History was made this weekend. Not at Bowman Gray. Not at Five Flags Speedway. Not in a Super Late Model or a Late Model Stock. History was made, but not at a track or in a car one would normally assume it to be made. History was made at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia in a 50-lap Limited Late Model feature.
History was made when 24-year-old Amber Balcaen from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada became the first Canadian female driver to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race on Saturday night at Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia.
Balcaen started third and took the lead just past halfway to claim the historic feat in a Lee Pulliam Performance Limited Late Model.
“I was just on cloud-9. I was just so happy. It was a mixture of happiness and relief,” Balcaen told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I’ve been wanting this win and have felt like I’ve needed this win all year to help me get to the next levels in racing. I thought I was going to get it a couple of weeks ago there in my last race when I led half the race and almost had a half lap lead. I really thought that was my night, but I lost it on a restart. I was really disappointed and mad for about two weeks about it. When I came back to the race track I was hungry and I was determined and I was able to pull off the win.”
Balcaen is a former 410 Sprint Car driver who has recently decided to make the transition to asphalt to further her racing career. She decided during the winter to pursue an opportunity to race for three-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Lee Pulliam. Racing for Pulliam meant commuting from Winnipeg to Motor Mile Speedway near Radford, Virginia, over 1,497 miles away.
“I knew I wanted to be on the east coast because that’s where Charlotte is and obviously that’s the hub of NASCAR,” explained Balcaen. “I know that all of the competitors are there and the best way to get noticed is to be on the east coast. I did my research and looked through a few teams on the east coast and ended up with Lee Pulliam Performance. It just felt right to go with them. When I met Lee and I was talking to him and the whole team I knew I made a good decision. Lee is a Late Model National Champion so he knows a lot and I know I’m in good hands with that team.”
Beginning at the young age of 10 years old, Balcaen has spent much of her racing career trying to find the proper funding to get to the next level of the sport.
“My dad told me that if I was going to race I’d have to do this on my own. From go-karts to 410 Sprint Cars to Late Models I’ve had to raise funding on my own. It’s been very difficult, but I was able to raise the money to race with Lee. Now I’ve been able to race competitively and win so it feels really good.”
On Saturday night, all of the research and fundraising paid off. Balcaen was able to pull into Victory Lane, in America, in a pavement race car.
Since Saturday night, Balcaen hasn’t stopped moving. Phone calls, TV appearances, radio shows, you name it and Balcaen has done it, and most of it, surprisingly, has been in Canada.
“It’s been a whirlwind the last couple days,” she said. “I flew home on Sunday back to Winnipeg and got greeted at the airport and have been doing a crazy amount of interviews and media stuff. I knew that I would be able to claim the title of the first Canadian woman to win a NASCAR race in America, but I didn’t think that it would become as big of a story as it has with the media. And not even just with the media, but in my hometown of Winnipeg in general took such a liking to it. Racing isn’t at all popular in Canada, but the support has been absolutely amazing.”
Now that it’s Tuesday, Balcaen is starting to look towards her next race. She’s still doing plenty of interviews, but she’s slowly starting to put the big win behind her to focus on what’s next.
“As a race car driver all you want to do is win. That’s why we race. Winning in general is just the best feeling in the world. Half of me is still really excited and wants to take this in, but the other half of me is looking to the next one. Now I want back to back wins. Once you set one goal you just want to reach another. Part of me is thrilled and excited and the other part of me is wondering what’s next.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Shane Green/Motor Mile Speedway