BRIDGEWATER, Mass. (AP)- Bridgewater's Bethany Stoehr may otherwise seem like a typical teen, but on the weekends she is racing at high speeds, holding her ground in a field of seasoned race car drivers.
Stoehr is in her first season of midget car racing as part of the NorthEastern Midget Association full class division. The 18-year-old is a rarity at regional racetracks - a young woman behind the wheel amid a pack of mostly older men, although it's not something she pays much attention to. As a fourth generation member of a motorsports family, racec ar driving runs in her blood like fuel in an engine.
"The competition is pretty fierce," said Stoehr, who got her start racing a go-kart at 8 years old. "You definitely have to battle for your spot. It's no easy job."
Stoehr is so dedicated to race car driving that she skipped her recent graduation from Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School.
"Why would I want to sit in a hot, sweaty gym when I could be racing," said the fresh-faced Stoehr, who is foregoing college to pursue motorsports. "I just want to race and go to work. I love racing. It's my life."
Stoehr remembers her first ride, a prized possession. It was a go-kart, bought while on a trip to Thompson, Conn., the home of Thompson International Speedway.
"One day we were at Thompson Flea Market," she said. "And my dad said, 'Hey, let's buy a go-kart.' I said okay, and we started racing. I kind of grew up on it."
After developing skills racing go-karts, competing throughout the region, Stoehr made the move up to the so-called light division of midget car racing as part of NEMA.
"My dad thought I was ready to get into it," she said. "I ran the light division for two years. Now I'm in the full-class."
Stoehr's father said that it was only natural that his daughter followed the family tradition.
"She's the next generation, that's all," said Gregory Stoehr, a NEMA stalwart and owner of Motor Cars International. "That's what we do. We're Stoehrs. We race. We all grew up with the race track."
Bill Stoehr, Bethany's great-grandfather, was involved in racing in the Long Island area as part of the American Racing Drivers Club. Her grandfather, Paul, the oldest living racecar veteran in the family, started racing when he was a 15-year-old living in Hingham.
Bethany's father, Greg Stoehr, along with her uncle Russ Stoehr, each continue to race midgets. The Stoehr brothers, who have been involved in racing their entire lives, now compete against the younger Bethany on racetracks around New England.
"It's pretty neat to be a part of my family," said Bethany Stoehr, whose mother and cousin are also involved. "When I joined the club as a driver, everyone is a big family in the club. My dad and uncle drive in the same division as I do. They are racecar drivers and it's so cool being a part of that."
Stoehr also gets help from her older sister. Katheryn Stoehr, 19, works the pit crew for her father and younger sibling.
"She just does all the mechanical work," Stoehr said about her sister. "She has the final say in what we do."
So far this season, which started in April, Stoehr has competed in two races and missed one due to a mechanical failure. She finished 10th at Seekonk Speedway and finished seventh at the Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut - which isn't bad for a rookie, considering the races feature about 20 entries on a good day.
"She's done great," her father said. "She's already made the Top 10 in points. That's pretty good."
During the races, which usually go about 25 laps, Stoehr said she has reached speeds of about 140 miles per hour on the straight-aways of larger tracks.
"Sometimes there are feelings of danger, but that comes with the sport," said Stoehr. "It definitely takes a lot of learning. I'm trying to take in everything I can this year. . You have to be in the right place in the right time."
Stoehr said she is the only female racer in the full class division. Sure, she gets playful comments about her gender, but she just ignores them and brushes them aside.
"I just think of myself as a driver, not as a girl driver," Stoehr said. "I get comments, you know, like, 'Girl power,' and all that. That's not really what I'm looking for. I don't roll my eyes. I kind of smile and don't say anything."
Stoehr said that she wants to go wherever racing takes her, but she hopes to someday to compete in NASCAR. However, asked her thoughts on female NASCAR sensation Danica Patrick, Stoehr said she isn't much of a fan. She added that the GoDaddy car driver doesn't have the mechanical expertise she looks for in an ideal driver.
Greg Stoehr said his daughter gets no special treatment because of her gender or her rookie status.
"Once we put our helmets, no one takes it easier on her because she is a girl or a rookie," he said. "Everyone gets the same amount of respect. She's just a girl that races."
Greg Stoehr said that he's hopeful about his daughter's racing career and is glad to be there for the ride.
"I'm looking forward to being a part of it," Greg Stoehr said about his daughter's career. "It's going to be a thing. She's done all the right things. It's a giant commitment that she's made. She's going to go as fast as she wants to."
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