Clark following in father's footsteps 

Vintage racer making progress on track

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Delivering in a courier Whistler driver Shelby Clark is shown in her 1959 Elva Courier in action earlier this season.
  • Photo submitted
  • Delivering in a courier Whistler driver Shelby Clark is shown in her 1959 Elva Courier in action earlier this season.

Vintage auto racing isn't a common pursuit for many drivers these days.

But Shelby Clark had a family connection to help her gain a passion for racing some classic cars.

Her father, Steve, is a veteran in the sport and has helped his daughter become a prodigy in her own right.

"My dad's been racing for a really long time, ever since he was a kid. He got into vintage racing when I was pretty young, maybe when I was four years old, I just always thought it was super cool. He had cars in his garage and I just used to hang around his garage after school all the time and help him with all the cars... although I don't know how much help I was.

"As soon as I had the time and was able to, three years ago (when she was 19), I went down to Seattle and took an intensive three-day racing course and went through the procedures after that to finish getting a licence. Now it's just a father-daughter thing that me and my dad do."

Clark, a Whistler resident, said when she was a teenager thinking about getting her licence to drive around regular roads, she also started thinking about getting clearance to race as well. Having a guide in the sport also allowed her connections to a wizard of a mechanic, a major help if something goes awry.

"I had been talking about getting my licence probably since I started actually driving a car, since I was around 16 or so," she said. "I started talking to my dad more seriously about it and he was obviously really, really keen for me to do it. He loves the idea. He made it all happen for me.

"Our mechanic has a big, private shop on the Island and he works on all our cars. Our mechanic took the course with me and he goes down with me so if something goes wrong with the cars, he's able to hop in and take them around the track to get a feel for what's wrong with them."

In addition to racing at her home track in Mission and at relatively nearby tracks in Seattle and Portland, Clark also plans to race in San Francisco and Texas before her season is complete.

"The better I'm getting at racing, the more time I'm trying to make for it. I do maybe five or six events in total a year."

In addition to learning the quirks and intricacies of each new track, which can provide ample challenges, Clark also must consider which car she's driving in that context as well.

"(The 1959 Elva Courier), I improved hugely in by the end of the year. I was catching up to my dad's times and starting on the pole, starting first or second in some of the races and finishing quite high," she recalled. "But they're old cars and they break a lot. We broke four this summer."The '59 Elva Courier weighs about 1,000 pounds so it weighs nothing. It's got tiny, tiny little tires on it. Another one that we started racing is a '69 Alfa Romeo. I don't know how much it would weigh, but easily three times as much. It's got huge fat tires on it.

"When I have both of those cars in Mission or Vancouver, I drive them both completely differently. If I'm racing in one, it's easy to work on one thing throughout the whole weekend but if I'm racing the other, it's going back and forth. It's hard to improve quickly when you have two very different cars."

As a racer with goals of driving in other series, like the BMW-heavy PRO3, Clark appreciates that she's received her apprenticeship in the vintage series. She explained she's able to pick up little tips and tricks being in the thick of it among experienced and talented drivers.

"It's a really good way to get started. Anyone that's racing in vintage has been racing their whole life," she said. "I'm the only girl that races vintage for the most part and I'm the youngest by probably 20 years.

"All these guys have been racing since they were 19 and now they're 60 and they're still doing it. As far as a learning experience goes, racing with those guys is amazing because they're so talented but they're all so careful... They're all in pretty nice cars for the most part and no one's hitting each other. It's very rare that there's an accident.

"As soon as you let a faster car and a more experienced driver get around you, then you can try to stay on their tail and stick with them. That's how I learn a lot of the time when I'm out there."

To this point, the highlight of Clark's career came in 2015 when racing in Oregon at Portland's tough track where she started to put up times comparable to her father. Finishing a lap in under 100 seconds at that track is a benchmark for competitors, and it's something Clark accomplished pretty quickly.

"I got really confident in the car that weekend," she said. "That was huge for me, really being able to see the amount of improvement and getting out of the 1:40 zone. I had a lot of people come up to me being very surprised. That's something that doesn't happen for drivers for many, many years on that track. That was only my second time running down there."


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