Sylvan Lake, Mich.’s Amber Slagle has multiple roles in her path to racing stardom. Not only she’s a racer, but she’s also a crew chief.
Two weeks ago, Amber Slagle made her ARCA Menards Series West debut at Irwindale Speedway for Steve McGowan-Cook Motorsports. Right out of the gate, she impressed the competition with a fourth-place qualifying start.
However, her 150-lap race concluded in frustration fashion as an accident in Turn 4 halted her progress. Ultimately, Amber Slagle placed 14th out of the 19th car field. For now, her time in the No. 17 Chevrolet is a one-off deal. That said, she hopes to come back at Irwindale next month.
When she’s not behind the wheel, Amber Slagle makes the calls for Cook-Finley Racing driver Parker Retzlaff. Presently, the No. 42 ARCA East squad experience some highs and lows, but promise is shown.
Moreover, Retzlaff and Amber Slagle’s fourth-place finish at Southern National Motorsports Park last month serves as their most recent pinnacle moment.
Notably, they only have three more races (all combo races with National ARCA) to score their maiden victory. By all means, this remains something that Amber Slagle hopes can be done.
Even so, it would be another landmark moment for females in stock car racing. This time, it would be on top of the pit box that’ll shine bright.
Last week, I caught up with Amber Slagle to discuss about her season as both driver and crew chief. Not only that, getting to understand how she goes about her career. Without further ado, here’s my latest installment of “Up to Speed” featuring Amber Slagle.
Reflecting on ARCA West Debut
Luis Torres: How did the Irwindale deal came to be when you were driving the 17? Is it a one-off deal or you’re planning to run more ARCA stuff later this season?
Amber Slagle: This deal came together through the team that I work for right now. It’s one of those deals where I’ve just been working so hard to try to get that one opportunity.
I’m not one that comes from a lot of money, so it’s taken a lot of work and I work in the shop full-time. I’m a crew chief and I travel every weekend, every race, and I’ve just worked my butt off for that opportunity.
As of now, it is a one-off deal. I’m trying to put together hopefully a couple more races out West for this year and then hopefully do some more next year. I’m just working hard on sponsorships right now and trying to get the opportunity to run a couple more.
But as of now, nothing is set in stone for me to run any more ARCA races this year, but I’m trying my hardest and I’m still working as hard as I can to make these deals happen.
Torres: While that’s kind of still on hold, how excited were you to run at Irwindale?
Slagle: Irwindale was cool. I had never seen the place before going there. It’s a neat track and it’s definitely a difficult place. I’d say it’s probably close to one of the hardest tracks I’ve been to. Especially being my first time in an ARCA car and not having many laps in an ARCA car before going there.
I like the track that had a lot of racing room and all the different lines that you can run. It’s just a different place somewhere different than anywhere I’ve ever raced before, which was cool.
We’re trying to go back there next month in the ARCA race, but that’s just another deal I’m trying to put together. It’s one that’s not set in stone, but I liked the place so much. And I thought we were fast. Qualifying fourth out of 19 cars being my first time in these cars and at this track.
I thought we had a lot of success, and I was proud of that and I was happy and I think I learned a lot from the weekend. So, it’s got me in a position where I really want to go back there. Cause I feel like we can be even better from what I’ve learned and what I took out of the weekend.
So, I’m trying, I’m trying to put these sponsorship deals together and hopefully be able to go back there next month and run even better than what we did.
Torres: Most certainly it would be a good way to bounce back. You mentioned you qualified fourth, how excited was it to put that in the first two rows for the race team in general?
Slagle: It was cool and really exciting. I kinda set my goals going into that weekend with the top 10. You know, it was first time in the car for somebody at this track. I didn’t really know what to expect out of it. I knew we’d be fast and I knew I was in a good race car and that my team was going to bring me a good piece. But you just never know what to expect.
So, I set my goals with the top 10 and we did our qualifying run and we jumped up to P2 on the board and I was shocked. I knew I had it in me, but I didn’t think we’d start that far up for sure. It was a really good feeling and I hope we can show people that I belong. I want to keep doing this and I’ve got the speed to do it. So we can go back next month and run even better.
What’s Next for Amber Slagle?
Torres: It’s one of those things where time will tell. But you’ll be racing relatively soon at Orange County, correct?
Slagle: I was supposed to the late model at Orange County, but unfortunately they had to cancel because of the tire shortage that’s been going around with Hoosier. They’re not producing tires fast enough, I guess right now. And it’s hurting the short track circuit for sure.
Everywhere is canceling. Ace canceled this weekend and Orange County now. The tracks are struggling to bring tires in for us to be able to compete. So, I was pretty bummed. I was looking forward to running there again.
We’ve had a lot of success at Orange County. I’ve got a second place and a fifth place there. So, I was excited to go back, but unfortunately, we can’t change those kinds of things. I hope they get the tire situation figured out quick. So that way we can all get back racing again.
Torres: Totally. I was aware of the tire shortage, but I wasn’t sure if it impacted your race weekend. That’s totally a bummer.
Slagle: Yeah, it sucks. I think it’s starting to affect more the longer they’re going into the season now. There is some rain on the radar. I think that was kind of a stopper for the tracks too. And with having no tires on top of it, it makes things tough. But I’m bummed and hopefully I’ll be back in the late model soon.
Crew Chief on the East Side
Torres: Not only you’re a competitor, but also a crew chief for Parker Retzlaff and heavily involved with the 17 team when time allows us. Describe how that’s been, especially this season?
Slagle: Being a crew chief, it’s been fun this season. It’s been something new for me. It’s been a learning experience and I’ve learned a lot out of it. And I think it’s also helped me grow not only as a person, but also as a driver when I get to be behind the wheel again.
It’s been a new learning curve for sure. I’m still learning as we go here. Bruce, my boss is helping me as we go. I’m still young and there’s a lot of things that I’ve still got to learn out of it, but I’m learning and I’m making the best of it.
Parker’s a pretty good driver and we’ve had a lot of successes this year. He’s had a lot of good runs and his win is coming for sure. I know I’m excited and I hope he gets it while I’m on top of the box. And hopefully be, I think I’d be the first female crew chief maybe to win an ARCA. I’m not quite sure on those stats, it’d be cool to win as a female crew chief for sure.
Torres: One run that comes to buy was back at New Smyrna, where Parker was out front. How much do you recall his performance from that night? Of course, you’ve had the frantic battles all throughout and the late race rain.
Slagle: Parker was fast at New Smyrna. I think he led the first 60 to 70 laps, and he just roasted the tires off. That’s another thing that comes with being young. And it’s a learning experience on how, how hard you can go right off the bat and these long races. He had a lot of success that day and it just didn’t fall into our hands, unfortunately.
Slagle (continued): We had a little issue on pit road during the halfway break that there’s some miscommunication between the officials and the crew. It cost us to go a couple of laps down when it shouldn’t have. It’s hard to kind of retaliate once you lose those laps, especially in short track racing. So, I was bummed for him.
I think he had a car to win and they compete up front. But he’s battled back all year and he’s been up front and he’s shown that he has what it takes to win. So I’m hoping when we get back going in ARCA racing with him that we’re going to win here shortly.
Torres: Is there a lot more expectations coming out of him knowing the East season is abbreviated? Especially, when the rest of the year are combo races with National ARCA?
Slagle: The ARCA schedule is definitely shorter and we only have three left. The season is winding down quickly for sure. But I’d say Parker’s made the best out of these short rate races that he has. And you know, it’s hard for him not being in a car every single weekend.
But he truly shows that he belongs and he has speed every time we go out there. We’ve given him a fast car. We’ve been working with him.
We just finished fourth at Southern National, the last race with him. We were running third on the last lap and he got moved out of the way finished fourth. But that’s part of it and that’s racing. So he’s run up front everywhere we’ve been. I’m proud of him and I think he’s really good driver. And he’s gonna go far in his career.
Torres: Yeah, for sure. I’ll be curious to see how Parker does the rest of the season.
Torres: Now that you’ve mentioned that last lap. How would you describe your driving style when you have the chance to compete?
Slagle: I think I’m more of a smooth driver. A lot of people just tell me I’m so smooth on the wheel and that is crazy how much speed I can carry through the corners. I think I get that coming from quarter midgets growing up where you’re just consistently on the gas and the go-karts.
So, I definitely say I’m smooth and consistent with what I do. And I think that’s kinda what it takes to be quick, especially at the end of these long races. It’s all about saving tires and being smooth is what helps you save those tires for the end of a race.
Torres: One thing that came up to mind was going through Twitter, realizing how much of a huge influence your father has been.
How influential he’s been with your career and was he there at Irwindale with you as well?
Slagle: My dad’s the one that got me in racing. He has kind of growing up until I moved down South. He has been the one that has worked on my car and he’s been my crew chief. He’s been my dad, the car owner, and the spotter. He’s been everything for me growing up. Me and my dad are really close because of that.
We spent every weekend together and every night working on the race cars. That’s just kind of what me and my dad did together growing up. I think for him.
It’s been a little hard with me racing for a team and kind of having people to take control and work on the stuff where he can just be dad. Now I think he’s had a little harder time with that, but it’s also been good for him.
He can kind of relax and watch me race and watch me have fun and do what I love and just hang out and be my dad.
Now, he was at Irwindale with me. I don’t think that is definitely a race he would not want to miss. He would have a hard time with that. He was there supporting me and he usually tries to come to every race he can, but my parents still live up in Michigan.
Sometimes at the late model stuff, it might be hard for them to make it down here for just a Saturday night race. But I’d say up until this year, my dad had never missed a race. So, he is by far my biggest supporter. And I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for my dad.
Getting Valuable Advice
Torres: I’d imagine it must be relaxing, but also just kind of like that racing blood in a lot of people that are just like there. It just won’t go away, but sometimes it feels that way. Doesn’t it?
Slagle: Yeah. That is for sure. You think once you’re in this sport, it’s hard to get out, especially being a driver.
You just want to keep racing and keep driving. That’s kinda where I’m at. I’m working hard on sponsors and I don’t want to stop driving. So, I’m going to work hard to keep being able to race as much as I can and work alongside it as well.
Torres: While at Irwindale, were there other people who gave you some tips or advice that kinda helped you get around Irwindale?
Slagle: Yeah, before going into Irwindale, I talked to David Gilliland.
Slagle (continued): He is one that has had a lot of success there. A lot of championships, a lot of wins and that’s where they come from. So, I know his family was really good there and I went and talked to him. He gave me a lot of advice and sat down with me and he just really helped me.
So, I appreciate him taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to me and kind of guide me and help me give me pointers before going to the track. I think he helped me a lot and I appreciate him.
But other than that, I just watched a lot of videos and past races that were there at it really talked to too many people. Any information I got, I just soaked it all in and was. I was taking as much information as I could to really get all the success out of the weekend that I could.
Torres: I normally ask competitors about pre-race rituals. Are you more of a music listener or more laser focus on the big task at hand?
Slagle: I don’t think I’ve ever really done anything like special before going into a race weekend. Kind of just relax and I still hang out with my guys and I still help on the race car. And I go sit down maybe by myself for a few minutes if I need to.
But I don’t think I’ve never really been that kind of driver that gets too worked up. I’m pretty laid back about things. And I just try to stay focused and be as laid back as I can before getting into the race car. I don’t really use anything to get me too pumped up or no music.
I’m pretty simple when it comes to that stuff. I just get in the race car and I do my thing and that’s just kind of what I know how to do.
Torres: Very fascinating indeed. Music wise, you’re more of a variety or you listen to specific genres?
Slagle: I think I’d probably more like a country person or pop and hip hop, that kind of stuff. More of the basic genres. I’m not too picky when it comes to music. I’ll listen to about anything.
Torres: Any go-to songs or artists?
Slagle: Anything country probably I’m a big country person and I would say I don’t really have a favorite, but I like a lot of them. There’s a lot of good music out there.
Torres: Certainly true.
Torres: In closing, there’s been a lot of female competitors out West. In fact, like when you competed, you were one of three (Amber Balcaen and Bridget Burgess being the others).
You feel like it’s an encouraging sign to see a lot of female competitors slowly but surely competing? How that’ll help in the long run, especially for younger girls who are trying to break through in racing?
Slagle: I think it’s definitely cool seeing all the females getting to this level, especially myself. It’s going to help the younger generation. It’s more accepting now in this industry for all the females to be around. That’s what’s made it easier for all of us females to kind of make our mark and show that we belong in the sport.
It’s cool to see all the females and it was cool to have two other girls out there with me. You don’t see that very often. I’d say growing up my whole life, I’ve been probably the only one at most racetracks, the only female racing. So, that was cool.
I still want to see the females have success. Especially the younger generation, I want the females to stick with it and never give up. And if that’s what they want to be a race car driver for the rest of their lives, do it, keep trying, and don’t give up on your dreams.
It is a male dominated sport, and it probably always will be. But females are more accepted now in this industry. So, keep pushing hard and you’ll get where you need to be.