All things considered, Melissa Fifield of Wakefield, NH balances her life between her full-time job and her racing efforts as a full-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Series competitor. In fact, the 25-year-old thrives with her busy schedule, enjoying the challenges that comes with her racing career.
In fact, Fifield’s racing story started in an empathetic way. Attending local short track races with her family, her passion for racing intensified through the years.
Naturally, Fifield worked ardently with convincing her family that she wanted to race. Fortunately, the Granite State native would find herself racing go-karts when she turned 13.
Of course, Fifield’s journey hasn’t been all smooth and easy. No doubt, chasing down a dream means overcoming obstacles over time. Still, the optimism remains strong and her passion grows by leaps and bounds.
For this reason, one could say that Fifield represents that old school, young racer in one of the most unique and competitive series of NASCAR. Moreover, these are the drivers and teams that focus on the wins rather than the glory and television time. By and large, a lot of sacrifices, sleepless nights, and a total knowledge of the cars and tracks are prevalent for each of the modified series competitors.
Meanwhile, this month proves to be as busy as ever for Fifield and her No. 01 Eastern Propane & Oil Chevrolet (LFR) modified team. Following the Stafford 150 at Stafford Motor Speedway, the young racer competed at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on August 9th. There’s no rest for the weary, as the focus turns to this Wednesday evening’s Bush’s Beans 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Regardless, Fifield and her competitors are the relentless bunch. With few opportunities to rest, it’s about making it happen and as she says, “plugging away” regardless of the challenges on and off the track.
Genuine, friendly, and candid, Fifield took the time prior to her 25th birthday to talk about her journey and season. Along the way, she expressed gratitude towards her family, friends, and fans. Undoubtedly, this is a young woman whose down-to-earth demeanor is as refreshing as it gets in today’s world of sports. For this reason, it’s clear to see why she’s won the Most Popular Driver Award in her series for three consecutive years.
Without further ado, let’s get to know about this wonderful young racer by getting “In the Driver’s Seat with Melissa Fifield!”
Rob Tiongson : Your racing career kicked off about 12 years ago in junior champ carts when you were just 13. When you started off, did you ever imagine climbing up the ladder to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series?
Melissa Fifield : I did not. Growing up as a child, I used to go to races. I started going to Loudon when I when I was about six years old, dreaming of racing there someday. It took me years to beg my father to let me race.
It was one of those big dreams in life where I thought, “If you could ever get here, it’s certainly remarkable.” It’s quite a dream come true to race in this series.
RT : I think that’s pretty unique because most of us who grew up in New England likely went to Loudon for our first race. It’s where most of us got bitten by the racing ladder. Was it something where you knew that you had to be a part of it beyond a fan in the grandstands? Did it happen later in life after you were persistent with your father to make it into racing?
MF : We used to go as a family to the races. Loudon was our big track. I used to go to Lee Raceway nearby me and Star Speedway. We kinda went there as a cheap date for our family. (chuckles)
Fortunately, the racing bug bit me then. I have about five acres where I live so we always had small wheels and four wheelers. I always loved speeding up and down the field and really loved it.
Racing was something that when I saw it, I knew I had to be a racecar driver.
RT : For those who may not have any experience driving a go-kart, it’s certainly a physically demanding car. Presently, it’s like to take a lap in one of these modified cars, particularly at venues like Loudon or Seekonk?
MF : It’s quite a rush. I love Loudon. It’s my hometrack. I still get goosebumps as we’re rolling under the tunnel. It hits me every time and it’s really a dream to be able to race there. I’ve always loved modifieds.
RT : Unlike the major NASCAR series, this month is as action packed as the modified series takes you to Thompson, Bristol, and Seekonk, all vastly different venues. In terms of the short turnaround times for these races, do you and your team have a system with preparing the car and equipment for these events?
MF : The next few weeks are going to be challenging. The week leading up for the race, my father and I work on the cars together, changing the setup for each track. Then, our team makes a plan for race day and work off of the notes from the previous races as to what we think we need to do to the car.
RT : That’s one of the things that opened up my eyes when I was at Loudon. You’re a very family oriented series. From volunteer pit crews to the families working directly with the teams, I think that’s what makes modified racing great.
For those who may not have a modified racing series around, describe that camaraderie and how it’s like in the garage area as a young driver. How is it like to interact with your peers? What can you take away from them as a relatively new competitor compared to the veterans on the track?
MF : The modified series is really just a big family. We’re all kind of there, cheering each other on but we’re very competitive on the track. There are many teams and drivers that are there when you need help. Whenever you have a part or something you need, they are willing to lend a hand. We have a great community atmosphere. Since we’ve found Rob Fuller of LFR, he’s worked a lot on our technique, our equipment, and driver coaching.
RT : That’s a great support system to have because to the naked eye, most folks just see it as people going around in circles. It’s a demanding sport with getting everything prepared and your mindset ready for the track. One of my writers wanted to ask, with you as a young racer, veteran drivers may push you a little harder on the track.
Have you ever had to stand your ground outside of the car and maybe push back? Do you feel those types of situations make it a little easier to gain respect and show that you won’t be pushed around?
MF : There’s been a couple of instances where you’ve got to stand your ground. For the most part, everyone, like the big veterans, are going to be more aggressive. Ever since I’ve started racing in the tour, I’ve gotten help from many of the veterans. You can really lean on them for their knowledge.
RT : I think that’s really cool how you help each other out. If you’ve gained the respect from those drivers, that speaks volumes about you about the kind of driver you are on and off the track.
You’ve embraced the social media age with your Facebook and Twitter pages, engaging with fans and press on a consistent basis. How important is it to have that connection with the online community in terms of promoting your racing efforts and your series?
MF : That’s a big part nowadays. A lot of the fans are on social media. The thing that really drives me want to engage with the fans is when I grew up as a child and going to the racetrack. It was so exciting to go on the track and meet drivers and get their autographs.
I met female drivers at that time that I saw out there and were racers out there. Getting to meet them was so exciting. I remember that excitement that I had and I want to make sure that I give the fans that same time. They’re there wanting to see you.
Whenever I see someone in the pits or whenever someone messages me, I want to make sure I get back to them and thank them for their support. Racing wouldn’t be what it is without the support of the fans.
RT : Going back to your experiences growing up, you mentioned about getting those photographs with the drivers and having the interaction time at the track. Did you have any particular drivers that you looked up to and have kept in touch with about your career and getting advice from them?
MF : To be honest with you, I didn’t have too many drivers growing up. I had Jeff Gordon after I saw him on TV and being a fan of his and being a fan of racing in general. I didn’t have many drivers that I knew in New Hampshire. There aren’t a lot of drivers in this area.
RT : That’s the thing . It’s a tough sell up in this area because of the stick and ball sports. I’m sure you like those sports too. You and I can understand how much we love the sport but we just want to convey that passion to others. It’s cool that you looked up to Jeff Gordon.
Perhaps one of the things that surprised me during my most recent race weekend at Loudon was the cost of gasoline. Are there ways in which the sport could balance the budget for teams to create more parity across the board, be it in Cup or modified racing?
MF : To be honest with you, they’ve got the spec motor. I’ve been able to get one and I’m looking at getting another. It keeps the costs down on the motors rather than having to rebuild the built motor constantly. Refreshes are cheaper on that with a spec motor compared to the built motors that I have.
They have been working and looking at ways at keeping the costs down like having a tire rule and limiting the tires that we can change. They try and take account that money is a little bit tight especially in this series. The spec motor program has been great. And they’ll make other changes as the year goes on that’ll evolve the series.
RT : That’s a good move that you’re making. Look at how the NASCAR Xfinity Series will have the composite bodies later this year. The K&N cars have those composite bodies to control the cost of the series. What are some of your favorite things to do to decompress from your weekday job and the grind of the racing weekend?
MF : To be honest with you, a lot of it is working on the car with my dad. I go and see friends now and then and we get together and go to dinner. I like to work out and run. Then I have my day job that keeps me busy as well.
RT : That’s cool. In some ways, having both things helps you out with balancing life. If work’s not going so well, you can go to the track and it clears your head and vice versa. It’s a weird cycle, isn’t it?
MF : (chuckles) Yea, it’s definitely a little bit different. I certainly love to concentrate on racing but I’ve got to work to keep the money going for now.
RT : I can understand that. What are some programs that you’ve worked with recently and how has it impacted you?
MF : This year, I’ve signed on as a highway ambassador with New Hampshire Highway Safety.
Also, I work with the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) and I get to see high school students and speak to them about making good choices in life and where it’s led me today. Being able to do that and give back, as I’ve gotten this far, I think I should only be able to share that story with people.
That allows me to breakaway. If I’ve had a bad race, I think about how I teach children, teenagers, and anybody about the importance of safety on the road. That’s been exciting and quite an honor to do as well.
RT : I read about how you partook in a pre-prom event, reaching out to the high school students about being safe on the road. I thought that was cool. Let’s do a little free association – tell me the first thing that comes to mind with some topics. So let’s start things off with this – favorite music.
ML : I’m a big country music fan. I love Jason Aldean and I’m a big K-LOVE Christian radio station fan, so I kind of go between the two.
RT : That leads to my next one. Faith.
ML : God has blessed me and I love being able to share my faith that with God, anything is possible.
RT : Adversity.
ML : You’ve got to keep going. Anything that happens, you’ve got to keep on plugging! (chuckles)
RT : New Hampshire.
ML : A lot of pride comes from being here in New Hamsphire. We’re the only NASCAR team established in this state. Obviously, Loudon comes to mind as well.
RT : I like that! Here’s my favorite word since turning 30 – adulting.
ML : I’m about to turn 25 tomorrow so I’m feeling like I’m turning more into an adult. (laughs) To be honest with you, I’ve always liked working and running the business. I love being an adult. I was never a big school fan.
RT : That’s probably the most unique perspective on that word! (laughs) Boston sports.
ML : To be honest with you, I’m really only a racing girl. (laughs)
RT : Really now? (chuckles)
ML : I am from New England, I will watch the Patriots games when it’s towards the end of the season. I’ve been to some baseball and hockey games but I’m all about motorsports, which isn’t the common thing around here!
RT : That’s why I wanted to interview you! Most would say the teams around here but it’s cool you love racing. In terms of your season, you’re battling for a top-20 points position. What are your goals for the season and your prospects for the 2018 season?
ML : This season, I’ve been building it really, piece-by-piece, every year. I’m still getting a lot of help from Rob Fuller of LFR through testing and coaching so that was great. We did that again last week.
I’m hopeful to stay in the top-20 and get back into the top-15 where we were. I really want to start gaining points. We’ve had a couple of mechanical failures and crashes to start the year so I really want to get top-15 finishes for the rest of the year. I want to gain momentum going into next year.
I’m trying to build the program to get another spec motor and possibly two identical cars to keep things similar on that side. Those are two things that I’m looking forward to closing out this season.
We are hoping to increase sponsorship for the 2018 season as well to keep the team going. I’m thankful to have a great sponsor like Eastern Propane & Oil and a partnership with the NH Office of Highway Safety.
It looks like we’re back for the 2018 season and I’m really hoping to close this season on a high note.
Author’s Notes : Special thanks to Melissa Fifield for taking the time to talk racing with us! Friends, if you’d like to learn more about Melissa, “Follow” her on Twitter and “Like” her Facebook page now!