Sarah and Bridget Burgess attempt to write stock car racing history
Sarah Burgess’ smile is contagious. So when she appeared last month at California’s Irwindale Speedway with a huge smile to match her blue and red racer suit, many took notice.
The sight of the 41-year-old man from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, wearing a pilot’s suit was not out of the ordinary. She wears it when she is her daughter Bridget’s crew chief for the ARCA Menards Series West races.
The smile, however, was telling.
Burgess’ beam was a projection of the joy she felt as she prepared to drive a production car on an asphalt oval for the first time. It was just a practice, a test of his driving skills. But it was a key step in a journey the Burgesses hope to end with a notable addition to stock car racing history.
Sarah and Bridget Burgess are keen to face off in the same event, when the West Series returns to Irwindale on July 2. This would mark the first time a mother-daughter duo has raced in the same NASCAR or ARCA Touring Series event. .
RELATED: How Sarah and Bridget Burgess got here
“The historic moment would definitely be one of those defining moments,” Burgess admitted in a chat with ARCARacing.com “I have to admit, though, that I’m also the kind of person who does something because I want to do it. I chose to be in the automotive industry because it fascinates me, not because I wanted to be a girl in the industry.
“I just really want to go do one of those races. See how it feels, go out there and be competitive.
This is how the Burgesses are wired as a racing-obsessed family who uprooted their Australian lives in pursuit of motorsport glory on American soil. In 2008, Sarah and her husband Adam moved with their then six-year-old daughter to the Los Angeles area after the Australian government banned anyone under 25 from driving cars with turbos or V8 engines.
The family had only six suitcases when they arrived in the United States.
Once settled in America, Sarah Burgess raced in drift and off-road. She and Bridget even faced off in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series after the latter made her debut at age 15. But the Burgesses eventually realized their efforts had to be concerted and pushed towards Bridget’s career in a stock car.
Now 20, Bridget Burgess has been racing family cars in the West Series since 2020 after making her debut driving a few races for other car owners in 2019. She has five top 10 finishes on the platform.
Sarah Burgess doesn’t just show up as the owner of Bridget’s car for every event. She also works as her daughter’s team leader and, sometimes, the whole team. Adam usually serves as Bridget’s observer.
In addition to the racing program, Sarah works full-time at eBay in the business and development, parts and accessories department. Bridget works at a McDonald’s in their home in Tooele, Utah, where the family rents a three-bedroom apartment. Adam doesn’t have a job. Her job, Sarah says, is to work for Bridget for free, maintain and prep her car, and coach her daughter.
“I can’t afford to pay Bridget to be a race car driver,” said Sarah Burgess. “All that money is going into the opportunity for her to be a racing driver. Same with Adam. My salary has always covered our cost of living.
As if their situation of accompanying a rider wasn’t difficult enough, for at least one race, the family wants to do two.
“If I want to do something, I’m going to do it,” said Sarah Burgess with a laugh.
The Burgesses have been thinking for years about Sarah joining Bridget in a West Series race. The process of turning that dream into reality began last fall when they started looking for a second race car to buy.
This year, they finally found a Chevrolet Gen 4 chassis that former West Series driver Matt Levin had put up for sale within their budget. Sarah said the car, which last ran in 2019, came with a relatively new engine. This was important to the family, as an industry-wide shortage of engine components had limited their development. The Burgesses took the “new” engine and dropped it from the car that Bridget raced this year.
The next step for Sarah Burgess was to get permission from ARCA to race. With experience behind the wheel on other platforms, she was able to get a license, but she needed a few stock car laps on an oval. So she did some testing in Bridget’s car during the open session at Irwindale last month. This despite the fact that Sarah’s legs are three inches longer than Bridget’s; the ride was not really comfortable.
After this session, ARCA officials told Sarah Burgess that she was cleared for a run. In fact, she almost did the next day. Due to a driver no-show, Burgess, the only person in the garage allowed to race, was asked to start in Eric Nascimento’s car. She agreed to do so, but the team eventually pulled the entry before the event.
Sarah Burgess still has one major hurdle to overcome to race in Irwindale. She needs sponsorship to fund the efforts.
In fact, she says, a lack of funding at this point is the only thing that can derail what would be a historic mother-daughter moment. Even if something goes wrong with one of the family’s two engines when Bridget races at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif., or in one of the two road races on the schedule, they can make repairs at time for July.
“It’s a continuous hunt. That’s the hardest part,” admitted Sarah Burgess. “I’ll keep chasing him until the week before if I have to. Either way, sponsorship is a tough business. You’re not just competing against other racing teams. You’re competing with Instagram influencers, TV commercials… so many different things.
“The hardest thing we have is the fact that companies have already made their budgets. And we couldn’t launch anything in October of last year because we didn’t know how everything was going to go.
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One thing that does not preoccupy the bourgeois is the power of the people. Although Adam usually spots Bridget, Sarah wants her husband to listen to her while he’s on the right track. Bridget, after all, is used to working with different spotters depending on where the race is and Adam’s availability.
Victor Franco, a family friend who works closely with the Burgesses, would unofficially serve as team leader for Sarah and Bridget. As for the crew, the family has enough friends in the Los Angeles area to put together a crew to service both cars. They also have two transporters, although they may need to borrow a truck to transport the second rig.
Sarah Burgess also feels like she needs to improve her physical condition before driving a stock car. She’s not at the level she was in her twenties, when she competed at the Olympic level as a speed skater.
This project, however, is on hold. Even for a person who gets up before dawn and goes to bed late at night, his schedule does not allow him time to exercise.
“The sooner I can spend my 4 a.m. mornings not sending sponsorship emails, the sooner I can spend my 4 a.m. mornings on the treadmill,” Burgess joked.
If Sarah Burgess can land the sponsorship she needs, her focus will turn entirely to the preparation required to compete in Irwindale. Because this competition is the goal of these efforts. While Bridget’s program remains the family’s priority, given the chance, the Burgesses will get both cars ready to run at their best.
What has the potential to be a special night in Irwindale isn’t lost on Sarah or Bridget. Sarah said just being able to talk to her daughter about driving the car after that practice session was a cool moment. She can only imagine how it might feel for the two to discuss their performance in the same ARCA race.
If Sarah Burgess is lucky enough to race against her daughter in a stock car, no matter how she performs or where she ends up, one thing is certain.
That contagious smile will come back.