Rachel Kerswill is the 2014 SCCA Solo National Championship champion in C Street Ladies.
Rachel Kerswill has been to two SCCA Solo National Championships. The fact that her winning percentage is now at 50 percent isn’t that unusual. The unusual part is that she went from worst to first.
Granted, there were a few years between trips to Lincoln, Neb., for the country’s biggest autocross event; but probably more relevant was the difference in commitment.
“I got involved when I was a lot younger,” says the University of Nevada, Reno Junior. “My mom autocrossed before me; she started when I was about 10 or 11. As soon as I was old enough, I was in the car, taking rides with her. I turned 16 and got started with it and did it pretty seriously for about a year, then tapered off a little bit. Then she started being a little more serious about autocross, started doing more national-level competitions, and I could see how much she enjoyed it and it started to grow on me a little bit. In ’09 when I graduated high school, she won her first National Championship and that really kind of inspired me to want to do it. I get why she likes it so much.”
Rachel’s mother Debbie has now won two titles, the one in 2009 in B Stock Ladies and one in 2012 in Street Touring Extreme Ladies, both in an RX-8. So it’s no wonder that Rachel also competes in an RX-8. But the journey from someone that was having a good time competing on a regular basis to a National Champion took a bit of work.
“This year I took over timing in the Reno Region, so I had to be at events. Driving at every event, I started to feel like I was getting stuck in my driving. So I asked around, asking other people, ‘What are you doing that I’m not doing?’ As I saw my driving level grow, I got to the point where it was like, ‘Yes, I want to do more national-level competitions.’ That’s where I got to the point that I wanted to compete at Nationals.”
So she made the long drive from Reno to Lincoln, getting there early with her co-driver, Ahren Renner, so they could get several good looks at the courses. “We walked it between 8 and 10 times. We talked about how we would do different corners; when we would disagree, we bounced ideas off each other, which was really helpful to see somebody else’s perspective on the course,” she says.
Then it was time to line up.
Rachel’s main competition would be multi-time National Champion Meredith Brown, and Rachel wasn’t thinking her chances were very good. But she ended up only 0.2 seconds behind after three runs on the first course and, with the car handling fantastically, she began to think she might have a shot.
“Wednesday was so much pressure. I knew I was within reach of winning, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. My original plan going into Wednesday was I was going to do the first run as crazy and fast as humanly possible. I wasn’t going to worry about being super clean or super precise. I’m just going to drive like a crazy person. That ended up being my fastest run of the day. The next run I dialed it back and tried to be more precise, but the first run ended up being the run that worked out,” she says.
Indeed, she ran the second course almost a full second faster than Brown, who had cone trouble on her first two runs and thus needed a clean run on her third. Kerswill’s winning margin was three-quarters of a second; not bad for her second time at Nationals and going into the second day with a deficit to a multi-time titlist, a situation that would throw a lot of people off.
“I feel like I work better with the nerves,” Kerswill says. “The nerves make me pay attention to what I want and try that much harder. So being nervous, I think, is part of what made me drive faster. All that time I was on course, I was kind of like reminding myself to, ‘Go faster, go faster, go faster. Don’t back off the gas. You CAN make it through this corner.’ I try to channel the nerves more than overcome them.”
It seems to work for her. Now she’ll be back in her home region of Reno competing at local events, although with a bit more cred than before. She also would love to try other forms of motorsports, and feels like autocross is a good basis, but doesn’t know how she’s going to make the jump. In the end, though, it’s a hobby, as the General Studies major is looking at switching her major to engineering. Perhaps one day she’ll be engineering other drivers to championships as well….
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