As Amber Slagle is set to turn 25-years old next week, she will receive the biggest birthday gift of them all as she will make her first-career ARCA Menards Series West start in Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Irwindale Speedway.
For Slagle, this start in the West Series is a long time coming and it serves as a reminder to those on the verge of giving up on their dreams, to hang in there.
“It’s finally come together where I can make my ARCA debut,” Slagle told TobyChristie.com. “It’s just one of those never give up feelings, that I’ve worked so hard for this opportunity. Got the right people to notice how hard I work and how badly I want this. So, we’re going to make the best out of this opportunity and hope to put some more deals together.”
According to Slagle, the deal came together when her boss Bruce Cook convinced MMI Racing’s team owner to take a shot on her.
“Yeah, so Steve McGowen is the owner of all of this with Bruce Cook, who is my boss. We have been running David Mayhew a few times out West, then we started putting Zane Smith in the car, Bruce has always talked to Steve about me, saying how good I’ve been in the late models but for me, the money has just never been there to put a deal like this together,” Slagle explained. “Both of them got together and said, ‘Why don’t we give her a shot, you know? You say she’s really good in your late models, I’d like to see what she can do in my ARCA car,’ They came to me about it and it was a good feeling hearing that someone sees how hard you’ve worked and how bad you want this ride.”
If all goes well, this opportunity could lead to more for Slagle.
“We’re hoping to run good and do a couple of more out West this year and hopefully some more next year,” Slagle said.
While Slagle is a racer first-and-foremost, and this weekend is the realization of a dream, she has become a Jill of all trades in recent years in an effort to keep her career in the motorsports industry afloat, while she waits for opportunities like Saturday’s race.
But where did her passion for racing begin?
“My dad, actually. I am a first generation racer but my dad has always been huge into the sport and NASCAR,” Slagle explained. “He did drag racing himself for fun growing up. But for me growing up, my mom tried putting me in dance and cheerleading and I tried basketball and soccer and I wasn’t finding my niche in anything.
“My dad had a friend where his daughter raced quarter midgets, so he asked, ‘what do you think about putting her in a go kart?’ [My dad said] let’s take her testing and just try it. We didn’t tell my mom and my dad took me at 7 years old and put my in a go kart. And they couldn’t get me off the track. And from there, my dad knew he had to buy that car that night. We showed up in the drive way with a go kart in the back of my dad’s pickup truck. My mom freaked out . She wasn’t all for it at first until she realized how happy I was doing it and that it’s something I wanted to do. We just grew up doing it from there every weekend.”
From there, the native of West Bloomfield, Michigan kept cutting her teeth in the sport and methodically worked her way up the ranks.
Slagle started out in quarter midgets then moved to street stocks. The next step was late models and she even moved into the Pro Late Model division. According to Slagle she attempted to mirror the path up the ladder that fellow Michigan-native Erik Jones and even her childhood hero Jeff Gordon took.
“I just kept moving up at the short tracks up there,” Slagle said. “I am good friends with Erik Jones, and we both kind of took the same route. He progressed a lot faster than I did. But it was one of those things, where he would go into pro late models, and it was like okay that’s our next step. It just fell in line with a lot of bigger people. I have always looked up to Jeff Gordon and seeing the ranks he moved up. I just kept moving along those lines.”
While it seemed her path to being a professional race car driver was well on it’s way, Slagle ran into the issue that so many run into the motorsports industry, sponsorship dried up.
“Eventually sponsorship got hard and money got tight and I couldn’t do it up there anymore,” Slagle said. “I decided I wanted to move down to Mooresville. I’m so passionate about the sport, that I wanted to be involved. Whether it was driving or wrenching on race cars. That’s just my passion. And it’s worked out where I’ve been able to race down here.”
Since moving to Mooresville, Slagle has taken on numerous roles within Cook Racing Technologies. She has installed vinyl wraps on cars and she been a mechanic and she worked her way up to crew chief for Parker Retzlaff in the ARCA Menards East Series for 2021.
“I’ve worked for Bruce Cook and Cook Racing technologies for four years now,” Slagle recalled. “I started as a mechanic, and my knowledge was very slim when I started and he has taught me a whole lot. Over the winter, he said, ‘I want you to grow and keep learning things, is [being a crew chief] something you’d be open to wanting to do?’ And I said yes, because I feel it’s helpful to be able to learn those things and make calls myself and make changes and see how these cars are reacting to the things we are changing. Which is also going to help me driving. I have definitely learned a lot out of it. Bruce helps me with some of the calls and changes that we make, but it has helped my knowledge a lot and I’m glad I took that on this year.
Slagle, who has guided Retzlaff to four top-10 finishes in five starts this year, says that in addition to gaining knowledge of the technical side of the race cars, serving as crew chief has taught her a lot of patience.
“I think it’s taught me to be patient,” Slagle admits. “Especially being a driver, I always want to help. Sometimes you want to take over the car and show them what they need to do. But you can’t do that. Patience is a big thing I’ve learned out of it. But Parker has done a great job and we’ve had a lot of success with him this year. We finished fourth just a couple of weeks ago at Southern National and he ran all the way up to second, trying to pass for the lead. So, we’ve done really well. I think me and him have had a really good relationship together. He’s kind of like a younger brother to me, that’s how I look at it. He started in late models with us and he’s just moved up the ranks with us too. I’ve seen him progress and grow up.”
While being a crew chief and mechanic, and the various other titles that Slagle has added to her resume over the last few years are impressive, she is focused on the task at hand this weekend — getting behind the wheel.
With this being her maiden ARCA West race and it coming at a race track she has never visited before, what are her realistic expectations for Saturday’s race?
“I think as a race car driver, we all want to win. That’s always your goal going into the weekend, but I think looking into it, knowing it’s my debut and it’s my first time in one of these stock cars, I think a top-10 would be ideal for me and on the lead lap, finish all of the laps,” Slagle explained. “I think that’s kind of the goal, just finish all of the laps, get all of the knowledge I can out of the weekend and keep moving forward. A top-10 would definitely be big for me, and we’ll go from there on to the net one.”
If Slagle does go on to score a top-10 — or better — this weekend, she will have to thank owners of YouTube channels who have posted footage of past Irwindale races to the video streaming platform for being a huge part of getting her prepared for the race.
“I have been watching a lot of videos. I have never seen the place and I have never been there. I have been talking to people who have been there, have raced there and may have some good pointers for me,” Slagle said. “Just videos on YouTube, watching the previous K&N races there at the time. And really just trying to take all of the notes I can and just watch those races before I go on track. We only have an hour practice out there. So, just going to be kind of learning as much as I can off these videos and out of that hour practice before I race.”
But regardless of how Saturday’s race at Irwindale turns out, this is Slagle’s chance.
This is her opportunity to show the world what she can do behind the wheel of a race car. Her persistence has paid off and everything she has done leading up to this weekend has led to this moment. All of the blood sweat and tears, all of the putting her dream on hold to turn wrenches for someone else to drive the car, it will all culminate in her getting this chance.
No matter how things go, Slagle has proven she is a true racer and she will have the satisfaction of knowing she earned her opportunity the hard way.
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.