Breanna “Breezie” Hopper, Aztec Speedway’s 2012 Mini Stock season champion, met with fans and was interviewed by the track announcer just before winning her race Saturday night./Photo by Scott Wachob

One corner at a time

Female drivers help transform the face of motorsport at Aztec

One more race for cancer awareness

by Tracy Chamberlin

AZTEC – Breanna “Breezie” Hopper started in second on the grid. With less than half a mile per lap to gain ground, she took the inside line into the corners and accelerated out with the controlled chaos that is dirt track racing.

Behind the wheel of the No. 37, she had a clear view of first. The No. 65 worked hard to stay in the lead, breaking late into the corners and kicking out the back on the exit to the straightaway.

Patiently, the orange mini stock reeled in her competition. Each lap, Hopper kept a clean line around the banked oval, creeping ever closer and eventually going fender to fender with the leader.

Then, just past the halfway point, the driver gave No. 65 too much gas out of the corner, spun out and lost control heading into the back stretch. The orange Pinto took advantage, slipping past for the lead.

Hopper never looked back, lapping the last-place car before taking the checkered flag and clinching the 2012 Mini Stock championship by a wide margin.

From Janet Guthrie, the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 in 1977, to Hopper and her fellow drivers at the Aztec Speedway, women have been setting up shop in what used to be a man’s world and changing the face of motorsport, one corner at a time.
The cars line up in the pit area ahead of the heat races Saturday night. The No. 31 is driven by Anita Faddis and sponsored by Rock Star energy drink./Photo by Scott Wachob
“The guys like to beat on you,” said Juanita Faddis, who’s been racing cars for three years in Utah, Texas and Nevada. “They don’t like to be beat by you.”

But that’s just what happened Saturday night in Aztec.

Traci Jennings, another driver at Aztec, has been racing for the past eight years. In that time, she’s racked up a victory and several top-five finishes at tracks in New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Colorado. “You just have to be as aggressive as the guys are,” Jennings said, “sometimes even more so.”
Jennings said she always wanted to race cars, and after finishing nursing school, she got her chance. “I told my dad one day I wanted a car and he thought I lost my mind,” Jennings said, whose father and brother are now part of her race crew.

For many of the women at Aztec Speedway, the men aren’t trying to push them around on the track. In fact, they’re trying to push them onto the track.

“(My dad) always had this dream that one of his girls would get into racing,” said Hopper, whose uncle is also her crew chief. “Mentally, emotionally … he’s very supportive.”

Julie Boettler also has racing in her blood. She’s been in the sport for 14 years and currently drives a sport mod. “My dad has always been racing,” she said. “I’ve grown up with it my whole life.”

Even after Boettler suffered her third blown engine of the season Saturday night, she isn’t planning on leaving. Like all the challenges drivers face, she’s determined to overcome the setback and get back on the track next season.

“Somehow, some way … it will come together,” she said. “I’ll take all winter, but I’m going to do it.”

Then again, maybe it was the full moon, considered bad luck for some drivers. So is eating sunflower seeds, which happens to be the most popular snack at the concession stand, or peanuts in the pits.

Athletes and fans around the world and in every sport have superstitions. And, race car drivers are no  different.

One of the most common is avoiding the color green. Drivers won’t wear it or paint it on their cars. “The only thing green on a race track should be the green to go,” Faddis said.

Nichole Chamblin doesn’t mind the color green, using it on her race car. The five-year veteran has other ways of judging her odds. “I know it’s gonna be a good race when I break a nail,” she said.

Chamblin got started in racing when her boyfriend surprised her with a race car for her birthday five years ago.

In her first year, the mini stock driver won her division and Rookie-of-the-Year. But for Chamblin, just being behind the wheel wasn’t enough. She wanted to learn all she could about the sport –mechanics, officiating and driving.

Two years ago, she worked on the track flagging cars. The following year, she worked on a pit crew. “I work on everything,” she said. “That way I know how to communicate (with the crew.)”
Hopper takes the inside line just before clinching the lead./Photo by Scott Wachob

Chamblin admits she still gets nervous before a race. She constantly checks her gear – pulling up her gloves, adjusting her helmet. But when she gets behind the wheel, everything changes.

“Being on the edge of out-of-control and knowing you can control the car,” Chamblin said. “… once it gets in your blood, you can’t get it out.”
For most of the drivers, who hail from throughout the Four Corners, it’s about the adrenaline rush. They earn just enough winnings to keep them on the track. But it’s not about the money, it’s about the rush.

“Every race I feel like I’m gonna throw up,” Hopper said. Then she gets into the car and the adrenaline takes over.

With the season over and the championship title in hand, Hopper plans to sell her car to pay for classes at San Juan Community College.
She’d like to eventually transfer to Fort Lewis and earn another first, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. “I have big dreams for myself, and I want to go far in life,” she said.

Hopper admitted no matter what happens, she’ll always be a part of the sport. She and her fellow female drivers will continue to rack up the wins, giving the phrase “trophy girl” new meaning and changing the sport one corner at a time.

The 2012 season might be over, but the drivers, pit crews and workers at Aztec Speedway will be back for the 2013 season in April. And everyone is invited – in the stands and on the track. Adrenaline junkies are welcome to take a test drive in the track vehicle. The Speedway also provides advice, contacts and anything a potential driver would need to get rolling. For info.: Call 505-258-3978 or visit

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