Born to race: ASU alumna on the road to becoming an amateur race car driver

woman posing in front of race car

As a young woman, Arizona State University alumna Lisa Clark fondly remembers spending the weekends with her dad riding dirt bikes in the Arizona desert, tinkering in the garage and working on cars.

Over the years her interest in motorsports remained but took a backseat as she became a mother, a successful business owner and a real estate agent. In 2013, when her daughters were grown and moved out, Clark decided it was time to start a new chapter and further explore her passion for motorsports.

“I think for a lot of women that have reached this stage in life that have had kids, your life becomes really focused on the family unit and supporting your partner. Your identity can get lost in the family unit — because you're the mother, the wife, the caretaker — in a lot of ways, you kind of lose that sense of self,” Clark said. “I didn't realize a lot of that until I became really into motorsports and found that this was a passion of mine.”

After eight years of tirelessly working her way up in the racing world, Clark is now going into her sixth season as an amateur race car driver in the Ferrari Challenge series. She also does endurance racing in Europe with Audi and Porsche. But her journey wasn’t without a few bumps in the road.

“Being a woman in a male-dominated sport is a challenge,” she said. “I also had a pretty bad crash in Daytona right before COVID-19 hit. It was opening day and we had a test day for the season. I broke quite a few bones. Overcoming that was a big challenge for me.

“I remember my daughter flew to Florida where the crash was, and she said, ‘Mom, OK, you're done with racing. That's it; it's over.’ I just looked at her and I said, ‘I can't stop this career path I've been on, that I have so much passion and love for, just because of a big setback, right?’ You have to get back on the horse. I didn’t want to finish my career in motorsports with a bad crash. I had to overcome that.”

Clark, who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1988, will be recognized for her accomplishments as one of The College Leaders for 2021. She shared more about how her degree prepared her for her career and what motivates her to succeed.

MORE: 4 outstanding ASU alumni honored as The College Leaders of 2021

woman's portrait

Question: Why did you decide to attend ASU?

Answer: I'm from Arizona. So going back to my roots, it was nice to remain a part of that. I started at Scottsdale Community College and put myself through school. At the time I was looking to get into sports medicine and they were just starting to offer a program. So that was my plan, because I was a gymnast. But then the path changed along the way, and I ended up in psychology. I think for me, it was a good fit to take that path in psychology.

Q: How did your program in The College help prepare you for your career?

A: Being a psychology major helped prepare me for my career in real estate when dealing with people, and not necessarily like-minded people, that have an interest in purchasing real estate. You're trying to manage the personality of someone you don't really know while establishing a relationship on both a professional and personal level. And there's negotiations involved, obviously. 

Understanding psychology in racing is also very important because you have to be aware of not only your relationship with people that you're racing against on the track, but also the team and your pit crew. You're dealing with a lot of like-minded people because you share the same passion and there's a lot of respect there. But it's a highly competitive business, and a lot of the personality types can shift in high-stress situations. So you're thinking a lot about behavior patterns with drivers while you're racing, neck and neck, inches away from somebody, at high speeds. In the psychology classes that I remember taking, we learned about all aspects of personality types. It was a really interesting thing to compile in my education packet for life.

In motorsports, you really can't allow other thoughts to come into your head because you're living in the moment. You're living in the second. Things come at you so rapidly. I really like that feeling. All my worries go away once I step in the car."

— ASU psychology alumna and amateur race car driver Lisa Clark

Q: What is your favorite part about your chosen career path?

A: A lot of people think, "Oh my gosh, she must be an adrenaline junkie" and "You must love the rush." But I'm not an adrenaline junkie at all. A lot of us aren't. It's more about being in a space where you're in control, trying to maintain control of this machine. With athletes, it's all about the zone. Everyone talks about getting in the zone. … In motorsports, you really can't allow other thoughts to come into your head because you're living in the moment. You're living in the second. Things come at you so rapidly. I really like that feeling. All my worries go away once I step in the car.

Q: What has been your biggest motivation to succeed professionally?

A: It's all about inner peace. To me, professionally succeeding is feeling good about what you are accomplishing and not comparing yourself to other people's success. That's hard to do. But if you can really just look at your successes in life as things you’ve challenged yourself on, that's the satisfaction for me. Not letting other people judge your successes, and even if they are, it's not about them. 

I think we all have a tendency to compare ourselves to others and where we think we should be. Just because we see somebody else doing something, and we might not think that we can attain that, or we can't be as successful as them. If you can just pull yourself inward and look at what you're doing and how you're feeling about what you're challenging yourself on, that to me is success in life.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

A: In 10 years I want to be able to look back and be able to say I experienced a lot and I had a lot of tough times along the way, but I had a lot of successful times along the way as well. I still have time left here to still create and do and be. For me it's not about the long-term goals. I think we all learned a lot this past couple of years with the pandemic that it's really about the now. What do we want now? How can we be happy? It's not five years from now. It's not 10 years from now. It's all about little moments now, creating them and making them for yourself.

Top image: Lisa Clark posing with her Ferrari race car.

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