BOWMANVILLE, ON – Stock car driver Erica Thiering was pumped about making her debut in the 2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series (NCATS) on the Victoria Day holiday weekend, but the 25-year-old Sherwood Park, Alberta, native tempered her expectations.
Although she has 10 years of racing experience under her belt, including six provincial championships, she was driving her new Ford Fusion in an unfamiliar environment – a road course.
Adding to the drama was the fact it wasn’t just any road-racing track – it was Mosport (now named Canadian Tire Motorsport Park), acknowledged to be one of the most technically challenging road circuits on the planet.
“I’m very excited,” Thiering said, flashing a smile that spoke volumes as she participated in a media event prior to the series opener. “It’s a tough track and certainly presents a different challenge for me – I’ve never driven a road course.”
Thiering is racing the full 15-event NCATS schedule this season after joining the Whitby-based Canada’s Best Racing Team (CBRT) in January. She will be competing for the NASCAR series’ rookie-of-the-year title.
She started five series races last season, completing more than 1,400 laps and finishing in the top 10 twice, including an eighth-place finish at the tough Barrie Speedway bullring.
Thiering’s background is grounded in short-track ovals, where she watched her dad Ron compete for decades. As racers will tell you, the racing bug is contagious and it didn’t take long for Erica to get the itch to drive.
She started competing in a four-cylinder class in 2007 at Edmonton International Speedway, which her parents own, and quickly worked her way up the ladder to the late models, winning her first provincial NASCAR Whelen All-American Series title in 2008 – the first female to win an All-American Series provincial or state championship.
She backed that up with a second title the following year, then strung together four consecutive championship runs from 2011 to 2014. Thiering got a taste of the national NASCAR tour with a limited schedule last season, driving with the Dave Jacombs racing team. She impressed onlookers by being the top-finishing rookie in three of her five starts.
Personality and talent
Among those taking notice was CBRT team owner Bud Morris, whose organization is committed to developing a winning team for its partners to help propel their brands both on and off the track in a new and interactive manner. “Erica is a great fit with her winning personality and drive to be a leader,” Morris said.
Joey McColm, who finished eighth in the NCATS standings last season, is the CBRT team’s general manager, as well as its lead driver, finishing eighth in the NCATS standings last season. He’s thrilled the team has landed a racer of Thiering’s calibre for this season.
The fact she is a female driver blazing new trails in a traditionally male-dominated sport only adds to the allure. “As a forward-thinking team focused on creating awareness about important world issues such as sustainability in auto racing, introducing a female driver fit perfectly with our team’s core values,” he said.
“There is no doubt the fan base at racing events across Canada is diverse, with an increasing number of female fans. CBRT is proud to support a racer and role model who isn’t afraid of breaking barriers and challenging old-fashioned stereotypes,” he added.
Thiering says she’s proud to join a team that is focused on their engagement with fans and on building strong relationships with their partners. “This is an opportunity for me to continue improving as a racer, while striving for new achievements, such as rookie of the year. The 2015 season is going to be a wild ride and I can’t wait to see all of my fans and supporters at the track.”
Thiering is eager to show what she can accomplish in a full season of NASCAR competition. “I’m looking for at least a top-10, hopefully top five overall at the end of the year,” she said. “It is an extremely competitive series. The guys that are in this series have been doing this for 25 years in this division, so it is just extremely challenging.”
Thiering hopes her career will eventually take her to NASCAR in the U.S. “This is a major step towards my overall dreams. This is just awesome.”
Still, she isn’t keen to grow her career by beating the gender drum. She prefers to earn her way on her driving talent, not simply because she’s a female. Although she concedes there have been a few gender issues along the way, they’ve been rare.
She says most male drivers have been supportive. “It’s not so much a gender thing; it’s more a matter of me earning their respect as a competitor,” she said. In her NCATS starts last season, she said she was treated with respect by fellow drivers. “Several times, other drivers would come to me after the race and tell me I’d done a good job – and that’s what is important to me.”
Now she must continue to build that respect over a full season of competition in Canada’s premier stock car racing series. And it all started on unfamiliar turf. She did complete some laps of Mosport prior to official practice during a testing session last week for all NASCAR teams. “I followed Joey around the course so he could show me the braking and shifting points. The next challenge will be doing it by myself.”
Given her lack of experience turning right (and left), Thiering would be satisfied with a top-15 finish in the season opener. “Actually, I’d consider it a win if I could go the distance and come out with a clean (undamaged) car.”
Brilliant pink wrapper
It won’t be difficult keeping track of her progress – her Fusion is finished in brilliant pink with blue stars scattered from nose to tail. The design was created by a six-year-old fan, Ava Warrington, who watched Thiering race at Barrie last year. “Ava didn’t like the colour of my car – it was black,” Thiering explained. Ava decided to create her own design, which she then passed along to Erica and the CBRT crew.
The idea of wrapping the car in Ava’s design struck a cord. “There was no doubt in our mind that we would use it,” Thiering said. “Our goal is to support women in motorsports and to highlight the importance of role models in the lives of children, so this made perfect sense and fit with CBRT’s core values.”
The race car designed by Ava was unveiled in March at the Motorama show in Toronto, with the delighted youngster sharing the honour of pulling off the cover with her racing idol.
Then, to add to the thrill, Ava was taken for a few laps in the team’s show car – also wrapped in Ava’s design – during a media session prior to the season-opening race at Mosport. Words can’t describe the grin when Ava returned to the pit.
Thiering concedes the bright pink hue could be a good thing. “The car will certainly stand out when it’s on the track – and I’m not unhappy about that. I could be dead last and everybody will still know where I am.”
So how did she do in her first road race? Not bad at all. She finished just one spot out of her target window in 16th place – well ahead of dead last and two spots in front of her more experienced team-mate, McColm.