Meet the youngest woman to ever win a race in ASRA

In the off-road racing circuit, of which Jessica Duffy is a member, the kids drive around beautiful natural landscapes and compete against teams across the United States. “Most of the time, if you know…

Meet the youngest woman to ever win a race in ASRA

In the off-road racing circuit, of which Jessica Duffy is a member, the kids drive around beautiful natural landscapes and compete against teams across the United States. “Most of the time, if you know you’re good at something, you find a way to make it work,” she says.

But, for her, breaking through as a female means forging a better path for all women on the racing circuit. “It’s like having so many more opportunities to shine,” she says.

Now in her early 20s, she is having her own journey to shine. She was crowned ASRA Rookie of the Year, just the third woman in 10 years to claim the trophy. She’s now the first woman in 30 years to compete in a championship race.

In a sport where some of the top female competitors still aren’t allowed to compete, she shares her story of how she found her own path to success.

A native of Gaffney, South Carolina, she started racing when she was 12 years old, participating in stock car events in the summer. But when the car was brand new, “my father broke the steering,” she says. She was furious, but her father bought her another car. “I let him know I didn’t want to do that again,” she says.

“I just wanted to make sure I had one that I could race,” she says.

More than just a car, she kept driving the car because she couldn’t stand sitting in the back. As her training dragged on, her timing improved — she won the race — and she discovered that she was good at the sport.

“I quickly found I was pretty good and I kept beating my dad,” she says.

Duffy also won a trophy for being the fastest female ever on the road, in a dirt race in Torrington, Connecticut, when she was 13.

A day trip with her older sister, at the beginning of the summer, changed the course of her career. In rural Indiana, the family found a race track where a bike racing team was holding a race. Duffy entered the race — and became the fastest female ever in that event, with times that normally took four hours.

It was also the first time in a long time that Duffy was able to go fast — she says she’d been hindered for a while by injuries, but started training when she was 16, making her the first female to do so. She says that didn’t make it any easier to break down barriers for women.

“There were guys out there beating me all day long,” she says.

But racing was a great way to get away from it all, and a great way to break into the boys club.

She says she “made it clear that I wasn’t angry at the boys, but just upset.”

She has found a mentor in Dusty Norton, who is competing against the boys. He and her father had similar experiences, and met through racing.

Norton remembers when he was introduced to his father: “When I asked him, ‘What is it you want to do?’ he gave me a speech on how, when he was 12 or 14, he had been on the roof of a building, thrown rocks off of it, and broke a woman’s arm with a rock … I don’t want that.”

Duffy and Norton have become close friends, but have yet to compete in a race together.

After the initial rocket shot in a homemade 6-wheeler, sometimes it’s hard to say “I made it.” So, after this year’s Rookie of the Year award ceremony, she took the time to point out some of the traditional barriers standing in the way of women’s success. “I’m like, how can I encourage others who are watching me … and think, ‘I don’t have to go outside the country, and I don’t have to beat the guys out,'” she says. “I can come here and show everyone that I can do it, too.”

Duffy believes the sport of off-road racing is changing for the better, and she’s seeing more women are getting involved. But she says she thinks the obstacles to success in the sport go far beyond road racing.

“It’s a tough, tough sport,” she says. “It’s a totally different environment, it’s male-dominated. And it’s not just road racing; you have dirt-bike racing, off-road-bike racing, and everything in between.”

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