Peyton Michel making a name for herself behind the wheel
By Keith Sparks
Liberty Hill High School junior Peyton Michel performs for the Panther drumline during football games on Friday nights in the fall, but on Saturdays, she’s behind the wheel of a racecar.
“My mom found an open drive, which is where you can come in and try someone else’s car to see if you like it,” Michel said. “She found that on Groupon, and it was really cool. My brother and my sister originally went to try it, and I didn’t go, but my brother didn’t like it, so I filled in. Now me and my sister race.”
Michel, who participated in her first race in a go-cart at age 12, is now racing with the big boys. The 17-year old has since graduated from go-carts to smaller cars, then to what she called “a smaller NASCAR,” which she currently drives in the Allison Legacy class.
Before she even had her driver’s license, Michel was learning how to race with a standard transmission, which she said wasn’t easy.
“It was a little scary, because in the big car, we had to work a clutch,” Michel said. “It was a standard, so I had to learn how to drive a standard. I had only gotten my permit, so I was used to driving with my mom in the car. By myself, it was a little scary.”
Last year, Michel took first in the state of Texas in the Allison Legacy class, after winning seven races in a row, in a league that she said includes both male and female drivers between the ages of 16 and 50. So far this season, she’s hovering around fourth place.
Michel fell in love with the sport immediately, following in the footsteps of her stepfather, who often took her and her siblings along to races in Central Texas as spectators and had some racing experience himself. Her mother, while supportive of her daughter’s racing, had to shake off some nerves, initially, despite the fact that it was her idea in the first place.
“She thought it looked cool on the Groupon, because my stepdad was really into racing,” Michel said. “He was always taking us to races in Marble Falls and stuff, and initially, when we started racing, she was really scared. She’d get all these nerves and start shaking, but then she just grew into it and she started liking it.”
Her mother’s nerves were understandable, considering Michel’s account that she’s had “a couple of pretty bad wrecks and three concussions.” For her daughter, on the other hand, the possibility of wrecking is part of the fun.
“My first wreck, I thought it was kind of fun, although I couldn’t finish because my car was broken, so I had to get out and stop,” she said. “I didn’t get seriously hurt the first time, so it was pretty fun.”
Over the four-plus years Michel has been racing, skill level and demeanor on the track have changed drastically.
“I’ve definitely improved from my first race,” Michel said. “I started out really nervous and slow, and now I guess you’d say I’m pretty aggressive, and I like to pass and go fast. When I first started driving, I was terrible at shifting and I would always skip third gear, because you race in fourth, so I’ve definitely gotten better at the clutch, and I think my focus has gotten better. Instead of worrying about who’s around me, now I focus on my lines and how I can go faster and pass people.”
For Michel, the appeal of racing is simple.
“I like the rush and the excitement, and I like going fast,” she said. “That’s a big factor.”
Most of Michel’s races take place in the Austin/San Antonio area, but she also often competes in Houston, and has raced in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
Outside of the race track, Michel drives a 1999 Ford Ranger that isn’t quite capable of what her race car is capable of, and you’ll never guess what she’d eventually like to trade it in for.
“I like Corvettes for sure, and Mustangs,” she said. “Any cool car, basically.”
In the future, Michel hopes to become a NASCAR driver, but knows the dream is an expensive and time consuming long shot. To finance it, she plans on getting a “real job” first while putting some of her earnings toward NASCAR training.