Racing’s in her blood |

Racing’s in her blood

NASCAR and Access Marketing’s Drive For Diversity Program selects a limited number of applicants each year to participate in a driver-development program that prepares participants for a potential career in racing. In 2007, Jessica Helberg applied for and participated in the program for a second time. She was signed by Antelope’s Bill McAnally Racing (BMR), in partnership with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) from North Carolina, to drive a late-model stock car in NASCAR’s All-American Whelen Series. That series races at All American Speedway in Roseville on most Saturday nights during race season (check the schedule at

Helberg, who turns 20 this weekend, has racing in her blood. “I’m a third generation driver, so I grew up around racing,” says Jessica, who didn’t get the opportunity to watch her grandfather drive but did get to see her father race at local dirt tracks in and around Petaluma. Her little brother was racing go-karts for a year before 12-year old Jessica decided she wanted to drive too. “My dad said he would let me as long as I proved that I could build a kart and work on it, because he said that was very important,” Helberg said. “I was able to put my little brother’s old kart together and go racing.”

Helberg ran outlaw dirt karts in northern California for a number of years before expanding her career to include racetracks in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Iowa and Missouri. In 2002 she set a new track record at the Yuba County Fairgrounds in Yuba City, Ca, was a main event winner in 2003 at Cycleland Speedway in Chico, CA and was the 2004 Indoor Kart Series Rookie of the Year at Silver Dollar Speedway, where she also finished second in points and became the first female to win an Open Outlaw Division main event. She also graduated from the Lyn St. James Invitational Driver Diversity Program, one of 24 female drivers from 13 states and two countries (England and Canada).

In 2005 Helberg switched to asphalt sprint cars, placing fifth in points overall in the CASA series (California Asphalt Sprintcar Association) and raced in USAC (United States Auto Club) sprint car events. She also participated in the Drive For Diversity program, ending up in a late model stock car last year, driving for Frank Pedregon Racing at Ace Speedway in North Carolina.

This year Helberg was signed by BMR, the only female chosen and one of only eight drivers selected to participate in the Drive For Diversity program. Helberg is definitely pleased with her new boss. “It was an honor, especially being picked up by one of the best teams,” she said. Being paired with RCR is an added perk. “I got Richard Childress’ autograph when I was probably 9 or 10, and I still have the hat,” Helberg said, “so I think that’s a dream come true, it’s surreal. For me, he’s still a superstar.”

Helberg also attends college at Sonoma State University, where she is a pre-nursing student planning on a degree in science, possibly biochemistry. “I love science, right now I don’t have the time to be a full-time nursing student, so I’m still considered pre-nursing,” she said. But if she had to choose between a racing career and continuing her studies, Helberg is clear about her choice: “It’s not difficult at all. Racing is my number-one priority. Right now I understand that because of my age, I need to jump on the opportunities placed in front of me,” Helberg says. “Right now I have the time to go to school, and I love going to school, and as long as I have the time, I’m going to do it, but I can always go back and I understand that, that’s what’s good about college. With racing you get your one shot and if you don’t make it, that’s it.”

A previous BMR driver, Allison Duncan, moved back east in 2006 to continue developing as a driver for RCR. Helberg hopes to follow in Duncan’s footsteps, after she gets more seat time with BMR. “Here on the west coast you’re out of the spotlight so you can learn, but at the same time, when you do do well, you have the connections back east to let the right people know,” Helberg said. “Bill (McAnally) has the time and the patience to work with the new driver, and then, when they’re ready, they can move up to RCR on the east coast, which is ultimately where you need to be at the higher levels of NASCAR.”

Mooresville, North Carolina, near Charlotte, is right in the heart of NASCAR country, and Helberg is no stranger to that area after her experience driving for Frank Pedregon Racing. “Ultimately I’m going to end up there, and I know that, that’s where I want to be,” Helberg says, “so right now I’m coming home, racing for a great team. I know as I grow in my career I’m going to be right back where I was (in Mooresville).

Helberg is currently fifth in the points standing in the 2007 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, with 11 races to go. Her next race is on June 2 at Roseville’s All American Speedway. More information about Jessica Helberg is available at and Information about the Drive For Diversity program is available at

Update: Natalie Russell, local diesel truck pull competitor, is featured in this month’s Diesel Power magazine. Russell was featured in the November 17, 2006 issue of Wheels. Way to go, Nat!

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