STAFFORD SPRINGS, Connecticut. Tori Carrington is a mother of three with a black labrador retriever named “Boots” and a pick-up and drop-off schedule that reads like a cab dispatcher’s log. “I’ve got so much stuff to haul around town, there’s no way I could handle it with a car,” she says as she slams the rear door of her Chevy Suburban on six bags of groceries and her daughter Amanda’s finger.
The same is true for Mindy Michaels, who lives next door. “We bought the Expedition because we needed the space for all our kids’ junk,” she says as she wrangles her son Jason’s mountain bike and her daughter Ellie’s vaulting poles and javelins into the super-sized Ford SUV.
Tori and Mindy are both ranked in the top ten of the Monster Jam Points Series as the season winds down with an event at Stafford Motor Speedway in this leafy Connecticut suburb, the American Express Super Modified Monster Mayhem Weekend. As monster truck racing has previously been an all-male preserve, the two stand our for reasons more obvious than their Ann Taylor sweaters and pearl necklaces.
“We see soccer moms as the next big wave in professional Monster Truck racing,” says Amex’s James Saltonstall, III. “Sort of like Michelle Wie and Annika Sorenstam on the PGA Tour. It’s a very affluent target audience with tremendous upside potential because right now they’re all watching Martha Stewart and Meredith Viera on The View.”
That sentiment isn’t necessarily shared by Monster Truck veterans such as Duane “Bug Juice” Johnson of Warrensburg, Missouri. “I don’t have anything against women drivers in general, but those two are kind of aggressive on a Chicago-style track,” he says. “Also, their back porches are a little skimpy for my tastes.”
But Tori and Mindy say they won’t let hidebound prejudice stand in their way as they line up for the qualifying heat of the Super-Modified division in which they compete. “I work out four days a week with a personal trainer so I can fit into size 6 capri pants,” she says with uncharacteristic firmness. “I’m not going to take fashion tips from some Midwestern hilljack who doesn’t have an MBA.”
As the women maneuver their SUV’s into position they can look down the starting line at snarling 800 horsepower behemoths with names like “Grave Digger,” “The Avenger” and “Wild Thang” painted on their sides. Tori thought about adopting une nomme du monster chariot, but decided against it. “My parents always taught me not to call undue attention to myself,” and indeed her Suburban is a muted forest green in contrast to the bright reds, oranges and yellows of some of her male competitors.
Mom and Dad.
The announcer counts down from “Drivers Ready,” to “Get Set,” and then screams “Go!” over the public address system, sending the vehicles scrambling around the short track with dirt-mound jumps. Tori and Mindi are inveterate cell phone uses—”It’s attached to my ear!” Mindi admits—and Tori calls her friend as soon as they take their places in the pack.
“Hi there,” says Tori. “Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“No,” Mindi replies. “I’m going over a jump in a minute so I may lose coverage.”
Mindi scales the dirt mound and her Expedition goes flying, landing on the bed of Bug Juice Johnson’s “Eradicator”.
“Nice air, Mindi!” Tori says with admiration.
“Thanks. I’ve been working on my technique in the Lord & Taylor parking lot.”
“How can you? That place is always packed. I was in that mall the other day to pick up my David Yurman bracelet.”
“The one with the sapphires?” Mindi asks.
“Right. Oops—hold on.” Tori swerves to avoid J.T. “Rascal” Dupree from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“Watch where you’re going!” Dupree yells at her.
“Sorry,” Tori yells back over the roar. “I didn’t want to spill my drink!” She takes a sip of a Starbucks vanilla latte, extra foam, and resumes her conversation. “Anyway, I went in there to have the mounts tightened. I almost lost one of the stones at a cocktail party last week.”
“At the Ohrbachs?”
“You never would have found it in those blue oriental rugs of theirs.”
“Hey, lady—shut up and drive!” It is Darrell Joseph, the current points leader, who cuts Tori off.
“What a jerk,” she tells her friend.
“I know. He thinks he’s so macho. How much would you guess he makes?”
“The top drivers on the circuit earn around $80,000, before endorsements.”
“Not very much, is it? You couldn’t buy a potting shed in Greenwich with that.”
“You couldn’t make a down payment on a potting shed with it!” Tori says with a laugh.
The cars are on the last lap and the drivers jockey for position as they try to advance to the championship round. “Well, I should probably hang up now,” Mindi says as she cuts off Rascal Dupree.
“Okay—talk to you later,” Tori says as she snaps her razor phone shut and puts it in the “clutter caddy” between the front bucket seats. In third place, she is well-positioned to qualify, but Mindi is stuck at the back of a pack behind the leaders. “I should try and help her out,” Tori says to herself, bringing a spirit of feminine cooperation to a sport that has long been ruled by masculine notions of cut-throat competition.
Tori positions her Suburban down low, waits until she makes the turn for the home stretch, and then slams on her brakes, causing the bunched-up cars behind her to rear-end each other, leaving Mindi free to pass them on the rail.
Tori’s cell phone rings, and she opens it up as she crosses the finish line.
“That was so sweet of you!” Mindi exclaims.
“Happy to help!” Tori replies. “I wanted to make sure my girlfriend got into the finals!”
Darrell Joseph doesn’t share the women’s enthusiasm as he comes running across the track, shaking his fist. “You crazy bitch! You coulda killed me!” he screams.
“Oh, blow it out your boxer shorts,” Tori says dismissively. “How much is a life like yours worth anyway?”
The blunt nature of the question causes Joseph to stop and think. “Well, let’s see. I got three years’ worth of payments due on my double-wide trailer home. I got a 2010 Camaro that’s leaking oil. Most of my paycheck goes to my first two wives in alimony. I guess you’re right. If I died today, I’d probably come out ahead.”
“See? It helps to do a mental inventory when you get upset like that.”
“Where’d you learn how to do that?” Joseph asks gratefully.
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collections “Blurbs From the Burbs” and “From NASCAR to NPR.”