Bumgarner inks 5-year deal to race in IRL with Walker UPDATE Many of those competing in Daytona Kart Week hope to ultimately make a name for themselves in racing.
One of them already has . . . at the ripe old age of 19.
Meet Michele Bumgarner, a.k.a. the "Asian Karting Queen." Her recently signed contract to run 2009 Firestone Indy Lights, a developmental series for the Indy Racing League, has already increased her profile in the United States.
And she's big back home in the Philippines, where she was voted one of the seven most admired women in her country.
"Some people recognize me (back home) and some don't," said Bumgarner, who has the Filipino flag painted on the No. 06 go-kart she wheeled during the three-day Daytona Kart Week, which concluded Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway.
"I don't mind it. I'm barely home these days anyway."
Bumgarner is emblematic of Danica Patrick's worldwide influence on women in racing. She says her ultimate goal is to race in the Indianapolis 500.
"I definitely want to get to the level Danica is, but maybe even better," she said.
Thus far, she's built quite a resume in pursuit of her dream.
A proficient go-karter since the age of 10, she's been remarkably successful in the male-dominated sport.
She won three consecutive Asian karting championships between the ages of 14 and 16, and raced professionally in Europe for two years.
In September, she became the first female champion of the prestigious Rock Island (Ill.) Grand Prix, the world's largest street-kart racing event.
"I think she's the real deal," said former IndyCar racer Mark Dismore, who competed in numerous Indy 500s and won the 1993 Rolex 24 at Daytona. "I've seen her mix it up on the race track, and she's gutsy. She goes for it. She's not a cruiser.
"Women sometimes seem kind of tentative in racing conditions. It's not that women can't drive race cars and go fast, but when you get wheel to wheel, that's what changes everything. She appears to not be afraid to get after it with the guys."
Any fear Bumgarner might have had disappeared permanently during her two years in Europe, where she raced against seasoned veterans considered the best karters in the world.
"That's the only way you can drive in Europe," Bumgarner said. "There are times you get bullied, but I bullied back. I treat them the same. When they do it me, I do it to them. That's how I learned, and that's how I got here.
"I can be aggressive when I need to be, and I can be smooth and cautious. I know the balance it."
That race savvy will serve her well as she moves to the pivotal next step toward her IndyCar aspirations. In November, she signed a five-year contact with Walker Racing, which has a rich history in IndyCar racing.
She's been living in Indianapolis since October, and trains daily at Pit Fit, an Indianapolis-based driver-training program that includes Scott Dixon, Wade Cunningham and Memo Rojas.
After a quick trip home to the Philippines for the New Year, Bumgarner will begin gearing up for her first Indy Lights season -- starting with a preseason driver's meeting Jan. 13 in Indianapolis. The season-opener, the Streets of St. Petersburg, is April 4 and 5.
"I'm really fortunate to have signed with a good team," Bumgarner said of her new contract. "Derrick Walker and Walker Racing have a lot of experience with IRL and the (Indy) 500, so I'm looking forward to all of that." news-journalonline.com11/17/08 Former Asian Karting Queen Michele Bumgarner scored another breakthrough for Philippine motorsports with her recent signing of a five-year driver development deal to race in the Indy Lights Series and the Indy Car Series.
That puts the 19-year-old racer, voted as one of the seven most admired women in Philippines, just steps away from her dream of making it in the international Formula racing scene.
The deal makes her the first driver for the NexGen and Walker Racing driver development program to race in the Indy Lights Series in 2009.
She's also the first Filipino race driver in the prestigious Indy Light Series, the next best step to open-wheel racing in North America.
Under the program, Bumgarner will take to the track next year, and after correct development and experience, she will move into the Indy Car Racing series in North America.
Charlie Patterson of NexGen MTD and Walker Racing owner Derrick Walker met and signed up Bumgarner as their unanimous choice for the pioneer recruit for their joint program.
They picked Bumgarner based on her impressive credentials as the first female champion of the Rock Island Grand Prix in New York, her feat as a four-time Asian Karting Queen.
She also had several stints in the Italian Masters Karting Formula Toyota Series, Asian Formula 3, and the Star Mazda Series.
“I’m very excited, signing with Charlie Patterson and Peter Olach of NexGen is a great honor," Bumgarner said. "I am also proud to be flying the Philippines flag and representing the Filipino people through this great adventure."
In the past five decades, open-wheel racing has had a rich tradition in America. Hundreds of aspiring drivers have tried to work their way up the infamous ladder into Indy Car, but many haven’t had the opportunity to make it that far – until now.
Patterson formed NexGen Making The Driver (MTD) and established a long-term business relationship with Walker Racing to create a driver development program that competes in the Indy Lights and Indy Car Series over the next five seasons.
"Derrick Walker and Walker Racing are a perfect fit to our program mission," Patterson said. "Derrick and his team bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise that is second to none in this sport. And, we are especially pleased that Derrick has elected to help us advance the professional racing career of 19-year-old driver Michele Bumgarner."
A long-time member of the racing community, and a veteran in Formula racing, Walker has over 40 years of racing experience, 18 of those years as a team owner.
His most recent venture was creating a Champ Car Atlantic team that bagged the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship title behind Simon Pagenaud in its first year of existence.
"The objective of NexGen MTD’s driver development program is to give young drivers an opportunity to have a quality program and assist them in different ways to help their career. The venture will focus on developing drivers with the ultimate goal of graduating into the Indy Car Series,” Walker said.
Bumgarner is now in Indianapolis in the United States to tackle the rigors of American open-wheel racing. But she plans to visit the Philippines over the holidays for a few days.
Just recently, she tested in the Indy Lights race car at Putnam Raceway and did extremely well for her first time in this powerful open-wheel racer.
“I’ve met so many people in such a small period of time and they have been a huge help," Bumgarner said. "The professionalism that they have is the best and this is a great opportunity for me. My goal is to get as much out of it as I can and to get the next level which is Indy Car Series."