After a couple of years out of the cockpit, 2014 and 2015 Team USA Scholarship recipient Michai Stephens returns to the track this season as part of JMF Motorsports’ GT4 line-up.
As a little boy, the idea of being a race car driver was always at the forefront of my mind. Yet the crippling reality of realizing I had absolutely no idea how I was going to make it work, let alone get others to join in on my belief, terrified me. As a result, the dream found a home within my subconscious for many years until a string of events snapped it back into focus.
Eight years ago, having chosen to step away from my studies as an industrial design major, I found myself atop a roof, working construction in the city of Chicago in the presence of clarity and a dear friend, Mr. Luke Mac. We chatted about life, aspirations and what regrets we might have to live with. At that moment, I shared with him, “I want to be a race car driver,” and true to form, Luke responded by saying, “Well then, what are you waiting for, go do it!” He was right. I was done feeling hollow, and it was time to share my aspirations with the world and set sail on my journey.
My revelation was quickly supported by a shocked family and friends, yet as I began to transition thought into action, my first encounters within the industry were quite discouraging. The sheer cost, accessibility, my lack of connections and people’s belief in my likelihood for success hit home and hit hard. However, what came of this was an early lesson to learn from everyone and everything I came across, regardless of my own personal opinion. It quickly became apparent that pitfalls would litter the early stages, but I remained hopeful that empowering moments were on the horizon.
As the lessons and time piled on, so did the pressures of reality both in and out of the car. Yet each individual lesson contributed to the development and understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. Soon, I was starting to see a transformation in my character, breadth of knowledge, understanding of people and sense of appreciation. Stepping into a world filled with “thinkers” and “do-ers” was inspirational, yet intimidating as well. Up until this point, I had never experienced such an environment or group of people seeking to deliver on their full potential day in and day out, and so I realized, welcome to the pursuit of excellence and understanding for passion!
Fast-forward to 2021, and it is with absolute joy I will be making my return to the cockpit of a racing car as a driver for John Farrow’s JMF Motorsports GT4 program in concert with Conquest Racing West and co-driver Marco Kacic. The simple act of writing such a statement warms my heart and waters my eyes, because it is a reminder that my dream is still alive! Having been a passenger to the rollercoaster of life for the last five years, things have finally come full circle. Like the beautiful blue marble that we live on, I have stayed true to my journey around the sun – with a singular goal in mind.
The last time many of you heard from me, I was either working with various racing schools, doing contracted trackside or online coaching, assisting in inner city youth development and or coming to grips with an appointed managerial position. Needless to say, every single experience prepared me for the privileges that I enjoy today. In credit to the wonderful duo of Stan and Diana Bernacki from Bernacki and Associates, Chicago’s leading fine art and furniture conservation company, I was able to stay afloat and learn invaluable lessons during a rocky 2020. To honor their good graces, I have directly applied many of my responsibilities onto my new position at Team Stradale as the race team manager and full-time instructor.
To be in the company of race cars, a race track (Autobahn Country Club), like-minded people and belief in my future is a tremendous gift and a true reflection on the time that has passed. In only three weeks’ time, we will close out one chapter and begin a new one. Like before, the content to this part of the story will grow before our eyes, yet I can assure you this one will have some racing in it!
Later this month, JMF Motorsports and Conquest Racing West will visit Sonoma Raceway to kick off the NASA’s West Coast Endurance Championship series. With plans on the horizon to transition into SRO towards the end of the year, an opportunity to wet our whistles before charging into proper battle is perfect. It is time to become a student of the game once again, and I could not be more excited than to be doing it with the group that we have.
To everyone who has contributed to the sculpting of my journey these past few years, thank you. I can hardly wait to get things rolling and cannot thank John Farrow enough for sharing his passion with me and this team . . . Let’s get to it – green, green, green!