(Editor’s note: Last in a series highlighting drivers such as Sara Price in Extreme E, which will begin its inaugural season this weekend in Saudi Arabia)
Sara Price was a rising star in the dirt motocross world when the bottom dropped out on her dream.
After Price had signed a deal with Kawasaki as a teenager, the 2008 economic downturn battered women’s motocross with sponsorship exits and declining exposure that left her career in peril.
“My whole childhood I traveled around the U.S. racing dirt bikes and climbing the ladder,” Price told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “I won tons of championships. I was one of the first factory females ever. But at the end of day, my 18th birthday was coming up, and my parents were like, ‘Hey, they just took TV out of your series. And sponsors are really hard to come by now. What are we going to do? What’s your future?’
EMPOWERING WOMEN: W Series champion hoping Extreme E will continue momentum
“This isn’t what we thought it would have been after all the work and dedication and sacrificing my childhood to basically reach that dream. It just kind of was like a big turn in my life.”
The Canyon Lake, California, resident made a hard right into adulthood. She bought a house, started a painting business and capitalized on some fortunate connections to become a unionized Hollywood stunt woman (working in a Super Bowl commercial and with major companies such as Microsoft).
But she also didn’t give up on racing entirely, using the reset in her personal life to also begin again professionally a few years later in off-road racing, first with a UTV and then moving to stadium and trophy trucks.
“It was this big transition in my life,” Price said. “I had to go from thinking I had a future in racing and was going to make money to realizing there wasn’t any money to be made in it to then starting my own business and then buying my own race car and continue racing four wheels instead of two.
“You have to have funding, and I was struggling just to have my motocross funded, let alone making my living. So it was kind of like all right, what do I do? I want to race. This is what I love to do. I went from motocross, started my own business to pay bills, used that money to buy a car. One thing led to another and the whole thing started over again.”
It’s led Price, 28, this weekend to Saudi Arabia for the inaugural event in the new Extreme E.
After becoming the first driver named last year in the environmentally conscious series that races 550-horsepower electric SUVs, Price made history Friday as the first on course to practice in the Odyssey 21 for the Desert X Prix.
“It’s just so crazy and so cool,” Price said in an Extreme E release. “It’s already been such a journey and an adventure.”
Extreme E is also focused on gender equity with 10 teams each fielding a man and woman whose scores count equally toward the overall standings.
Chip Ganassi Racing has teamed Price with Kyle LeDuc, another American with a championship background in off-road racing. Though both are relatively new to electric-powered vehicles (Price’s only experience was driving a Tesla), the Ganassi team was pleased by a 50 percent power test in an area near Las Vegas and a full-power preseason test in Spain.
— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) April 1, 2021
They will be facing a stacked field of drivers from various disciplines (including sports cars and Formula One), but Price and LeDuc should have an edge with handling and suspension knowledge in the desert.
Price said they set fast laps in each of their categories during preseason testing (though LeDuc did have a crash during Friday’s shakedown).
— Extreme E (@ExtremeELive) April 2, 2021
“They have us on pretty much lockdown for what we’re allowed to do to the vehicle to keep us on a very even playing field this first year,” she said. “Which I really like because it makes it more of a drivers’ race. But yeah, we definitely were ahead of the game in figuring out setup and getting comfortable in the vehicle.”
Price also benefits from the engineering history in myriad series for Ganassi, which currently also fields teams in IndyCar, IMSA and NASCAR.
The Extreme E team employs Ganassi engineers who also are working on sports cars and stock cars.
“They’ve been able to teach me a lot about the data, the behind the scenes on what makes the cars work properly,” Price said. “Now it’s not necessarily a mechanical change, you go into the computer, and that’s how you make a difference in the vehicle. It’s been a lot of learning, but I love it. I think the power is great. I think the capabilities of being able to change it and make it what you’d like it to be is just tremendously more than what you can from a mechanical standpoint of, let’s say, trophy trucks.”
— Chip Ganassi (@GanassiChip) March 31, 2021
The biggest adjustment? The noise, or relative lack of it.
“You don’t realize it until you’re (driving), when it’s wow, do we really hit this much rocks on a normal basis, or are we just hearing this now because we don’t have an engine,” Price said with a laugh. “The heart rate is probably a little bit lower because of not having the engine. But no matter what, when you’re racing, you still feel it, and the rocks and debris hitting the underside of the car, it’s pretty loud. It’s not quiet by any means hearing those things.”
Price has grown accustomed to the cockpit noise in recent years as she has risen through the ranks of becoming a title-contending off-road driver. She cites the 2019 season as the breakout that earned her the ride with Ganassi.
Price became the first woman to win the SCORE International Trophy Truck Spec. championship in ’19 and also completed the Baja 1000 solo – spending more than 19 hours alone in her truck while racing more than 800 miles.
“I Ironwoman-ed the entire series, so the 250, the 500, the 400 and 1000, and I also won the championship, which is unheard of because usually you split those races with multiple drivers,” she said. “That gained a lot of respect as not just luck. But it was also the grit to do all that under the circumstances and still win.”
It was a pleasing change of narrative for Price, who believes the support for women’s motocross dwindled because “we got overshadowed by the male program. When the series came up to money or something when they were struggling, women were the first to be pushed out. I think it came down to funding and sponsors, and just when times got tough, we were first to kind of go.
“That’s why transferring from motocross to cars, I really appreciated the fact that being male or female didn’t matter. You can be just as competitive. In motocross, I do believe we don’t have as strong upper bodies as men, and that’s such a big thing on a dirt bike, and so it is very hard to be at a men’s national level of competitiveness. We kind of had to be segregated in a way. I think when it comes down to money in the end, and we’re first to go when that’s the case.”
COUNT ME IN CHALLENGE: Price embraces opportunity to make difference
Extreme E will offer women such as Price, Jamie Chadwick (the inaugural champion of the W Series) and Laia Sanz (a Dakar veteran and champion motorcyclist) the opportunity to post competitive results against three-time Dakar Rally winner Carlos Sainz and rally legend Sebastian Loeb.
“This is huge for women in motorsports,” Price said. “I’m a big advocate for being a female is no different than being a male in the sport. When we put the helmet on, we’re the same racer. There’s no difference in your gender as the athlete in a driver’s seat.
“But it’s super awesome because not a lot of people pick the female out of a group of 100 males to get an opportunity. And this is giving those females that might not ever had the chance to really show their true talents.”
Price, who recently signed a deal as a new Monster Energy athlete, is hoping the exposure and success in Extreme E could be a springboard for racing the world-famous Dakar Rally.
She has been in a relationship for more than a year with motorcyclist Ricky Brabec, a fellow Southern Californian who was the first American to win the Dakar Rally in 2020 and finished second in 2021 in the motorcycle division.
“One of my dreams before Ricky was to go to Dakar, and I still want that very badly,” said Price, who hopes to race a UTV or a car. “So it’s been really awesome to have his support and also be his support for everything he has going as well.
“Hopefully I’m at the finish line holding up the trophy with him one year at Dakar.”
NBC Sports is proud to celebrate Women’s History Month.
Bookmark the On Her Turf blog: www.nbcsports.com/on-her-turf