Hawaii native Verena Mei, moved from California to Littleton, NH at beginning of this year to train with the Team O’Neil Rally School, and immerse herself in the world of rally. She might be a new name in the rally world, but Verena has been involved in motorsports for the last 10 years. She started out as a poster model for Toyo Tires, then made her transition to a driver in 2002. She was the first female to compete in Formula Drift 2004-2007, and is widely regarded as the top-female drifter in the US. Verena then went onto clench a Redline Time Attack class championship in 2008, making her both, the first female to win a championship in the series, and the first championship on an alternative fuel. Verena just signed a multi-year contract with TrueCar Racing “Women Empowered” initiative to compete in the Rally America series.
Who have you mentored who did someone mentor you in this industry to help you get started?
I was introduced to motorsports while modeling for Toyo Tires. During that time, I absorbed everything I could about the industry – observing drivers, crew, event staff and asking questions, and grew a passion for racing. I had a lot of mentors getting me started as a driver. Bobby Unser Jr., was the first person who took me seriously about pursuing a motorsports career, and told me how to get started, and followed his advice. Then the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving took me under their wing and trained me to become a race car driver, while I was their spokesperson. The guys at Twins Turbo Motorsports showed me how to build my first race car. Next Steve Mitchell who worked at Nissan North America, became my crew chief and driving coach for drifting and road racing. Steve taught me the right way to run a race team, what it takes to become a successful race car driver, build and know everything about my car, so I could work on my car at a race when I didn’t have a crew to help me. He also taught me how to communicate with my crew, so they understand what needs to be changed on the race car, based on driver feedback. Now, North American rally guru, Tim O’Neil, is mentoring me in rally racing so I can become a champion.
As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
The first thing I think of in any car, is performance. Handling – the responsiveness of steering, acceleration, braking and ride. I like a lot of feedback from the car, so I can really feel the road. In the interior all the techie stuff – Bluetooth enabled for hands free calling and Pandora, touch screen with iPod integration, and lots of chargers – I love gadgets! By the way, my car sadly, doesn’t have any of that.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
It’s difficult for females because it’s historically been a male-dominated industry. Industry executives are starting to understand and make changes because, according to statistics, 80 percent of car buying decisions are influenced by women and 50 percent of all car purchases are made by women. The challenge in motorsports to prove yourself, first as a woman and then as a driver, remains but as the the industry as a whole changes and more women pursue their automotive interests, opportunities will improve at all levels and barriers will diminish.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
I stumbled upon it through modeling after college, but once I was in it, I loved it and couldn’t think of anything other industry I’d rather be in!
First automotive job?
First was Modeling for Toyo Tires! Then building my first race cars (often on TV – no pressure there!) and then it was on to being a Technician at Nissan North America Service Center, where I preformed scheduled maintenance, recalls on employees cars and prepare it for recycling or a sale.
Proudest professional achievement?
Winning a class championship in my first year competing in Redline Time Attack. Becoming the first female and the first alternative-fuel car to win a class championship in that series.
Current challenge at work?
Rally is an intense motorsport and the environment where I train gets really cold starting this month and that’s a challenge having grown up in Hawaii and having spent time most recently in Southern California. And as the newest member of the team and only woman I do have to prove myself on a daily basis as I mentioned above. I see it as part of what I can bring to the sport and how it helps pave the way for other women who might want to join Team O’Neil in the future.
Exactly what I’m doing right now! I’m so honored to have been selected by TrueCar to represent the team in rally racing. It’s always been a personal goal of mine to empower women everywhere. I’m so excited about my future with TrueCar!
What you do to relax?
Being by the water always brings me peace. I love to sing and dance, I read a lot, and love watching Glee and Vampire Diaries. I’m always up for an outdoor adventure!