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SuperStories: In the Moment with Jessica Zemken

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Tearoffs by Lew Boyd-2/10/14

She’s smart, pretty, and quick as the wind tunneling down that racing-rich Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. Her partner is megastar Dirt Modified driver Stewart Friesen.

This season she’ll be leaving her Sprint Car and tearoffs at home on Saturdays. Following a spectacular maiden appearance at the Oswego Classic last fall, she will be full-time aboard the Corr-Pak/Ray Graham big block Supermodified on the pavement of the “Steel Palace.”

I have followed Jessica Zemken for years, having known her family from back when I was racing at Fonda. Clearly JZ has reached a tipping point in her career and her life.

Here’s what she has to say:

I remember it so clearly. It was 2008. We were at Ohsweken up in Ontario for a World of Outlaws Sprint Car race. It must have looked like a struggle and it was. There were just the two of us, Mom and me, the car, no spares, same set of tires all night long. We had qualified through the B main and were getting ready for the A. Mom was under the car changing the gears, and this guy walked up to me and announced he wanted to help. No one had ever said that before, so I asked him what in the world he meant. He said he wanted to sponsor me! I couldn’t believe it. It was John Brush of Corr-Pak Merchandising. And let me put it this way: I have talked with John and his wife, Wendy, every day since.

It’s hard to explain how tough the road has been.

My mom is an optometrist in Ft. Plain (NY). My dad had a repair shop and always raced stock cars. Mom went to Boston for her training so she could improve our lives, so during the week I was with Dad a lot – and, of course, I went to watch him race on the weekends.

I just loved the cars – and Dad’s guys became like my brothers. I never wore pink or a dress. My hands were greasy. Guess I was supposed to be a boy.

One grandmother really thought so. How she preached that girls don’t get dirty and garages are for rednecks.

Then, when I was six, Dad got me a fun field kart, and a couple of years later I saw a couple of girls racing real Karts. I had never thought that was possible, and I was on it and started racing competitively. By 14, I had a Sportsman car at Fonda, a half-mile dirt track. That was pretty intimidating. It sure was more complex than the Kart or the way it looked from the stands. I found it especially difficult that people wouldn’t take me seriously, or they’d say the only reason I got the opportunity was because I was a girl. But even my grandmother began to turn around in 2004 when I won the Utica-Rome track championship and seven or eight features. Meanwhile, my dad’s mother has been my biggest fan since day one.

I just had to keep going. Going into Sprinters was a challenge, but not as much as from the Kart to the Sportsman. Sure, the speeds were pretty noticeable at places like Knoxville, Eldora, and Williams Grove, but it’s all I’ve ever known. It like an adrenalin rush that over time becomes more comfortable.

I found I tend to run better when the track is slick and you have to be smooth and keep your tires under you. I like it when the track gets wide so it’s not just about horsepower and equipment. It’s more about the driver and the setup.

Read the rest of this edition of “Tearoffs” by Lew Boyd and find out why Jessica Zemken is excited to spend her summer racing a supermodified at Oswego Speedway-CLICK HERE to READ and LEARN


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