Why Verena Mei Isn't Afraid of Taking on the Boys
Mei enjoying some air time in 2013 at the 100 Acre Wood Rally in Salem, Missouri.
Mei, who grew up in Hawaii, didn't always feel the need for speed. One of her first postcollege gigs was as a poster model for a tire company in Las Vegas. The job—signing merchandise, chatting up customers—was easy but unfulfilling. "Within a year I realized I belonged in the driver's seat," she says. Her decision to switch gears rubbed some the wrong way—"People who'd been nice to me as a model just didn't take me seriously"—but she forged ahead. After dabbling in drag racing (short, straight shots) and road racing (on paved courses), the hot rodder found her sweet spot: rallying.
Like all ralliers, Mei drives a souped-up street-legal car and sees a course only once before a competition. In her five years of racing, a lot has gone right: Four years ago, she became the only woman in Rally America history to be nominated for Rookie of the Year. But things do go wrong, like when vehicles malfunction or skid off course. Mei had her own close call in 2013, when she flew off a cliff at an Oregon rally. "Luckily, I hit a tree," she says, "Otherwise, I would've rolled all the way to the bottom." Scary, right? "I'm scared all the time!" Mei says. "But I know what I'm capable of. And if I push myself a little more each time, then I'll be that much faster."