As I head into the last race of the season at the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, I reflect back to the start of this season and the whirlwind it’s been.
In addition to the close of the season, I have the opportunity to reflect on the recent end of the Seventeen magazine “Pretty Amazing” contest, which has been one of the coolest experiences of my life. This contest was different than anything I’ve ever done. It is a huge accomplishment to be one of the top-five finalists (out of 35,000 who entered) in the competition where one of us would be on the cover of Seventeen, a magazine that reaches 13 million monthly readers!
At the beginning of the season, everything was extremely hectic and I was fully focused on the start of my first full season since 2006 in a new series, learning a new craft. It was March and we were entering our second race of the season when my management group, BRANDed, came to me with yet another opportunity! Some of you may remember the video contest we did a year ago encouraging YOU to turn OFF your cell phones and “Don’t text and drive”. In all honesty, I wasn’t super enthusiastic about it because I was focused on the start of my season and my performance on the track. However, I went ahead and came up with a short essay and we went ahead and submitted an entry. Here’s what I wrote:
At age five, my family and I entered a world that would later shape my life, character, personality and future forever. The industry was racing and I would start driving racecars the same year I began Kindergarten in Miamisburg, Ohio. I was the kid at the front of the line, the kid who won the fundraising competitions, participated in Student Government, was involved in my school, graduated in the top ¼ of my class, was elected for homecoming court and a two year National Honors Society member. But I was different than everyone – always have been, always will be and that is something that has stuck with me, defined me and given me confidence. At age five, I won my first race and never looked back. At the age of fourteen, I started realizing I could pursue racing professionally. Between now and then, I’ve been through nonstop ups and downs giving it my all to find sponsorships, connections and the means to be a professional racecar driver. Today, I am a fully funded and paid racecar driver continuing the pursuit of being a professional driver in the Indianapolis 500. My dreams have fueled me and will continue to be the seed beneath my life motto, never ever ever give up.
Soon thereafter, we got a call back from Seventeen asking for a 20-minute video answering questions about myself, my family, my background and what I do. They also wanted to see my bedroom and a little bit more about my personality. The funny thing was, I had just gotten to Indianapolis for the month of May and was living in a short-term lease, white walled, and generally furnished apartment that would show none of my personality! So, I sat on the bed with a comforter that I’d never choose, bare white walls and explained to Seventeen about my crazy life, why I was where I was, and what I was doing.
After a string of a few more calls and videos, Ann Shoket, the magazine’s editor-in-chief “skyped” me and told me the great news. I was one of the five finalists and would be making the trip to NYC for a week where I’d do a top of the line cover photo-shoot, meet the other finalists and experience all kinds of awesome stuff.
Between the trip to New York City and the time that I found out, I was really too flat out with racing and concentrating on that to really think about what the trip would entail. MTV came to Milwaukee to do some filming prior to the race weekend and I also kept myself busy with other racing related “activities”.
Finally, the time came to go to NY and I finally spent some time “offline” and enjoying being a girl. From the time I arrived at one of the swankiest hotels in SoHo until the time that I departed, cameras followed close behind. The first night, us girls got to meet each other and have a surprise dinner together. The following day was the beginning of nonstop activities that Seventeen and Neutrogena would keep the five of us busy with.
The day started off with a trip to Hearst Corporation where we met Seventeen Editor-in-Chief, Ann Shoket, who told us we were going to be giving a short speech to an auditorium full of girls about our age, in thirty minutes! We all had a bit of time to come up with thoughts and most of the girls wrote their speeches on note cards. I wrote a few bullet points down but chose to speak from my heart and ditch the note cards. It was truly an inspiring moment for me to be able to tell my story to hundreds of girls who I’d never met but would possibly be able to make an impact on. After our speeches, we got to “meet & mingle” with all of the audience and then were told we’d be getting full-on makeovers. Seventeen created individual “looks” for each girl and mine was “Edgy Sweet.”
We went to a top-of-the line salon in the city and each of us got our trial looks in preparation for the following day; the photo-shoot! I got my hair colored a bit darker and trimmed. They also gave me some layers. It wasn’t a whole lot different but I definitely liked it.
The next day was day one of the photo-shoot and most definitely the best part of the trip. I don’t think I realized how big of a deal the whole thing was until I walked into the set and saw the professionalism and amount of people it took to put this thing together: a photographer with two assistants, a celebrity stylist and his two assistants, celebrity hair stylist and Herbal Essences spokesperson and his assistant, make-up artist and his assistant, nail artist, television crew, media, Seventeen executives, MTV executives, Neutrogena executives and tons of other random people which I had know idea who they were.
The process began and I started with make-up, went on to hair, then nails and stylists. They had the music up loud and the fans blowing (haha!). A few of the girls were super nervous but I was seriously excited and felt awesome, or should I say “Pretty Amazing”? The rest is hard to put into words so here are a few “behind the scene” photos.
That evening we met one of the judges, Jared Eng (founder of Just Jared—much like Perez Hilton’s celebrity gossip site) and had a dinner with him. We then had a somewhat early night to get rest for the second day of the shoot. The girls who hadn’t gone the first day went at the beginning of day two and in the afternoon we were surprised with the challenge of coming up with our own photo-shoot for all of the girls together. It was pretty fun and within an hour we had to make a set and come up with outfits. Check it out.
The final day was a red carpet luncheon and we started the day off with hair and make-up again. I got used to not having to do anything to get ready and after I returned from the trip wasn’t sure what to do without the pampering!! Speaking in front of a huge group of Seventeen and Neutrogena Executives about the amazing experiences of the week. We walked the red carpet, posed for the paparazzi individually and with actress and singer Miranda Cosgrove who was one of the contest judges. She was truly a sweetheart and really genuine. My speech went very well and it was a bittersweet ending to a great trip.
Of course all week, everyone was speculating who would win and wondering when they would tell us, but we heard that we wouldn’t find out until the “Pretty Amazing” special on MTV, which aired on August 30th at 8pm.
We were all asked who we’d want to win if we didn’t and without a blink of an eye I chose Zoe. We really hit it off and connected having similar stories of overcoming adversity. I am extremely happy and proud for Zoe because she is a very inspirational girl who has gone after her dreams and will do great things in her life.
Although I didn’t walk away with the cover, I walked away with a truly amazing experience and am proud to have been one of five out of 35,000 who applied.
I can’t thank all of the IndyCar community enough for all of your votes and encouragement throughout the whole thing. It’s been very humbling and an honor.
See you this weekend at Baltimore!