Sarah Cornett-Ching and Tony Blanchard had something to prove to themselves Saturday in the ARCA Mobile 200 in Mobile, Ala.
Prior to Saturday’s 200-lap event Blanchard and Cornett-Ching had never collaborated on a short track. While Cornett-Ching’s story has been well received by media, the young lady from Canada’s west coast is a virtual unknown in the racing world.
“I had no way to actually grasp how different this would be than anything I’d done before,” said Cornett-Ching in a press release. “Tony told me as much as he could about what I could expect during the race, but when the green flag dropped it was trial by fire.”
Practice and qualifying was washed out from torrential rains, so the only experience Cornett-Ching had on the tricky oval was in a test session the week prior. The determined racer faced adversity early. Her car was damaged after contact with another driver and the situation beyond her control worsened instantly.
“With no outside wall in the corners I slid down an embankment,” said Cornett-Ching. “It took three attempts to get back up to the track because the ground was so wet from rain the days before. I could hear the crowd from inside the car when I finally made it back on track.”
Cornett-Ching’s popularity with the Alabama fans was obvious from the start. Between autograph sessions, media interviews, driver introductions and then her re-entry to the track, the cheers offered great moral support.
Through the remainder of the race Cornett-Ching was laps down to the leaders, but the team made repairs and she raced with the front-runners all day. She finished in the 14th.
“I am impressed by Sarah’s calmness in the car,” said Blanchard. “Her demeanor allowed her to listen and try different techniques behind the wheel that helped the handling of a damaged race car.
“We have such a great comfort level with our communication it allowed us to manage the race together really well,” he continued.
Aside from the obvious similarities between the ARCA stock cars and the late models Cornett-Ching raced in Canada everything is different.
“When I climb into the race car and take it all in I feel at home,” said Cornett-Ching. “But everything is different. At this premier level the cars drive differently. They react differently. Even the smell of the synthetic oils and burning rubber smells different. It’s better than any perfume.”
The team competes next at the historic Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tenn., in April. Between repairing damage on the car, preparing back-up cars, re-designing the team office and various PR activities, Cornett-Ching continues to prove she belongs.