Auto Racing: Q-and-A with Rita Fields
By Tony Baranek email@example.com July 24, 2014 4:58PM
Rita Fields | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 26, 2014 6:34AM
Fields, 42, of Valparaiso, Indiana, is in her eighth season of racing. She has competed in the street stocks, limited late-model and late-model divisions, and is a regular in the street stock class at Grundy and Illiana speedways.
How did you find your way into a race car?
I really wanted to start in the Legends, but at the time they weren’t running them anywhere in the area. So I made contact with (Illiana Speedway), and (official) Steve Bechtel told me that Bill Neering had a car for sale. Bill said he had a limited late-model that I might want to try and I said, “Let’s talk.” We made a deal.
That’s a pretty advanced class to start in.
That really isn’t where I wanted to start. I wanted to start on the lower levels, but it didn’t work out that way. But I did my time. I stayed on track and stayed out of people’s way, learned the car, learned the track and learned about my abilities and went from there.
Were you athletically inclined growing up?
Absolutely. I was a tomboy, a daddy’s girl, whether it was working on cars or playing in the yard. My mom was actually very athletically inclined. I didn’t want to play softball because it was sissified and they threw underhand, but I wound up playing softball for one year in order to play boys baseball. They wanted me to pitch because I had a good arm. I made all-stars as a pitcher and shortstop. I did go back to softball as a shortstop in high school.
What about racing does it for you?
For me, you’re in control of something that’s on the edge of being out of control. If I’m sitting in the passenger seat with someone driving, I can’t stand it because I’m not in control, especially if we’re going fast. I like being on that fine line, controlling that animal that’s almost out of control.
Did getting into a late-model for the first time scare you?
Yeah! If anybody says the first time they got in a late-model they weren’t a little scared or a little nervous, they have to be lying to you. Yeah, it was scary, especially when you’re trying to learn while you’ve got guys who have been racing for years flying by you as you’re trying to hold your line, stay out of their way and earn their respect. The second year I got lower in the groove and the third year it got even better.
Do you remember your first win?
It was 2007, my first heat race win. Steve Bechtel was spotting for me and he was pushing me because I was running in second place to Lenny Koprowski. At one point one of my radio connections came undone. He told me later, “I was screaming at you the whole time to go, go, go.” I was like, “Well, I didn’t even hear you, man.” I was just pushing it because I was in a zone.
Compare late-model racing to street stock racing.
Honestly, to me a late-model is a little easier to drive than a street stock. You’ve got more Gs and more stress on your body and you have to have really good reaction time with a late-model, but you have to work harder to drive a street stock. You have to manhandle it, because those cars really aren’t made to go left.
You’re still looking for your first feature win.
(Laughing) I contribute that to being a little too nice behind the wheel. I finished second a lot in my limited late-model when I should have pushed harder, but I know what it costs to fix these things. I’m not going to wreck somebody for a win. I don’t have that much of an ego. I would like to get a feature win soon, but I’m having fun. I’m OK.
As told to Tony Baranek