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In the Hot Seat with Amber Slagle (Part I)

Amber Slagle is the true utility racer. (Photo: Amber Slagle)

Amber Slagle is the true utility racer. (Photo: Amber Slagle)

At age 25, Amber Slagle is an up and coming rising young racing prospect ready for a quality opportunity in stock cars.

Beyond her talents behind the wheel and the touching backstory with how she fell in love with racing, Slagle is old school. Of course, she’s savvy with social media and hip with the times while being interactive with the press and fans online.

More than that, Slagle is the hands on racer who doesn’t mind working on her cars. For the Michigander, understanding the nuances of her cars emphasizes one of her core traits of appreciation her equipment along with perfecting the car’s setup.

In fact, Slagle served as the crew chief for Kyle Sieg, Tyler Ankrum Conner Jones and Parker Retzlaff in the past two years. Certainly, she harkens to the days when crew chiefs raced on the track like Paul Wolfe, Matt McCall, Cliff Daniels, Kirk Shelmerdine, Ray Evernham and Andy Petree, to name a few.

Slagle achieved one of her dreams by competing in an ARCA Menards Series West in Irwindale, California. Following a promising fourth in qualifying, Slagle’s placed 14th following a turn 4 crash on lap 20.

Of Slagle’s three starts in the ARCA Menards Series West, she tallied an impressive top 10 at All American Speedway in Roseville, California on Oct. 9. Surely, the Sylvan Lake, Michigan native has the prowess and desire to succeed if and when her next opportunities arise.

Recently, I caught up with Slagle who’s also a graphic installer for Petty GMS Motorsports and GMS Racing. With our conversation being so in-depth, Slagle will be on the “Hot Seat” twice here on TPF!

With that, let’s get started with Part I of “In the Hot Seat with Amber Slagle” here on The Podium Finish right now!

Rob Tiongson:  Amber, thank you for taking the time today for The Podium Finish and The Podium Finish Live! podcast. You are a jack of all trades from what I’ve seen, with the many hats you wear as a racer, a crew chief, and by the way, looking at what you’re doing right now, as a graphic installer. So you’re definitely juggling different hats here. But what’s it like to keep as busy as you are with your many roles in motorsports?

Slagle's always hard at work when she's at the track. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Slagle’s always hard at work when she’s at the track. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Amber Slagle :  Yeah, I definitely stay busy with it, that’s for sure. But I enjoy it. I completely enjoy getting to do every aspect in this industry, and learning every aspect. That’s just the type of driver, mechanic, crew chief, everything that I’ve wanted to be. I want to do every portion of the sport, and I enjoy it. It keeps me busy, but it’s fun, because when I get to get back behind the wheel, get to drive the racecars again, I feel it makes me better.

I feel more confident in myself. I know what I’ve worked on. I’m learning the cars and how they handle. And I do all my own work on my racecars, so I feel like I know what to expect. I know the setup. It gives me better feedback, too, from my crew, and what I expect out of it. So it keeps me busy, but I also think it’s made me a better racecar driver in the long run. So I enjoy staying busy if it’s going to make me better, and make me more successful.

Tiongson :  I would say you’re definitely very old school in that approach, just because a lot of the folks that I deem from the Jeff Gordon era up until about maybe a few years ago were strictly just focused on driving the cars and not focusing about the nuances that go along with the car itself, whether being knowledgeable about the mechanical side, or even working on it like you do at Petty GMS.

So kind of leads me to my next question, where you definitely are very versatile and very knowledgeable, but you get to do, whether with Petty GMS, whether in ARCA, or for yourself, you talked about it being an asset for you to have those different tricks of the trade, if you will. Kind of taking it from that point of view, was it something where you were just trying to tell yourself, “Listen, Amber, I’ve got to learn as much as I can just so I can stand out,” or is it kind of a genuine interest, if you will?

No doubt, Slagle can hold her own thanks to her formative years in Michigan. (Photo: Ethan Smith | The Podium Finish)

No doubt, Slagle can hold her own thanks to her formative years in Michigan. (Photo: Ethan Smith | The Podium Finish)

Slagle :  I think it’s more of a genuine interest, honestly. Growing up, it was always just me and my dad, and I always worked on my stuff with my dad, so it was just something I’ve always done. And then when I moved down to North Carolina from Michigan, to be honest, I didn’t know much. I knew the basics and stuff, and when I started working at Cook Racing Technologies, it just grew.

I started learning everything. I started doing everything from wraps, installing my seats, motors, suspension. Everything you can possibly think of, I wanted to take all that in. It’s interesting to me, and that’s just the type of racecar driver I want to be. And especially being a female, there’s not many that do that. There’s not many that want to grab a wrench and want to work on their own stuff.

But for me, it’s something that interests me. And I am not the type of driver where I want to see my guys busting their butt all week on something and I don’t help out. I enjoy helping them out, and I know the hard work that goes into it.

And I appreciate my crew that much more because I know what it takes to get to the racetrack and to put these racecars together to go win races. So, yeah, it’s something I’ve just grown up with. I think my dad instilled that in me when I was very young. And that hard work and dedication, it pays off, and it goes a long way. And that’s where we’re at today.

Tiongson :  I love that. I can tell the dedication and passion that you have, not just what you said, but the tone of your voice. I mean, it’s so cool that something that you started with your dad was this driving force, no pun intended, of what you do in your life and career. Let’s actually talk about your chapters in Michigan. And I can tell that you’re from Michigan based on your accent, because I have some friends in that area, and I love how articulate y’all are compared to us in Texas. No offense to Texans!

But coming from Michigan, a state that I would say is really rich with NASCAR and motorsports history, I mean, I think of the Keselowskis. I think of Johnny Benson and Jack Sprague, as well. Who were some of your earliest inspirations in the racing world from Michigan, or just in general?

Slagle looked up to one of the greatest in NASCAR history. (Photo: Amber Slagle via Twitter)

Slagle looked up to one of the greatest in NASCAR history. (Photo: Amber Slagle via Twitter)

Slagle :  Yeah. Really, in general, growing up, my driver was always Jeff Gordon. I appreciated where he came from. Like what you said earlier, he grew up a lot like I have. He worked on his own stuff, and he worked hard for where he got. And that’s something I look up to. Really, I’d say only Jeff.

My number growing up was always No. 24, and it’s because, when my dad got me into racing, I pointed out his rainbow car. The first race I ever watched, I liked that car. And then as soon as I got older and really started looking into racing more and kind of who he was, that was always my driver and always stuck with me. So I appreciate what he’s done for the sport, who he is as a person. Yeah. But really just Jeff Gordon. That’s it.

Tiongson :  That’s something that both of us have in common. And it’s so amazing how Jeff Gordon was able to be, I think, the best salesman that ever happened to NASCAR, because he pulled a lot of folks, whether from Michigan, or folks like me from Massachusetts, to be a part of NASCAR. And he really convinced a lot of folks from the outside looking in that, “Hey, if I can do this and I’m part of the scene, maybe you can too, with a little bit of hard work,” which I tell you’re definitely doing.

Kind of a sub-question to that, have you met Jeff before and had a chance to kind of tell him how much he means to you?

Slagle :  I have not. He’s always the one driver I have wanted to meet. Obviously, I’ve been around a lot of them, and it’s kind of… to me, they’re just another person. We’re all racecar drivers, and we all do the same thing. And they’re fun to hang out with, and they’re just like you and me, you know?

But Jeff, he’s somebody… yeah, I’ve always wanted to meet him just because I’ve looked up to him since I was a six-year-old girl, when I just got into racing. So it would be cool to one day, hopefully, meet him, and hopefully even race at somewhere he’s at. I don’t know. We’ll see how that all works out.

Tiongson :  That would be super cool. And I think if he heard your story, he would be very touch, and nevertheless very humbled to know how much of an impact he’s had on you. It kind of makes me think about something I read up on about you, and I think it’s pretty significant. You were only seven years old when you embarked on your racing career, and your dad got you your first quarter midget, I believe.

And I’m not a parent yet, but I can’t imagine having my kid wheeling a racecar. But obviously, the circumstances being I’m sure he trusted you. It’s in your blood. How was that experience like when you were that young to drive a quarter midget, and then you’re probably realizing as the years went on, “Hey, I want to make this into a career?”

Slagle :  Yeah. I wish I remembered things from when I was that young. I mean, I know I loved it. I know my mom was not happy. ?? dance and to be a cheerleader and everything like that, and that’s just not what I wanted to do. They wanted to find something for me that I loved and I enjoyed. And my dad had a buddy where his daughter raced quarter midgets. They got talking, like, “How about we let her come try one?”

Went and tested one night when my mom was working, and they couldn’t get me off the racetrack. Just started from there. My dad ended up buying the quarter midget. Showed up at home with it that night. My mom was like, “Are you kidding me? You’re putting our seven-year-old daughter in a racecar?”

And my dad’s always been involved in racing. He never actually raced anything himself. Just normal drag racing. So I’m a first generation for the family. And my mom, she didn’t know much about it. Like, “What are we doing putting our seven-year-old daughter in a quarter midget?” But when they saw how happy it made me and how much I loved it, they weren’t going to stop me from doing that, so.

And then I ended up getting hurt, actually, really bad. I think I was nine. I got a really bad concussion. I was in the hospital for a few days. And my mom had said, “This is it. She’s done. She’s not racing anymore.”

And the first thing that came to my mind as soon as I saw them in the hospital was, “Am I allowed to go back to the racetrack tomorrow?” And my mom knew from there, “I can’t stop her from doing what she loves.” And from that moment on, this is all I’ve done. This is all I know, so. It’s been fun.

Tiongson :  I think that’s the day that you developed what I would now deem as the Amber Aura, if you will. I think, as I’m getting older, I can kind of understand how parents get really… I don’t want to say fearful, but concerned about their child when they get hurt.

But being a kid still… I’m not a kid anymore, but thinking back to when you were in that situation, I think parents understand that when their child is set on something, not so much that they have to, but they will be supportive of what you do. And I think that’s incredible that you were able to overcome such a tough moment in your career that young, because I can think of many other kids at that moment in time thinking, “That’s it for me.” I mean, that scared the heck out of me to do what you’re doing.

So that’s really admirable, and I’m really happy you shared that, because I think it says a lot about your work ethics as well, and your pursuit, of course, to be a stock car driver. Let’s talk about that, of course. We talked a little bit about your graphic installing work that you do at Petty GMS. But mainly as a racer, what would you say is the most seminal or most important moment yet to where you are?

You talked about one of them. But was there another moment in your racing life so far that kind of sparked the plug for you?

Race days are the best days for Slagle. (Photo: Amber Slagle via Twitter)

Race days are the best days for Slagle. (Photo: Amber Slagle via Twitter)

Slagle :   Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot, obviously. I think one that was really special was recent, actually. Last year, making my ARCA debut. That’s something that will be so special to me for the rest of my life, no matter if I go farther in this, or if I’m told I’m done racing.

That’s just something that I never thought was possible for myself. I’m not a driver that comes from money, or know people with money. These opportunities I’ve gotten, I’ve had to work for. And I can’t thank Steve McGowan and Bruce Cook enough for giving me that opportunity, and for seeing how hard I work, and how bad that I want to drive.

They gave me that opportunity. So just showing up to the racetrack like, “This is real. I’m making my ARCA debut this weekend,” it was just rewarding. All my hard work, I felt like, had just paid off over the years. And especially showing up there, never setting foot in an ARCA car, never seeing Irwindale, and I qualified fourth.

It was just so hard to take all that in. But at the same time, it was such a rewarding feeling. So, yeah, I think for a while, that race is going to be hard to top for me. Your first of everything is always rewarding. But that one was very special for me.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Amber for taking the time for our wonderful conversation for TPF! Stay tuned for Part II of Amber’s “Hot Seat” conversation.

In the meantime, look for more content about Amber on TPF and follow her social media channels on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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