SportsCar Feature: History in the Making

This article first appeared in the April, 2016 edition of SportsCar Magazine. SCCA members can read the current and past editions of SportCar digitally here after logging into their account; To become an SCCA member and get SportsCar mailed to your home address monthly in addition to the digital editions, click here.

Amy Ruman reveals what it took to become the 2015 Trans Am Champion, breaking records along the way

You regularly hear stories about champions who arrive at a racing series, dominate the competition their rookie year with ease, win a championship, and repeat the performance in the next series they move to. Amy Ruman is not that kind of driver, and this is a very different story. But it’s because of her mindset that hers is a story of inspiration, which ultimately led to her becoming Trans Am’s 2015 series champion.

Like many current SCCA members, Amy grew up in a racing family before she found her way into the driver’s seat. “Racing’s been in my blood since I was a little girl,” she explains. “I grew up going to the tracks with my parents and being around Corvettes. My dad had always autocrossed Corvettes, and he got my mom involved. They also ran high-speed events at Nelson Ledges, Mid-Ohio, and other tracks. They’d run some hot laps against the clock – to get the best time you could in one lap. My sister and I would go to those events with them.”

Eventually, the family found its way into SCCA Club Racing. “My dad got into GT1, and he ran an old IMSA Kelly American car. Then, in 1994, he bought our first Trans Am car and he ran his first Trans Am race in 1995. He was hooked! He finished 10th in the St. Petersburg Grand Prix. There was a field of 35 to 40 cars at the time, and finishing 10th was a big deal for us as a privateer team.”

By the time their father entered Trans Am, Amy and her sister Niki were doing far more than just supporting him. Both were learning their race craft in SCCA Club Racing. “I was racing in ITA starting in 1995, then I started running Spec Racer Fords in 1997 and I ran those for quite some time,” Amy explains. “My sister had also participated in Pro Spec Racer. That pro series ran in conjunction with the Trans Am schedule, so we would run at some of the street races. I ran a bunch of Nationals and some pro races. Then I moved into the IMSA Women’s Global GT Series in 1999.”

It was just a matter of time before Amy took a turn in the family’s top car. “I ran my first GT1 race in 2001, driving my dad’s car. After that, I was hooked. He was running Trans Am at the time, and sometimes I’d run GT1 in between events.”

Amy’s graduation to Trans Am came 10 years ago, during a period of transition for the family team. “I ran my first Trans Am race in 2006 at the Cleveland Grand Prix. My dad was fighting kidney cancer at the time, so he had to step out of the car for a year or so. He made it back into the car and ran a few more after that, but by then he was focused on supporting me. We ran a lot of Nationals at that point, and Trans Am as well.”

From the earliest days of Ruman Racing, the team has always preferred Corvettes. Amy’s car is a Rocketsports Racing tube-frame chassis bodied as a C6 Corvette, powered by a 358ci engine. “It’s got about 810-815hp,” Amy says. “It’s really fast and aerodynamic, but it’s a handful to drive sometimes. It’s a good time – there’s just nothing like it.”

Amy started her Trans Am career in 2006, and took several years to work her way to the top of the podium.

“I clawed my way to the front,” Amy says proudly, “and I ran with really good people. I tried to learn as much as I possibly could from the people I’ve been around. Time in the car is really crucial to improving your skills. Just like in any sport, practice makes perfect. I think I’ve been getting a little bit better each year.”

Even after 10 years in the series, Amy maintains a learner’s perspective on racing. “If a guy is faster than me and I try to keep him behind me the whole time, I’m not going to learn anything from that,” she explains. “So, if he gets by me, then I would just try to learn from him. That’s how I got better – being around better drivers and getting a lot of time in the car.”

Amy’s work inside the car was paralleled by the team’s hard work in the paddock. “It’s just hard work and perseverance, and we brought it home. We’re doing this on our own – we’re not backed by any factory or huge brand. I have a great longtime sponsor in McNichols Company. They’ve backed me and my dad, and they believe in us,” she says.

Amy won her first Trans Am race in 2011, making her initial mark in the history books as the first woman to win a Trans Am race in the 45 years of the series.

“I’d been on the podium many times and ran in the top five,” Amy relates. “Breaking through and getting that first Trans Am win was a big deal for us. I was excited because it happened in my dad’s old car.”

But winning the first race was only the beginning. “After that win, backing it up was really important,” she says. “That year, I placed third in the championship. In the 2012 season, I was the recipient of the Rising Star award from the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association, and I finished second in the point standings, but it was neck and neck.

“Then, in 2013, it was kind of a difficult year – we had a lot of bad circumstances and mechanical failures,” she recalls. “We were still sorting out a newer car at that point. But, in 2014, I had some wins again, and we were really tight on the championship. I finished out the season at Daytona with a win. That was another mark in history, because I was the first woman to win a professional automobile race at Daytona as a solo driver.”

Winning the season finale gave Amy the momentum she needed to hit 2015 at a dead run. “We went into 2015 and the ball just started rolling,” she says. “We were winning and winning and winning. We had a couple hiccups, but we kept our nose down and won eight out of 12 races.”

That kind of record sounds like no one could touch her, but Amy insists that the competition always kept her on her toes. “It wasn’t like I was always out front just cruising along. Those races were hard-fought – even at the Sebring opener I had guys breathing down my neck and we were all running close.”

Reflecting on the year and the championship, Amy views her success as a family achievement. “It was a really good season for my team. They gave me a great car and worked really hard on not having any mechanical failures. My dad was on point with setup and data acquisition. It really all came together. Different pieces had come together in prior years, but, in 2015, it all came together to complete the deal.”

By the time Amy Ruman claimed the Trans Am championship, the series was celebrating 50 years of racing. As the first woman to claim the title, Amy is cognizant of yet another historic moment. “Obviously,

no matter what, I’m representing women. It’s an honor to inspire women and girls who want to do these things,” she says. “But to me, I’m just Amy Ruman, a normal person and a racecar driver. The beauty of racing is that anybody can compete. It’s up to you, your car, and your team to make it happen. We’re all on an even playing field when the green flag flies. I think if you prove yourself, and you work hard and put the effort in, you will be respected.”

By the time you read this story, the 2016 Trans Am season will be under way, and Amy plans to be right there to compete again. “Our current plans are to defend the title in Trans Am. We’ve got the car completely disassembled. We’re going through everything with a fine-tooth comb and trying to make some improvements. I took a little break, but now I’m back at it, trying to find some more sponsorship. I’ve been working out to get fit and ready to go for the season. We’ll be back in action with the same car!”

And when she says “we,” Amy means it. “It’s always been a family sport for me,” she concludes. “The support from my team and my family has made it possible for me. Being surrounded by my family and friends who love me, makes it a lot easier. Hopefully, we’ll make it back-to-back championships.”

Words by Jeff Zurschmeide
Images by Sean Rice