harris said of her father. “I learned how to drive a car and one day I asked him if I could race, and he bought me a car. It wasn’t ready to race or anything. So he asked one of his friends if I could drive one of their cars in the Powder Puff. So I started racing in Powder Puff and I didn’t stop because this is what I want to do.”

Harris first began racing in motocross with her brother, but she got hooked on stock-car racing when she began competing in the Powder Puff (all girls) division at the I-30 Speedway. She was 13 when she started.

Harris finished fifth in the overall points standings that season, and after that, she got her first car. The next season, Harris began racing in the Super Stock division at I-30 Speedway, but about halfway through the year, she decided to start racing at Plumerville Super Speedway.

Part of the reason Harris said she decided to start racing at Plumerville was because she wanted more of a challenge than what was offered in the Powder Puff division at I-30 Speedway. But that step up in competition has also come with a bit of adversity.

Since Harris is the lone female racer in her division that regularly consists of around 20 participants, she admits that some of her competition has felt threatened by the fact that they’re competing against a girl.

“A lot of people think it’s a good thing and are like ‘that’s cool that you do this,’” Harris said. “Some of the guys don’t like it, but it’s whatever. It’s definitely a challenge having to deal with some of the guys and what they say, but I try not to let it bother me. At first it did, but this is something I like to do and it really doesn’t matter what people think.”

Harris said it can be tricky juggling her top hobby with school, but regardless of how busy she can be, she still finds the time to compete and be at the track every Saturday of racing season, which takes place from March through October.

Even though Harris has had some success in her short time racing, she did have a scare at the end of her rookie season. In her last race of the season, she got tangled with another car and ended up rolling her car on its side.

Some family members wondered if the accident would cause her to step back from competition, but Harris said that even though the accident was a bit of a scare, it wasn’t enough to turn her away from the sport that she loves.

“After I had my wreck, I was kind of scared to get back in the car,” Harris said. “But they (family) told me ‘if you don’t do it now, you’re never going to want to do it again because you’re going to be scared of it.’

“Well, we had gone to a race at a different track for a bigger race the next week, and I was like, I have to do this because I love this and if I don’t do it now I’m not going to want to do it ever again.

“I knew that for a 14-year-old that didn’t have very much experience, I was pretty good. I didn’t want to give up my career in it, so I kept going.”

As for this season, Harris said her biggest goal is to finish in the top three in the overall points standings by season’s end, and that she looks forward to the challenge.

“Last year was more of a learning year,” she said, “and this year I want to be able to get up there. I’ve won a race in Powder Puff, but I’ve never won one with the boys. So that’s one of my goals, and being in the top three in points and making every single race.”

Harris will race all season at the Plumerville Super Speedway and the first official race of the year took place last Saturday.