22 AUGUST 2020 scca.comFEATURE
If it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to build a racing team? For Grace Hackenberg the unlikely answerwas a congregation – or two. And thensome. You see, Grace, a 20-somethingfrom Portland, Ore., has a penchant forforging her own path and conqueringobstacles, so when she decided racing washer future, it was hard work – and quitea few friends – that pulled her through.
Smith College, one of the prestigiousSeven Sisters, graduated its first class ofambitious women in 1879, but it’s notthe first place that comes to mind whenthe curriculum is engineering. In fact,Smith only began offering its engineeringdegree program in the early 2000s,but despite it being a relatively newoffering, the program is eye catching.
“Smith has a really unique engineeringprogram where you can design your owndiscipline,” Grace explains. “I thought I wasgoing to be an aerospace engineer, orsome other type of engineer. The summerbefore my senior year in high school,I saved up and took a racing school, andI knew this was it – it’s got to be racecarsfor the rest of my life. I was able to tailorall of my course work and projects andbuild a racecar. It was an opportunity tohave hands-on working experience.”
Success in motorsports is never aguarantee, but Grace Hackenbergis not your average enthusiast,and hers is no average story
WORDS Greg Rickes
MAIN IMAGE Smith College/Samuel Masinter
The idea was there from her start atSmith, but how to turn the dream intoreality? Enter a Smith alum, Joni Gang.At that time, her husband, Dean Case,was the Director of Public Relationsfor Mazda Motorsports. Therefore,the obvious answer was a Miata.
Grace set her sights on a multi-disciplineevent called the Grassroots Motorsports$2017 Challenge. The event incorporatedracing against the clock on both thedragstrip and an autocross course, withthe added element of preparing the carwithin a strict budget – two thousand andseventeen dollars – matching the year.Starting with a scrapped 1999 MazdaMiata, she worked under the tutelage ofHale Motorsports and her engineeringadvisor at Smith, Sue Froehlich.
There were fundamental challenges.While Grace recruited fellow studentsfor a variety of roles from fundraising tologistics, the bulk of the car preparationlabor fell on Grace herself. Therewas also no indoor workshop, soshe improvised with a coveredloading dock. It became apioneering experience for SmithCollege on a variety of levels.