Brunelli makes moves in NASCAR diversity program
Jessica Brunelli is poised to take yet another step towards her ultimate goal of a career in NASCAR, after the Ron Sutton’s Winner’s Circle development driver was not only chosen to take part in the 2009 NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Combine in Radford, Va., but wowed program officials with her speed and professionalism.
Since as long as she can remember, the 16 year-old Brunelli has wanted to race cars. Given her grandfather crewed on dragsters and her dad raced for few years when she was youngster, that is not much of a surprise. What has caught people off guard is how talented the Hayward, Calif., driver is behind the wheel at such a young age.
First getting behind the wheel at the age of 10 via local and regional karting, it was not long before Brunelli found herself making multiple trips to victory. Following two IKF Region 11 regional karting championship titles, the 13 year-old Californian made her car racing debut in fine fashion, winning Rookie of the Year honors in Skip Barber Regional competition. While Brunelli further showcased her road racing skills via some Formula BMW testing, she soon found herself focusing on the oval ranks.
Edging out over 600 other applicants, Brunelli earned a place in the renowned Ron Sutton’s Winner’s Circle driver development program. As part of the RSWC for the past two years, which is designed to train and develop drivers for career in NASCAR, Brunelli has quickly made a name for herself in the junior oval racing ranks. This past season, Brunelli became the first female and youngest driver to win the NASCAR Whelen All-American Modified Series at Roseville Speedway Rookie of the Year honors, finishing third in the championship fight with two seconds, five thirds and 12 top-sevens. Thanks in part to this performance, the California teenager was recently invited to North Carolina to take part in the 2009 edition of the prestigious NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine.
A season-ending goal for many up-and-coming drivers, the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine features 30 race pilots – 18 women and 12 minority men – going head-to-head for 10 sponsored rides. With the drivers evaluated not only by their on-track performances, but out of the driver’s seat as well via team skills, sponsor skills and media, the pressure was definitely on. This was particularly the case this year, as all the activities were filmed as part of an upcoming reality TV series title Changing Lanes, which scheduled to be aired on the BET Network. Brunelli, despite being a newcomer to program/selection process, not only met the challenge head-on, but excelled.
After piloting a NASCAR Late Model at the Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia, the Drive for Diversity officials narrowed the field and selected 16 drivers to continue their search for the final 10 Team drivers. One day later, 16 drivers returned to Motor Mile, showcased their driving skills this time in a NASCAR Camping World East car. The 16 year-old talent once again impressed everyone on hand with her speed and skill behind the wheel, while being equally as inspiring outside of the car. As a result Brunelli was selected as one of the final 10 drivers invited back to Charlotte, to compete for one of the four Camping World seats.
While yet to be announced or confirmed, given these performances Brunelli is now poised to take the next step in her ultimate goal of a career in NASCAR via one of the 10 fully-funded NASCAR Drive for Diversity rides - four in NASCAR Camping World East Series rides and six in NASCAR Whelen All-American Modified Series rides – in 2010.
“A lot has happened in just the last few weeks,” stated Brunelli. “I’ve had to make a lot of decisions and sacrifices to continue my career. I know that this is a big step for me and as sad as I am to have to say good bye to my old life, I embrace the upcoming adventure that is the 2010 season and the rest of my life. I can’t wait to finally move to North Carolina and start focusing 100% on my future as a NASCAR Cup driver. I know this is the right place to be.”
“From the day she tested in the 2007 RSWC Talent Search Shoot Out … we knew Jessica was very talented,” stated Ron Sutton, head of driver development for RSWC. “She stood out as smart, driven, coachable and fast. After the first year racing with her, we knew Jessi had what it took to go all the way to a NASCAR career. We focused on developing her for NASCAR’s D4D program and this is the successful result of many people’s hard work.”
Brunelli is currently in the process of moving her base of operations from California to North Carolina, while continuing to test a variety of stock cars in preparation for the 2010 season. The talented California teenager is fortunate enough to race thanks to support from K&N Filters, Tico Construction, Fremont Bank, Finishmaster Paint Company, PPG Paint, Grand Fund, Nascimento Motorsports and Brunelli Racing.