ABOVE: Michai‘s open-wheel dream started from his earliest years and, at 22, he was testing at Indianapolis. Next up: representing the Team USA Scholarship in the UK.
Michai Stephens, along with Aaron Telitz, will represent the Team USA Scholarship in the upcoming Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy events in England.
Jimmy Vasser was awarded the inaugural Team USA Scholarship in 1990. Subsequent winners have included Bryan Herta, Memo Gidley, Buddy Rice, Phil Giebler, Andy Lally, Joey Hand, Bryan Sellers, A.J. Allmendinger, Charlie Kimball, J.R. Hildebrand, Dan Cameron, Joel Miller, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, Connor De Phillippi, Spencer Pigot, Trent Hindman, Tristan Nunez and Matthew Brabham.
Ever wondered what it would be like to live out your greatest dream; to wake up every morning with desire, passion, love, and most importantly, gratitude for every step that you take? I’m talking about your heart’s greatest desire! I have recently been blessed with such a feeling. My childhood dream was and will always be to become an open-wheel racing driver. About 10 months ago that vision became tangible as my dream took its first step towards reality.
My name is Michai Estin Stephens, born January 22, 1992, from Evanston, Ill. I am the eldest of three sons and a first-generation racing driver. At age 22 I have come to respect and believe that things happen for a reason. No matter the outcome something can always be taken away from the situation.
In 2011 I attended Arizona State University in pursuit of an Industrial Design degree. My hopes were to design a vehicle that I would one day be able to drive on a proper racing circuit. That’s what I believed to be the most logical path to getting behind the wheel, and boy was I wrong! At year’s end I came to a crossroad – continue with my studies, or face the chance of possibly becoming a racing driver. For the first time in my life I searched “how to become a racecar driver” and the Skip Barber Racing School was there with the answer.
In 2012 I was invited to participate in the first annual Skip Barber INDYCAR Academy Shootout based on my performance in a 3 Day Racing School and a 2 Day Advanced Racing School. I would finish fourth out of 32 competitors. The following year I participated once more and secured top honors in the 2013 Skip Barber INDYCAR Academy shootout, earning a scholarship to race in the 2014 Summer Series.
The stars aligned once more in my favor. RaceCraft1 Motorsports Training was also offering a scholarship to the winner of the shootout. A formal meeting was held on Jan. 25, 2014, just three days after my 22nd birthday. An understanding of both parties’ commitment level was reached and became the greatest birthday gift of all! To push the envelopes of development was our goal. Since then, over 50 days of training have transpired. RaceCraft1 has played a monumental role in my racing career, allowing me to take full advantage of every on track opportunity. Opening up a plethora of knowledge that is kept close to me both on and off the track is only a start. Words alone cannot express my immense appreciation for the work we have done as we continue to look into the future, willing to learn and to grow.
By competing in the Skip Barber Summer Series, my opportunities and my understanding of racing and the racing community have continued to grow. I currently stand second in championship points with two race weekends left on the calendar. My efforts within the series landed yet another opportunity of a lifetime. I was selected as one of six candidates for the 2014 Team USA Scholarship Shootout. My jaw hit the floor when I heard the news.
Such a consideration has allowed me to refine my approach to racing and my future. The Team USA Shootout pitted me against some of the brightest young talents in the sport. It also introduced me to the many people who have played an influential role in the racing community. I had the pleasure of getting to know these individuals as I studied to see what made them so successful. It was very comforting to see such prestigious racing personalities being everyday people, just like you and me. I walked away from the Shootout having experienced a new car, track, and tire. I gained new friends and supporters, plus a greater respect for the sport that I love.
Returning home the following day allowed me to retrieve my jaw from the floor. The very next day I received word about the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Given the circumstances, I was facing a slim chance of getting in the car and participating in one of the practice sessions. Two one-hour sessions would be held on Saturday and two sessions on Sunday. I had absolutely no time to waste and thanks to tremendous friends and family I was able to secure travel arrangements to be in Indy that Friday afternoon.
Upon arriving at the Speedway and meeting the team, I was cemented in place with glazed eyes. A wave of emotions overcame me as the truly wonderful team of ArmsUp Motorsports welcomed my dream and me with open arms. I spent most of Friday and all of Saturday helping the team with preparations. My spare time was spent obtaining the proper forms needed for me to be released on track the next day. Thanks to many wonderful people present at the Speedway, I received the green light to test on Sunday. In disbelief I realized the only proper safety equipment I had in my possession was helmet and racing shoes. I began searching far and wide for the other essentials. I was pleasantly surprised by the sense of unity found in the sport. Many folks were happy to loan their gear to help make this opportunity come to life.
Sunday morning came in a flash! The chance of a lifetime was just ahead. Everything about that day felt, and still feels surreal. Not a moment passed where my appreciation and respect for what I was doing lingered. The day was filled with many first time experiences – walking in and out of the team trailer and garage, riding the team scooter, interacting with an engineer and racing team, getting towed by the tug, communication by radio, driving the car to and from the garage, and finally turning laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One could say that many boxes had been checked!
I will never forget those who helped me achieve these experiences. If it weren’t for your love and support, none of this would have been possible. At this stage in my life, I wouldn’t change it for the world. My childhood dream is becoming an evolving reality right before my eyes. With a maturing understanding of life and its great fortunes, I only hope and pray that many others one day can feel what I feel now!