Shootout Racer Clarke Studying Event Management
Kara Clarke is studying event management from two totally different perspectives.
The 19-year-old from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is working toward a bachelor's degree in sports/entertainment/events management at Charlotte's Johnson & Wales University while also racing in the Summer Shootout Series at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
"I was on one side-the racing side-and now I'm starting to learn about the other side-the people in the offices, and what they have to do week-to-week to make an event work," Clarke said.
Clarke has been competing in the Summer Shootout Series since 2004, so when she toured the Johnson & Wales campus and became interested in the school's event management program it was an added bonus that she could combine her two passions.
"Everything just fell into place-the program and how the school is close to the track," said Clarke's mother, Beth.
During her freshman year, Clarke realized the teamwork and communication she utilizes while at the race track helped with her studies.
"I relay information to my team that I get from the track and then we discuss what we need to do to the car," Clarke explained. "It's the same with our term projects; everybody has to throw their bits and pieces into the project."
Clarke said her first year at Johnson & Wales has given her a greater appreciation for the racing industry and the events in which she competes. One of her term projects was to work with a team of classmates to devise a mock grand opening for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"Doing a project like that showed me just how much work actually goes into an event," Clarke said. "We show up at Lowe's Motor Speedway every Tuesday to race, but have no idea what went on during the week to make the event happen."
During last year's Summer Shootout, Clarke finished 18th in the Legends Car Semi-Pro division point standings and was voted the division's most popular driver by the fans. The award was extra special because Clarke's friend and fellow racer Chrissy Wallace received the same award for the Legends Car Pro division.
"It was really exciting because the most popular drivers in the Semi-Pro and Pro divisions were both females," Clarke noted. "It was pretty cool to see that."
Although several female drivers compete in the Summer Shootout Series, Clarke says her gender is one of the biggest challenges she faces on the race track.
"All of the guys think, ‘we can't get beat by a girl'," she said. "In racing, you can't hold back for anybody if you want to be successful."
Another challenge for Clarke is balancing her racing career with her school work and her job at 600 Racing, where she enters point and membership information into the company's database.
"It's hardest with school projects because everybody wants to meet to work on them during the weekends, and that's when we are off racing," she said.
Even though it is sometimes a juggling act; Clarke has found that being involved in two sides of racing is already paying dividends.
"My racing experience is definitely helpful at school because I've been to so many events, especially because I have been behind the scenes," Clarke said. "Also, a big plus about racing and wanting to work in the industry is that there are so many people you can network with and talk to."
Clarke plans to continue racing throughout her remaining three years at Johnson & Wales. "I've had a lot of friends come out to watch me race and my teachers are really into it," she said.
Clarke hopes to one day work on the business side of motorsports, but she wouldn't turn down a driving opportunity if it came along. She described her ideal job as something in NASCAR: "Since I graduate in 2010 and that's when the Hall of Fame opens, it would be really cool to get involved with that."
The 14th annual Summer Shootout, which runs each Tuesday night through Aug. 7 with a special Wednesday night event on July 4, features three classes of Bandolero racing, four divisions of Legends Cars and the Thunder Roadsters.
Admission is just $7 for adults. Children 6-12 are admitted for $3 and kids under 6 are free. Tickets are available in advance at the speedway ticket office and at Gates 4 and 5 the night of the event. Parking is free.
Spectator gates open at 5 p.m. with preliminary action at 5:30 p.m. Feature racing begins at 7:30 p.m. For information, call the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.