Ashton Harrison is Persistent in Pink: By Chuck Palmer
“I drove too fast as a teenager. I had three speeding tickets before I was 18 years old,” begins Ashton Harrison, Global MX-5 Cup Series race car driver and 2012 graduate of Villa Rica High School. Concerned with her safety, Ashton’s father, Bill Harrison, arranged for her to attend an acclaimed teen driving program in Arizona. That first class sparked a strong desire in Ms. Harrison. Three classes later, she walked out of the Bondurant Racing School with her racing license and a need for speed and adrenaline that would be met on the track, not on the streets.
Those early track days were in a 2002 Corvette C5 Z06, a car that, even without modifications, has a rating of over 400hp, massive torque, and weighed over 3000 pounds. This was a car with a lot of muscle and not much finesse. Harrison reflected, “It was dangerous for me to be starting off with, so we transitioned into a 1990 1.6L Spec Miata with 112 HP in 2012. From there we went to a 2002 1.8L Spec Miata with 122HP in 2014. It was in those Miatas, that I truly began learning the concept of really driving the car.”
With the smaller, lighter cars (the Mazda weighs in about 1000 pounds lighter than the Corvette), the strategy for success wasn’t just a lead foot on the gas pedal. “The MX-5 is nimble, light, and fun to drive. With it, doing well is all about the driver. All the cars in our series are pretty much the same. They come from the factory just like you could buy them, then they go straight to the Long Road Racing facility in Statesville, North Carolina. There, they deconstruct them. They take the car apart. They take out the passenger seat, the radio, change the wheels, add a roll cage (in Ashton’s case - a powder coated pink one), upgrade the suspension, seal several mechanical parts (certain parts are sealed in order to make sure the racing field is level between all teams), add a racing data system, and fine tune the car for racing, which includes adding some 250 racing specific parts,” explained Ashton.
The Global MX-5 Cup Series features events at six different venues this season. It started in April at Barber Motorsports Park, near Birmingham, Alabama. Indianapolis Motor Speedway was next, then Road America (Wisconsin), Streets of Toronto, Watkins Glen (New York), and ends with the final races held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California at the end of September. During Harrison’s 2016 rookie season driving the MX-5 Cup Series she tended to finish in the bottom third, but showed steady improvement. This season, she has consistently finished in the top half and continues to improve, with an 8th place finish at Road America in June breaking her into the top ten for the first time in the series.
“Don’t give up. Keep pushing.” So reads the motto of GB Racing, Harrison’s team, named for her grandmother, Barbara Harrison who is affectionately called Granny Barb by her family. “She would support me no matter what I chose to do. And, she was a big Dale Earnhardt fan, so, my racing company is GB Racing and my car number? Well, the rules say it has to be two digits, so we chose 03.”
That enthusiastic support for Ashton’s racing was shaken in 2014 when Harrison hit the wall head on in a SCCA race in a Spec Miata at Daytona International Raceway going over 100mph. “My Dad and crew were ready to pack it in and head home, but even though I was bruised and sore, I convinced them to stay. I went back to the hotel, rested, and raced the next day in my teammate Shea Hughes’ car.” Hughes is the owner of Racing Analytics, a team that has supported Harrison in the 2016 and 2017 MX-5 Cup.
That unyielding attitude is reflected in Ashton's other interests. A passionate animal lover, she created the brand #RacingtoRescue. Her goal is to save dogs and cats that are at risk of being euthanized. “It may sound corny, but we really are racing to save these animals who are about to be killed, just because somebody didn’t want them.”
Her “day job” is also about speed and perseverance. She is a Professional Racing/Driving Instructor. “I spend a lot of my time at race tracks teaching others how to really drive the car to the limit. I enjoy seeing people succeed in their driving capabilities. I also work for Porsche, Mercedes Benz, and Audi Sport. The more drivers know and understand their cars, the safer they can be on the streets.” Harrison worries that everyday drivers do not realize how dangerous a lack of focus can be on the road and wishes every teen driver took more seriously the need to be safe.
“I’ve always been an advocate for safe driving, but that took on more meaning last year when my cousin, Amber (Harrison), died in a tragic accident.” At 21, Amber was driving too fast in rainy conditions and lost control when she tried to over-correct a tire dropping off the shoulder. Ashton believes driver training can lessen the chance of simple mistakes leading to tragic consequences. She passionately teaches safe driving skills for groups like B.R.A.K.E.S. with Doug Herbert, and Atlanta Motorsports Park's Street Smarts teen driving program.
Ashton also hopes to become an inspiration for teenagers, especially those struggling to find a direction, by visiting and speaking to students at area high schools. She is candid that she struggled with academics in high school, but emphatic that she successfully graduated because of her never say quit attitude. She also wants kids to know that there are many paths to success and that following a dream doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.
While Ms. Harrison is unique just for being the only young woman on the MX-5 Cup Series this season, she stresses that her car and the track don’t care about her gender. “It’s just how you drive. The car does what you tell it, it doesn’t know who you are.” So, like many other drivers, Ashton spends time preparing between races. She works out to stay physically fit, she reviews track and race videos and data, and she tries to spend some simulator time if possible. On race day, even though it can be highly stressful, she tries to remain laid back and often cracks a few jokes with her crew. Once she’s strapped in, helmet on, and engines started, it’s just that bright red Mazda with the bright pink roll cage flying around the track.
Read about Ashton Harrison's DVD Release: newsandviewsusa.com/ashton-harrison-female-race-car-driver-villa-rica