At age 21, Michele Abbate has already spent half of her life behind the wheel. And why stop there?
This University of Nevada, Las Vegas communications student has big dreams and is determined to pursue them.
Abbate, a life-long Las Vegas resident, was first introduced to go-karting at a young age by her older brother Michael, a successful young racer three years her senior who started in karting and has progressed into Formula One racing.
Although Abbate shares initials, parents and even a helmet with her older brother, the last thing she wants to do is ride on his coattails. With autocross, road courses and two sponsors (Import Image Racing and Race Photo Labs) under her belt, she's aiming to reach the big time.
Abbate, who is currently working toward her National Auto Sport Association high-performance driving certification, entered her first track events in the past month and the results have been promising.
Sept. 26-27 at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Abbate participated in the Redline Time Attack and placed four out of five in the stock category after her 2003 MazdaSpeed Protegé blew a coolant line and overheated.
Then, after a redeeming past weekend at Subie Fest at the Willow Springs race track in Rosamond, Calif., Abbate surprised herself with a win while driving a Subaru modified by Crawford Performance, a well-known Subaru aftermarket parts supplier. Abbate set a goal for herself -- a lap time of 1 minute and 42 seconds -- and beat it, taking fourth place at 1 minute and 38.5 seconds in a stock-level race that included about 23 participants.
"She's a young, up-and-coming racer," said Brad Mark, managing partner of Pole Position Raceway, an indoor karting track where Abbate got her start working on staff and helping with driving school and racing events. "I would safely say that she's the fastest girl that races (at Pole Position) -- by far the fastest lady racer we have. She's out there whooping the boys' butts."
For Abbate, however, her sex doesn't enter into the equation.
"To me, I don't care if you're a boy or a girl. I want to be better than you," said the self-proclaimed tom boy who spent most of her recess days playing basketball with the guys.
Abbate's win at Willow Springs boosted her confidence, reminding her of her passion and why she does what she does.
"It proved to me that I am competitive and I can keep up with the guys," Abbate said, happily recalling her victory.
Hanging with the boys is nothing new to Abbate, whose mother has always been supportive, but has never understood why Abbate would want to race rather than cheerlead or why she would choose to spend $400-$500 on a part for her car, rather than buy a designer purse.
Still, with the sometimes on, sometimes off approval of her father, a used-car dealership owner and "gearhead" who maintains a 790-horsepower supercharged speed boat, Abbate strives on, but not without realistic expectations.
Ideally, when she graduates college, the public relations major would drive for and promote a stand-out, young company because she empathizes with self-starters and wants to go where she's needed.
Thomas Smith, a close friend and racing buddy of Abbate's, confirms her altrusm. Whether it's an opinion on how to set up a car or personal advice a person seeks, Abbate is a go-to staple in the local racing scene, said Smith, a 24-year-old who drives a 2005 Subaru WRX STi. "She always lends a hand to anyone who needs one." Also, it doesn't hurt that she's well-known in autocross and does well at the events. "She's pretty popular, too," Smith adds.
At the moment, Abbate is set on running more road courses where she can "be in the turns" with more "gas, brakes and technical (aspects)." Although she's known drivers who have gone on to NASCAR racing and respects it, her goals are different.
"I'm not looking for a title," Abbate reasons with herself. "I'm looking to make myself happy."
But for Abbate, happiness comes from the driver's seat in a competitive situation and it will always be something she keeps as a hobby, even if her pro aspirations don't work out.
Already having owned several cars, she is loyal to her Mazda and plans to keep her car for a while to come, even if she buys another (she's currently considering a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or Subaru WRX STi).
"I like that you don't see (my car) everywhere," she says of her lightly modified Protegé, which carries an intake/exhaust, a fly wheel and front-mount intercooler. "To me, it's special because it's unique. In 30 years, it might not be one of those limited-edition cars, but it will be me."
For more information on Michele Abbate, go to www.abbatemotorsports.com.