In most ways, Michelle Theriault and Reed Sorenson are typical teenagers. Both are15, both active in school and sports, and both have recently received their Georgia Learner’s Permits. Michelle and Reed do differ from their classmates in one interesting way: both have been racing cars for the past ten years.
Michelle, 15, started racing in 1992 in Quarter Midgets, pint-sized versions of the indy-style cars popular at the top levels of racing. She’s been successful as she’s progressed up the rungs of racing’s ladder, and today competes in “Legend” cars, scaled-down NASCAR stockers. Michelle is the only woman to have won feature races at both Lowe’s Motor Speedway and the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and became the only woman to win a championship in Legends’ history with her title in Atlanta Motor Speedway’s “Thursday Night Thunder Racing Series.” There’s another side to Michelle: She’s an Honor Student at Milton High School.
Reed, also 15, attends Woodward Academy and has an impressive racing resume’ as well. He started in Quarter Midgets too, winning a sportsmanship award in his initial year and several championships – he was a nine-time Southeastern Champion in three divisions and held 15 track records in the U.S. and Canada. Reed has over 2650 victories in his career and was National Quarter Midget Champion in 1997. He’s now moved up to NASCAR’s “Late Model” stock car series, where he’s one of the youngest drivers.
Now that Reed and Michelle have their Georgia Learner’s Permits, one would assume that all this racing experience must make driving on Georgia’s streets and highways easy for them, but both Reed and Michelle agree that it’s actually harder to drive on the street. Reed says, “You don’t know anybody you’re with – you don’t know if the guy beside you is drunk, or if the guy behind you has brakes or not. You have to watch all around you. On the track you know the guy you’re racing, and you know what’s going to happen when you go into the corner. On the street you have absolutely no idea.” Michelle echoes Reed’s thoughts: “I feel so much safer when I’m racing. You know the people, you know what to expect of them. On the road you don’t know what that guy is going to do, you don’t know how much experience he has. You have to drive much more defensively on the road.”
Both agree on another point: while there are some distractions on the track, they are few compared to driving on the street. Reed recalls that he was driving with some friends, and his cell phone rang. “I have to admit I did zone out for a bit, and before I knew it I had almost missed my exit, and had to slam on my brakes. People don’t realize how much you zone out when you’re on the phone.” Michelle adds “You subconsciously do it; it’s not something you realize you’re doing.”
And it’s not just cell phones; changing CDs or the radio station, talking to friends in the back seat or other distractions can create problems. “It’s not like on the track,” says Michelle. “In a race, you really have to concentrate. On the road, there are so many more distractions, and you don’t realize that you’re not paying full attention to your driving.”
Both Michelle and Reed have been driving for more than half their lives. When asked the most important thing they’ve learned from that experience, something which would help their friends, each had some very specific advice. Michelle: “You don’t ever know what to expect from the other person on the road. Don’t assume they’re going to do anything!” Reed’s advice? “Learn what your car can do. I know kids who have just turned 16, and think they’re great drivers, and they really have no idea. My advice is to really learn how to drive.”
We’ll hear more from Michelle and Reed in the future, as they face the same problems any teens face with new drivers’ licenses, new responsibilities, and new challenges. The experiences both have gained from racing, though, have provided them with the insights to help other teens become better — and safer –drivers. Reed and Michelle will share those insights through this website. We hope that your will find them useful as you face those same responsibilities and challenges as a new driver.