Sophia Bauer and Ashleigh Strain seem like your typical, American grade schoolers. Both are polite, somewhat shy and soft-spoken - but they have something in common, a specific trait that is atypical of most girls their age. They have developed a case of "lead foot," that has transformed them into two of the fiercest go-kart drivers in Southern Oregon.
"We call them the 'Girlz from the Beach'," said Sophia's father, Chad, who used to race sprint cars with a group dubbed, "Boyz from the Beach."
For the past two years, Sophia and Ashleigh have raced go-karts at tracks in Roseburg and Medford, earning the respect of their competition while filling up the trophy case.
Both girls race for BSR Outlaw Kart Racing and compete at events at Roseburg's River Arena Speedway and the Southern Oregon Karters Track at the Jackson County Sports Park in Medford. The girls have earned reputations for being tough competitors who earn top-3 finishes.
"I love when I go fast and everyone has a great time," said Sophia, 7, who attends Kalmiopsis Elementary School in Brookings.
Last season, the second-grader, who races in the Beginner Box Stock Class, took third-place overall in the final points standings at the River Arena Speedway, and has won two main event races and a trophy dash race in her young career.
"She's definitely more confident and more outspoken with the other racers," said Chad, owner of Bauer Auto Body and Paint and a BSR team manager. "She's made a lot of friends that she races with."
Eleven-year-old Ashleigh races in the Box Stock Class and has driven her QRC kart to a main event win, a trophy dash victory, and a top-3 finish in more than 80-percent of her races. Driving at speeds upwards of 50 miles-per-hour, Ashleigh finished fourth in the points standings at Roseburg last season, even though she was unable to attend one of the points races.
"I like that I'm only one of very few people that get to do it," said Ashleigh, about what she loves about racing.
Ashleigh's father, Chris, also sees the benefits racing has had on his daughter.
"She's real quiet and timid but when she out on the track she's totally a different person," he said. "It's definitely given her more confidence. She's more vocal and outgoing now."
Both speedsters have also learned to deal with fear, as they both admit to having butterflies before each race.
"Once I get going (the butterflies) go away and I just race," said Ashleigh. "On the track I don't get scared or nervous. It's when I'm sitting in the car waiting to get on the track."
"I just have a feeling that I'm shaking in the car because I'm not doing it right," admitted Sophia. "After I start a race, that just goes away."
The nerves are understandable, as the girls race top-of-the-line racing karts against up to 10 other competitors per race.
The QRC karts the girls race in no way resemble the lawnmower engine, mail-order go-karts of yesteryear. Modern karts resemble sprint cars more than anything else, and with a Subaru-built, 9-horsepower engine, they are nearly as fast.
At a recent race in Medford, Ashleigh crashed when she clipped some slower traffic she was lapping. A video from her car's camera shows the car hurling down the track then suddenly getting thrown on to its right side. Ashleigh then waved her hands quickly, but not because she was in danger or acting out of frustration.
"In my head I was just screaming, 'Let's go! Let's go! Let's go!'" she said, imploring track officials to get her race kart right side up so she could continue racing. "I wanted to get back on the track."
That love of the sport and intense competitiveness has been instilled in them by Chad Bauer, who, along with the rest of the BSR team, holds them to a few simple guidelines if they want to race: They must maintain good grades and show good sportsmanship. It's that support system that has helped the girls achieve success in such a short amount of time.
Costing upwards of $400 per weekend to race, the team has put forth much effort in gaining sponsorships from local businesses such as Vista Pub, Freeman Rock and Design Graphics, to name a few. Friends, family, and organizations have also chipped in to assist in the funding needed to allow Ashleigh and Sophia the opportunity to race.
"We couldn't have done it without the sponsors," said Ashleigh's mother, Sherry.
Both girls have plans to continue racing as they get older. Sophia hopes to follow in her father's footsteps and race sprint cars, while Ashleigh has her eyes set on racing in the Daytona 500.
For more information about go-kart racing contact Chad Bauer at Bauer's Auto Body and Paint at 541-412-2900.