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November 19, 2007

Thunder Valley Racing's Karen Salvaggio - Professional Race Car Driver

Karen Karen Salvaggio doesn’t just have a passion for racing; she has a passion for life.

Since her youth, she has enjoyed a love of motorsports, despite a day-job as an elementary school principal in Southern California; it is racing that wets Salvaggio’s whistle.

Her racing career began in the early 1980's, while she was in the U.S. Air Force. She spent nine years as an aircraft mechanic, working on B-52's and KC-135's in the US, in the Philippines, and in Japan. It was during that tour that a friend at Castle Air Force Base in Central California offered to let her drive his stock car at a local dirt track.

There, a racer was born.

It took only a week for Salvaggio to purchase her own car and she has been racing ever since.

What first got you involved in racing in the NASCAR Winston dirt series in the 1980's?
I joined the Air Force in the mid-70’s, and was working as an aircraft mechanic stationed at an Air Base in Central California by 1985. I was serving as a crew chief on B-52’s when a colleague invited to me to work with him on his stock car at local dirt track on a Saturday night. Having grown up in Pennsylvania, I had become hooked on racing at an early age through the ABC Wide World of Sports coverage of racing on legendary tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, and Darlington. I jumped at the chance to become involved. Within a week, I bought my first race car: 1970 Olds Cutlass 442.

Primarily, what and where are you racing these days?

I currently campaign a Factory Five Racing (FFR) Challenge Series race car, which is based on the 1965 Shelby Cobra. I race with the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) sanctioning body, primarily at tracks on the West Coast (California Speedway, Sear Point (Infineon), and Willow Springs. Our national competition is held annually at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, OH.

Karen2_2 What has been your greatest accomplishment in racing?
Having secured more than 150 first place awards in competition driving events has been an honor. However, driving the FFR Challenge Series race car over the last two years, and securing 2nd place in the 2007 West Coast Challenge Series championship has brought a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. The series attracts a talented group of race car drivers, and the level of competition has been high. The group is very close though, and the camaraderie and friendships I’ve made through the series will last a lifetime. I’m a better racer from my competition time with these guys on the track.

Tell us about your role with Thunder Valley racing, and what your goals are there?
I began working with Thunder Valley Racing as a writer and contributor some eight years ago. I’ve been very fortunate to meet and share the stories of some of the finest women drivers (and their support crews) in the world. We watch future top drivers such as Leilani Munter, Melanie Troxell, and Danica Patrick in their early careers, and we are proud to have championed their rise to higher competition levels. Over the years, I assumed the role of Editor-in-Chief, and now am the owner of Thunder Valley Racing. We are the premier source of information on women in racing, and will be taking the site to new levels for the 2008 season.

What makes you so passionate about supporting women in motorsports?

I’m out at racetracks driving racecars or working track events as an instructor driver on a regular basis. It is an absolute thrill to meet women who have that spark of interest in exploring the world of motorsports. Through my work with Thunder Valley Racing, I received countless contacts from women who are out there competing at a local level who have dreams of growing their career. Competition driving brings great personal rewards, and serves to build confidence that translates in so many ways to other parts of our personal and professional lives. Watching these women grow and benefit from their experience bring great personal reward. Great women drivers are out there, yet few are at the highest levels of racing, it’s our mission to provide opportunities and assist these women in driving their dreams.

We understand your daughter Tracy races, what series is she currently competing in? Does it make you nervous to have a daughter on the track?
Tracy grew up at racetracks, and is a natural driving talent. She secured the 1997 SCCA Rookie of the Year award in the autocross series in which she competed. She currently owns/drives a 2004 Mustang Cobra, and has plans to join the Camaro~Mustang Challenge (CMC) series. She has great driving skills, and like all racers, we assure that when either of us takes the track we are in a well-prepared car with the best safety equipment. I trust her driving skills, and have great confidence in her performance driving ability.

What's the difference between racing these days compared to being a woman in the sport twenty some years ago?

There are more of us moving into the racing field! (Yea!), and for that I’m pleased. When I started racing in 1985, there were only one other women competing at the track where I drove. While we still don’t have enough women on track, more women are entering the performance driving schools, and it is from this group that our racer group will grow. It’s become much more accepted to see women in the pits, and we now have many women working at tracks in roles such as management, pit lane officials, promoters, and crew members. We’ve also seen an increased number of women entering the engineering fields, and this is very good news.

You're the second lady racer armed with a Doctorate I've talked to this month -- is this some sort of secret driving doc’s society (LOL)?
Hmmm…Interesting observation. No, there’s no secret society, however, but I believe the common denominator may be that our work through the doctoral programs develops our ability to think critically about information. Increasing numbers of women are educating themselves about topics of interest, and the doctorate really pushes the envelope in the realm. I would hope my critical thinking skills would assist others in decision-making and guiding their careers to success.

Talk about your relationship with the United Spinal Association?
I am so very pleased to be driving the 25 Hours of Thunderhill enduro race in support of the United Spinal Association. Our relationship came through the great work of’s President Jody DeVere who serves as national chairperson for the United Spinal Association Motorsports Committee. Members of the Association, including Chairman of the Board Russell Hesselton will be joining us for the 25 Hours race, and we look forward to building our relationship with them. Our hope would be to develop affordable hand-controlled race cars to enable members to join us in competition events through NASA.

Thanks for the opportunity to be part of the Ask Patty phenomenon. You go girls!

Lindapic_noman2 By Linda Przygodski
Contributing Editor

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