The Kerstin Smutny Story.
The sounds of air guns, changing tires, screaming fans, and loud engines. That is what I remember from the time I was a baby. Not because I was raised in a racing family, in fact my parents knew nothing more about cars than how to change oil, or a tire. My Dad is an accomplished architect and my mom is in finance. However, my Dad was a race fan. We went to the Molson Indy in Vancouver, BC from the time I was a baby, and the races we weren’t at, we would record on TV. I always liked racing but it was never something I thought I could do as a career until the ripe old age of seven, when I realized I didn’t just like it. It was my passion. My family discovered the sport of Quarter Midget racing at our state fair in 1997, and I was able to take one for a test drive. I went around the little 1/20th of a mile track for several laps and came off the track, told my parents this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
My parents bought me a Quarter Midget in preparation for the coming race season. It wasn’t much to look at, built in the 1970’s and a little beat up but I loved it! I raced Quarter Midgets for 8 years, each year improving, winning championships at local and regional levels, and solidifying for myself that racing was my dream. My goal. I wanted to be the first woman to win the Indy 500.
If I wanted to race Indy cars, though, I needed to learn how to turn left AND right. So in 2003 I got my first go kart, an 80cc Shifter Kart, I raced karts and quarter midgets for a couple years. In 2004 I got the chance to drive my first full size racecar! A Formula TR car, at Willow Springs Raceway in Southern California. From there I went on to test in a Formula BMW car, and at the age of 15, I was the first female invited to the Formula BMW Scholarship Program in Valencia, Spain. I was then selected as one of the most promising young drivers, and invited back to Spain to compete in the scholarship run- offs. It was such a cool feeling, even though I didn’t make the final 4 cut off, I was still “The first woman” and it felt surreal, and I think that instilled a lot of confidence in me.
I spent the next couple years racing Formula TR, up and down the West coast; I moved from “Normal school” into an independent study program for my last two years of high school, so I could travel and focus more on racing. I would like to say it was hard to leave my friends in school behind but it really wasn’t the people who understood me, understood this life were all at the race track, and my friends lived all over the country, they were other racers like me. Formula TR was a huge learning experience for me, I had several podium finished but I really began to see the difference between myself, and drivers who could afford to be behind the wheel A LOT. Racing is a very expensive sport, and I am SO fortunate to have a family that could support me financially, into the semi-pro levels of racing. We struggled to move to that next level though, where a season in racing cost more than our house.
In 2009 I moved to Las Vegas to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and study business. I started to love the business side of racing and how complex the sport really is. At the time I was racing for Volkswagen in the VW Jetta TDI Cup. I learned a ton and got to race at some of the most famous courses in North America. When that series came to an end I began to reevaluate whether I really wanted to race Indy Cars, at the time the series was becoming less popular in the U.S. and I decided to make the shift back to oval racing and pursue a career in NASCAR.
After a my first year at UNLV I got teamed up with a group in Charlotte, North Carolina, packed up a U-haul and headed East to pursue NASCAR racing, by way of late models. Well, in what was a huge blow to my spirits, things fell apart in Charlotte I didn’t have a very good job and my parents were paying for most of my living expenses, and I couldn’t put a race deal together. So I packed up, 4 short months after I had moved there, and moved home to Seattle.
For the first time in my young life I felt like I had really failed. I had just turned 21 and I felt “Old” in professional athlete terms. I had no racing leads and I wasn’t sure what would happen next. To be honest, there were times when I thought I should just hang up my helmet, and fire suit and figure out how to do something else with my life.
When I returned home from my 3,000-mile drive from Charlotte to Seattle, my family welcomed me with open arms. But immediately wanted to know what was next, for me, for my career? Was I done racing? Was I going back to school? I had just had the rug ripped from under my feet in North Carolina and they expect me to just “Know” what’s next? Well this is the way I was raised. No mistakes, just lessons learned. I guess I had learned a good one. I’ve always been far too driven to just give up though. I worked hard to put together a deal in 2012 to race in the Formula Car challenge across California and Oregon. It felt so great to be back in the seat of a race car. I felt at home. That season I placed third in the championship.
Since then I have been diligently working towards getting a full time ride with smaller “Gigs” here and there. I race go-karts to keep my skills honed and workout very consistently to stay prepared.
In addition to my life on track, I have married my husband Justin, and we welcomed our little girl, Haley into the world in December 2016.
Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures on and off track!!