Girl is 13-year-old racing Legend

Brooke Schimmel has been racing and winning since age 7

By Erik Gundersen, Columbian Trail Blazers writer


photoBrooke Schimmel

It's all pretty simple if you ask 13-year-old Brooke Schimmel.

It all started when she was with her father at a car show.

"People were promoting quarter midgets and they were handing out fliers. They had a car down there which you could go drive. I was 7 years old, and I went and did that. And I loved it."

Six years later, Brooke can't stop racing and hasn't finished outside of the top 10 in any of her races on the Legend Race Car Series. This is her first year racing Legends.

She's also been at least two years younger than any racer she's competed against.

Brooke was on the honor roll after finishing seventh grade at Woodland Middle School.

She got her start in the Quarter Midget cars, where drivers like Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and Bobby Labonte also got their start.

In her first year competitively driving Quarter Midget cars — which look like an oversized go-cart — she won Rookie of The Year and Junior Driver of The Year.

After she did that in 2008, they changed the rules so that nobody could win both again.

In total, she won three national championships before moving up to the Legends.

Brooke's parents, Jim and Jennifer, didn't even think Brooke would be the child who would embrace racing. They thought it would be their son, Gage, 11. He tried racing but prefers baseball, basketball, football and hockey.

Jim travels with Brooke and helps take care of the cars. His interest in cars has been a tradition passed down from father to son, and now father to daughter.

It's still a full family affair, with Jim's father even helping transport cars to locations for Brooke to race in.

Brooke practices at South Sound Speedway near Rochester, and her busy schedule has taken her all over the Western United States — as far as Texas and Ohio — for races.

According to her home track's website, she's fourth in total points on the year in the Legends series even though the Schimmels considered it a learning year.

"She just moves the bar so quickly of what she should be doing," said Jim, who works as an IT consultant.

Most big tracks in the area won't let her race because she's too young to meet the insurance standards.

While she is racing, Jim always tries to make their journeys about more than racing.

"You look at the landscape. We talk about how all these rocks out here at Shasta. Let's look at it, there's a map here," he said. "We talk about the volcanoes. We make it as much about the trip as we can."

Even at South Sound Speedway, about an hour north from Vancouver, Brooke and Jim sometimes won't come home until 2 a.m. from a day of racing.

Of course, it's not just the competition that Brooke enjoys.

"I do like going fast," she says.

When she started doing the Legends series, many people told her and her family that she would be lapped for most of the season. It hasn't happened.

She's won over 100 trophies in her six years of racing, and she hardly ever looks at them.

"She goes straight to the garage," Jennifer said.

She also devours races on TV.

"There's not really a particular race car driver I watch. I just watch racing, Formula One and NASCAR. I can't say that everybody else enjoys it very much," she laughed while looking at her mother and brother.

"Her cell phone is constantly going off," Jennifer said.

Those are flag-to-flag notifications from the NASCAR app on Brooke's phone.

Brooke also found a competitive side in racing, something she rarely exhibited in school when she was younger.

"She would let her friends win cause she didn't want to hurt their feelings. People are very surprised she's out there racing cars," Jennifer said. "She's like Jekyll and Hyde out there racing."

"And when things go bad she's unlike a lot of drivers," Jim said. "They get frustrated, scream, yell, cry and she's kind of always went 'I'll go get it next time. I'll take care of it.' "

There were some difficulties at first on the Legends series.

"Forty-year-olds don't like getting beat by a 13-year-old girl," Jennifer said.

But that quickly changed.

"A lot of them, they're some of her biggest fans," Jim said. "Last two races some of the older guys that were set in their ways, and they're joking with her now. They get out of the care and it's all fun. And that's how it's supposed to be."

If she continues racing and progressing through the ranks, she'll have to be home schooled, her family figures.

The next step would be the stock car series where the cars are worth six-figures and securing sponsorships are not a luxury but a way of life.

But right now, they insist they are still learning. While the results have come quickly and surprised even themselves, Brooke doesn't fit the mold of the archetypal child prodigy pushed into a competitive world.

Her parents still feel that the life lessons she's learning in this competitive environment will help her in the future, whether she goes pro or not. However, she's started becoming more vocal that this is what she wants to do.

This past weekend she was at a driving school in New Mexico and this coming weekend she'll be racing at her home track at South Sound Speedway.