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Rev Your Engines: "Fast Girl" Zooms into Town

An interview with a local mom and college prof who got hooked on race car driving.

Rev Your Engines: "Fast Girl" Zooms into Town Rev Your Engines: "Fast Girl" Zooms into Town


Millburn mother and college professor Ingrid Steffensen will read from her first book, Fast Girl: Don’t Brake Until You See the Face of God and Other Good Advice from the Racetrack at Words Bookstore in Maplewood, on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30pm.

Steffensen had a successful career as an art history professor, a family and a house in suburban New Jersey, when one day she joined her husband on a trip to the racetrack -- and found herself hooked.

Publishers Weekly called the book an "entertaining tongue-in-cheek sendup of the self-help confessional."

Patch interviewed the author recently; here's what she had to say:

Describe how it felt the first time you got onto the racetrack. 

I was terrified! The night before, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and that morning I was literally shaking with nerves. My poor instructor actually asked me if I had been coerced into doing this. It’s one of the moments in my life that I’m proudest of: that I went ahead and did it anyway.

You describe yourself as a lifelong “nerd”, but was there a little of the thrill seeker in you as a kid? 

Not really!  Reading has always been my most favorite hobby, followed by music, food, and travel—sedentary stuff, for the most part. I was never one for things like rollerblading or downhill skiing.  The only possible inkling that I would like this crazy sport is that I’ve always enjoyed roller coasters.

What are the best and worst things about racing? 

The best is definitely the sense of confidence and competence that this has given me. If I can enter a 180-degree, banked turn at 80 miles per hour, and rocket out the other end at 95—pretty much nothing can scare me now! The worst? I guess it would have to be the endless preparations and tinkering that lead up to and follow a weekend at the racetrack—I think the only more equipment-heavy activities you could find would be children and horses.

What does your daughter think about your passion for the racetrack? 

Apparently it gives her major street cred with her peers!  She’s the only kid in the Millburn school system—so far as we know—who can claim that her mom races sports cars.  She’s also very likely the only one—boys included!—who can operate an impact wrench, change a full set of wheels, and put a race car up on jack stands. She enjoys coming with us, and has even done some karting, although she’s too young to drive.

Who is your idol, in the world of racing or outside of it? 

My idol is someone you’ve likely never heard of (outside my book): her name is Miriam Schottland, and she’s a 74-year-old woman who lives in the DC area and who taught counter-terrorist driving techniques (evasion, ramming, that sort of thing) to government officials and diplomats at a racetrack in West Virginia. What this woman doesn’t know about the dynamics of a speeding car isn’t worth knowing—but more than that, it’s what this woman knows about living a dynamic life that I admire so much.

Your next book is about dogs, can you tell us more about that?

Writing Fast Girl was a big departure for me, since I’d only ever written scholarly works before.  High-performance driving gave me the courage to tap into my creative side, giving free rein to my inquisitive nature and my love of humor.  I found myself wondering about the way the world looks through my own dog’s eyes, and so I’m working on a book that tries to capture the joy and drama of the life of a little dog with a big attitude.  The working title is Life at Ankle Level, and so far it’s a fun and slightly weird little book.

Last question: ever get speeding tickets? 

I got my first-ever, and so far only, speeding ticket at the age of 42—and I swear, it was a trap! All kidding aside, when you can speed along at 130 mph at the track, and it’s legal, you sort of don’t need to do it on the highways.  That said, I’m no dawdler, either.

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