From drag to drifting to rally car racing, it is safe to say that after a decade, Verena Mei is not just dabbling in the car race scene. Racing, which she began as a way to enjoy taking a risk, has transitioned into a fully engaged profession for Mei, who currently is living in New Hampshire while she trains at Team O’Neill Rally School and Control Center.
“Throughout the past 10 years, my career has included everything in the automotive industry,” says Mei, who got her start as a model for Toyo Tire company.
“Racing has become a huge part of my career, but outside of that I have hosted many shows, worked for plenty of automotive manufacturers and been involved with product launches working on the consumer level.”
After getting a feel for racing in the drag race scene, Mei got involved with drifting, which is a controlled slide type of racing on an asphalt course, which led to her role in motion pictures such as Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift and Rush Hour 2.
Currently, Mei is motivated by the thrill of rally car racing and devotes herself tenfold to that field.
“I still love drifting, but wanted to get into something where I could really start engaging my progress, which isn’t based on someone else’s judgment (drifting is a judged sport, not timed). Road racing was OK, but I didn’t get that rush that I get in rally. I love it, bombing through the woods or whipping around dirt tracks,” says Mei, who was featured on MidWeek‘s cover April 18, 2008.
Mei is one of only a handful of women competing in the Rally America series, which has competitions throughout the U.S. including Oregon, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Michigan. A rally race consists of a series of stages that are run on closed courses. In between stages, racers will transit to the next on open public roads, obeying the speed limits, of course. Each driver has a co-driver, who, with a stage map, instructs the driver about what lies ahead.
“I am still a rookie in rally racing, and just concluded my third rally ever. We race on all types of different terrain. The hardest part is concentration, visualizing and anticipating what is coming up so you can plan and set up your next move. It takes a huge amount of trust between you and your partner,” says Mei, who partnered with Leanne Junnila to make up the only all-female rally race team in the Rally America circuit.
Mei also is one of six female drivers involved in the Women Empowered Initiative a TrueCar Racing sponsorship, which funds and supports these women who race in an industry that has predominately been run and competed in by men.
“Women Empowered has changed my life, and now I am able to give 100 percent,” she says. “It is empowering to see my other teammates do the same. We stick together and push each other.”