Verena Mei: Model, actress, rally racer with a passion for motorsports

Mei motorsports

One of the most compelling aspects of motorsports is its breadth and Verena Mei has found a unique niche that allows her to use her variety of experience to add value to brands that need exposure.

Model, actress, spokesperson, stunt car driver, rally and drift racer, Mei is a brand ambassador who also knows how to navigate a track.

“I was modeling for automotive companies and they would send me to races, week after week,” Mei told NBC Sports. “This was going on for three years and during that time I learned a lot about motorsports and cars.

“I had no initial experience in the motorsports industry. So I asked a million questions, because I had originally majored in mechanical engineering, so I had that mechanical curiosity about how things work and what are you doing.

“I have to know what you’re doing.”

Curiosity for curiosity’s sake will only last for so long. So Mei had to find a way to apply that knowledge.

“After three years, I had the knowledge and the passion for motorsports,” Mei said. “So one day I woke up and said, I’m going to race. Racing is what I want to do.’

Mei was not sure how to break into the industry, but knew that at its core, racing is about control and what to do when cars get sideways. Without access to a dirt car or paved late models where many burgeoning drivers start their odyssey, Mei hit upon the next best thing.

She went to stunt driving school.

And that is where the passion grew. It was her first experience with performance driving.

From there, she transitioned to Formula Drift and Rally America. Both disciplines taught her how to race by the seat of her pants. Training for rally racing with Tim O’Neil in the Team O’Neil Rally School in New Hampshire wetted her appetite for real world competition. She quickly became successful. She was part of the TrueCar Racing Women Empowered Initiative.

In Mei’s first year with the Rally America series, she completed all of the races and was part of the first all-female team to win one of their championships in the B-Spec division. She placed fourth overall in the two wheel drive National Championship.

Her film credits include acting and stunt driving for Hawaii 5-0, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Rush Hour 2 and work with Sky Witness Network. She hosted a car-review show “Sexy Road Test” for Comcast & Time Warner Digital Cable – generally doing what was needed to fuel her need for speed.

With the COVID-19 pandemic slowing down opportunities in real-world series, Mei made the transition to Sim Racing in a big way. She found rigs and equipment that translated the feel of an actual car to her virtual race setup.

These days, you can find her hosting or driving in races on Among her other credits, Mei is a game streaming host for Xbox Studios and Forza Motorsports.

“I’ve always wanted to race all over the world and I’ve not been able to do that in real life, so with Sim Racing I get to experience what it’s like to race at different tracks – the most famous tracks all over the world, which I probably will never get a chance to do,” Mei said.  “Getting behind the wheel of my sim, I have the ability to find those braking points to translate my real life skills to the virtual track.”

And don’t be surprised if that experience allows her to move back and forth from virtual reality to the real world.

In a Post-COVID-19 world, Mei would like to get back into drift car racing.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)