Modern Classics Cheapskate The Rest

Lady Drivers

Sport driving, like athletic events, suffers a shortage of female entries. Though their minority status will probably never change, the ladies who are out there like these three from Northeast car clubs quietly give the guys a run for their money year after year.

Adrienne Hughes, for example, logs more seat time than most of us combined. Between ice racing, hillclimbing, rallying—including Targa Newfoundland—also One Lap of America, instructing at BMW driver schools, autocrossing, and club racing, she spends 6-7 weeks per year behind the wheel.

As a lifestyle, Adrienne says, “The whole package appeals to me. The people are wonderful, you get a great adrenaline rush, and satisfaction from being good.”

She came to autosports by inclination, and grew into it through opporunity. As a youngster, she says, “as soon as we found anything with a motor in it, we were driving it around the backyard.” Then, in 1992, she drove in her first autocross in her brother’s vehicle. When he asked how she liked it, she answered, “I’m not getting out of the car!”

Eventually she acquired her own car to play with: a 1973 BMW 2002. This year she’s co-driving another 2002 with her “virtual spouse,” Roy Hopkins, in their fourth year at Targa Newfoundland, aiming for an overall win. The pair has already achieved a division win in that event, along with class wins in winter rallies. Adrienne’s personal best as a solo driver has been second in class at a BMW Club race, wheel to wheel.

Her versatility at events is matched by the diverse types of cars she has driven, ranging from a Formula Ford in autocross to a BMW M3 on the track, with econo beaters like Rabbits and Neons for winter events and prepped ’02s for vintage racing and Targa. Her street wheels have included a Datsun 510 wagon (first car) and BMW 325. Her home track is Watkins Glen, where she both races and instructs for the Genesee Valley chapter of BMW Car Club of North America (of which she was formerly GV chapter president). Home base is Spencerport, N.Y., where she expedites the work flow at a repair shop that specializes in race cars—and understands why somebody needs a lot of Fridays off.

“If I had unlimited resources, I would be more into building cars and winning,” Adrienne says. “As it is, my goal is to do as well as I can with the car I’m driving, and just go out, have fun, and learn.”

Learning is what drives Patrice Ladd, who is new to autosports and enjoying every minute of them. After years of accompanying her husband, Loren, to hillclimbs and driving schools, she took a dare from fellow members of Sports Car Club of Vermont and entered their time trial at St. Lawrence Motorsports Park. Now, she says, “I live for that, I love it!”—an interesting contradiction from the same person who says, “I’m not a risk taker at all.”

Unlike drivers who thrive on the challenges of speed, Patrice thrives on developing new athletic skills (to go with her kayaking, biking, snowshoeing, and powered-parachute flying), and understanding the mechanical and competition worlds that entrance her husband. “The most important thing to us is doing it together, for the fun and the cameraderie,” she explains. “I don’t have a competitive bone in my body.”

Non-competitiveness doesn’t mean lack of courage. After tackling time trials at SLMP, she sampled hillclimbing at Burke Mountain, with its rough roads lined with rocks, trees, and ravines. She feels that sport driving makes her a better street driver, a wisdom she brings to the classroom where she teaches sixth graders in Derby, Vt. She’ll drive the race car, a ’97 Dodge Neon, to school and let the kids inspect the roll cage and race seats, the air intake, suspension and sway bars. She directs them to autosport websites and encourages them to try sport driving when they’re of age, meanwhile sharing the most important skill she’s learned from it: being aware of what’s around you. Which, she says, “is three times more than I thought!”

In the future, Patrice plans to try TSD rallying with Loren. For now she will continue working at events where he competes (“I love working behind the scenes!”), and take the wheel herself to knock a few more seconds off her lap times, grinning all the way around.

Meanwhile, out in the forest: Sarah Gardescu divides her track time between solo hillclimbing in the 16V Scirocco she prepared herself, and co-driving stage rallies with Emilo Arce in his Subaru RS. That is, when she’s not being a corner worker, event registrar, club treasurer, support crew, or tech inspector.

Mechanically oriented, Sarah says her involvement is “not just about racing but about learning the car.” But she admits to the adrenaline rush that attracts so many drivers. “It’s like rock climbing—being on the edge then making it to the top.” She likes the focus and challenge, whether in the left seat or the right, whether running at the back of the pack or the front. Currently, with Arce, she’s leading her class in the NASA eastern series of stage rallies.

Co-driving works well for her because “sitting still is one of my skill sets. And I can read without puking, and don’t scream too much. I don’t need to be in control in that context; I have enough fun driving the hills.”

When not rallying she hillclimbs with the New England Hillclimb Association and works on her Scirocco. She’s good at brakes and electrical systems but hasn’t gotten inside the engine yet. Her aptitudes extend into her profession, which is architect and project co-ordinator for the State University of New York, based in Albany.

As with Adrienne and Patrice, Sarah is drawn to autosports for its combination of fun, social life, and challenge. “The people are incredibly interesting and inviting,” she says, adding. “I’m not a goal-oriented person. I think you should do what you enjoy and enjoy it while doing it.”