Michele Bumgarner has made quite a name for herself in the world of racing. She’s bagged several awards in her decade-long career, including a Top 10 finish in the Indy Car Grand Prix of Houston in 2013 as well as the distinction of being the first Filipina to compete in the Pro Mazda Championship 2014 season.
She wasn’t always good, though. In fact, when asked how she fared in the beginning, she’s quick to admit that she sucked. “I was last all the time. I was lapped over all the time,” she recalls. “(But) a lot of my coaches in the past told me that I am a very smooth and very consistent driver. Then, I got the hang of it.”
Her dad, racer and businessman Lee Bumgarner, got her into the sport back in 1998. It was when she joined (and won) her very first race at Kartzone in Cebu a year later that made her think racing could be more than a hobby. “I’ve always been an athlete. I was a tennis player before I became a racecar driver. When I won something inside me clicked. That’s when (I realized that) maybe doing this for a living isn’t so bad. I loved it. I wanted (to) be driving all the time,” she reveals.
In her early years, training for races included regular visits to the gym and to Carmona Racing Circuit in Cavite on weekends or after school. These days, it’s more intense. In Indiana, where Michele currently lives, she frequents Peak Performance Fitness to work on her strength and flexibility. She also practices on tracks. When she’s not doing either of those, she spends her seat time on a driving simulator because, as Michele puts it, tracks can be very expensive. "There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that normal people won’t understand,” she explains. “People think you’re just sitting down driving. There’s more than meets the eye.”
Maintaining her skill isn’t the only challenge she deals with. “I face a lot (of) discrimination,” she reflects. “I constantly (have) to prove to everyone that I actually belong in a male-dominated sport. It’s something that I don’t think will ever go away. It’s something that people will not get used to. But, I don’t care,” she says.
There are also the physical setbacks. According to Michele, being in motor sports requires good upper body strength, neck strength, and stamina. “We’re already born with a lot of disadvantages. We have to workout twice as hard as guys to have the same strength (as them),” she admits.
As satisfying as it is for her to “beat men at their game”, the racers she admires are, coincidentally, male. “In Formula One, I have always loved Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen. In Indy car, I would say Scott Dixon,” she says.
That doesn’t mean she thinks less of her fellow female drivers. While there are certainly more male champions in motorsport, she treats other racers as equal competition regardless of their gender. “I’m not saying that I want to beat (certain) girls. I want to beat guys too! I idolize males that are good because I hope to be at their level one day. I want to be better—the highest level possible.”
At present, Michele is working get sponsors to fund her upcoming races. When the opportunity presents itself, she hopes to compete in the Indy 500, an oval race that goes 500 miles and requires four or five hours of driving. “It’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world. No woman has ever finished or actually won the race. I want to be the first Pinay to be able to,” she states.
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Banner Image from Michele Bumgarner's Instagram