BROOKLYN, Mich. - As the ARCA mechanics and crews pore over the field of cars trying to make the starting grid for tomorrow's race at Michigan International Speedway, one driver will spend those extra moments far removed from the organized chaos that is qualifying.
She wonders how fast is China moving toward a free market economy. How will the pressures created by outsourcing and trade affect the U.S. auto industry? Will e-commerce force more retailers to streamline their operations? How will the demands of emerging markets be serviced by industrialized nations?
While the crew works on the car, Gabi DiCarlo is doing her homework. The 21-year-old ARCA driver is also a full-time student at Arizona State University, and there are books to read, papers to write, and tests to take. And, DiCarlo hopes, races to be won.
"I take my classes on-line now, so school is with me everywhere I go," DiCarlo said earlier this week as she prepared for today's qualifying runs around the MIS two-mile oval. "It's a balancing act, but it hasn't really been a big deal. Most of the time I do my school work in airports while I am waiting, but I carry my laptop and books with me and take advantage of every opportunity to get a little studying in. I used to sit in the car and stress over a paper I had to do, but I've learned to balance things a little better."
A native of Vail, Colo., who now makes her home in Phoenix, DiCarlo started racing go-karts at age 12, and motored through the ranks. She stepped into competition in cars at age 16, and DiCarlo raced a Formula Mazda in the Star Mazda Western Series Championship and finished the 2004 season fifth in points; she was named the series rookie of the year. In 2005, she competed in select USAR Hooters Pro Cup events, the ASA Speed Truck Challenge, and Star Mazda Western Series Championship.
Last year, DiCarlo won top rookie honors in two races on the Hooters Pro Cup Series, and was the first female in the history of that circuit to win the award. The opportunity to run a full schedule in the ARCA/REMAX Series came up this year, and she jumped at it.
"I've wanted to keep improving, keep advancing in racing, and this was a great chance to really see how I could do against top competition," DiCarlo said. "At first, the biggest thing I had to deal with was just getting comfortable in the car. It takes me a while to really get racing out there and be as aggressive as I need to be. I think I am improving in that area and racing harder, earlier in the races."
DiCarlo has finished higher than she has qualified in most of the races this season.
"For a race car driver, your comfort level is very important, and this year it seems like my comfort level in the car has been really good," she said. "I've got a great crew and we all want to be here, so we are racing and having a good time while we're at it."
DiCarlo knows she'll need to put the laptop aside and make a quick study of MIS, where she will race for the first time. She has run in nine of the 10 ARCA events this season, and is 16th in the points standings.
"There's a lot to learn, since MIS is a complete new track to me," DiCarlo said. "I have never been there and never seen it, but conditions all differ from track to track. I just try and take them all the same, not run full-out at first, and learn every minute. If I do it right, I can learn the track in a hurry."
MIS president Roger Curtis said the presence of DiCarlo is just another indication of how racing teams are taking advantage of the opportunity the ARCA series provides to expose young talent to top competition on the same tracks where NASCAR races.
"It has been really intersting to see the role ARCA has taken on in the motorsports landscape," Curtis said. "A lot of Nextel Cup teams are using it to develop and get young drivers ready. It has really become a catch-all. You've got a great group of regulars, an influx of very talented young drivers, and now we'll have the 2006 Indy 500 champ in there too."
IndyCar Series defending champion Sam Hornish Jr., who is running a limited schedule in the Busch Series this year, intends to make tomorrow's ARCA 200 his first ARCA event. Hornish will be out there today along with DiCarlo, running qualifying laps around MIS.
"It is great to see the mix of drivers we'll have out there," ARCA president Ron Drager said. "Gabi brings more diversity to the field, and diversity is a good thing. We're living in 2007, and college graduates, college students, those are things we didn't have in this sport before, except on a very limited basis. This can only be a very healthy thing for our series, and for the sport of racing."
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