BY JEFF FALK
There are many things to discover about the complex, bubbly bundle of energy who goes by the name of ‘Amber Britto’. But here are a few things one needs to know:
She drives a pink car.
When she does this driving, she does it really fast and without a license.
She wants to be a female who breaks into a certain male-dominated world, when she grows up.
Britto is a Myerstown resident, a 14-year-old freshman who attends Elco High School and races cars in her spare time. But those vital statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.
Proceed with caution!
“I want to be 16. It’s killing me,” said Britto of her impending driver’s license. “If I could pretend to be racing, my days wouldn’t be so long. My dad always tells me I better be a good driver when I get on the road. But he also pulls my chain about speeding tickets. He tells me if I get one, I’m going to pay it.
“I’ll pass my driver’s test on the first try,” Britto continued. “I’ll be a great driver. I just have to learn the signs. I already know how to drive ‘stick’. I’m good.”
There aren’t a lot of signs along the roads which Britto currently drives.
Last season was Britto’s first year of competitive racing, and she did the majority of it in the slingshot junior series at Shellhammer’s Speedway in Leesport. She competed in 45 races – winning one feature and two heats – and was nominated for the ‘rookie of the year’ honor in her division.
On April 6th, Britto will embark on her second season of local dirt-track racing.
“I’m a first-generation driver,” said Britto, who’s also a cheerleader at Elco. “We don’t have racing in our blood. I had to learn how to drive. My dad had to figure out how to work on and maintain a car. And my mom had to figure out how to be the mother of a driver.
“I think I’ve learned a lot,” Britto continued. “We all have, especially my dad as a crew chief and a mechanic. But we are very new. There are teams who have been doing it for years. Everything is so much over my head. But we would never want to be underestimated. The more determined you are, the faster you’ll get there.”
Three years ago, Britto didn’t even know what racing was. The attraction of watching major stock car racing on television escaped her. That is until one fateful night when she took in her first live race at Linda’s Speedway in Jonestown.
Last June, Britto attended her first NASCAR race, at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond.
“I was really, really blessed coming into a great community,” said Britto. “It started because we met some great, great people. And they said, ‘You should come out to Linda’s Speedway.’ And I was like, ‘Why would you want to get dirt in your lip gloss? Why would you want to get dust in your hair?’ Then when I went there it was like ‘This is terrible. This is not fun.’ But we went back, and I felt incredible. The fans there are so passionate. I felt like, ‘This is cool.’
“When I was going to Linda’s I met a girl who became my best friend,” continued Britto. “It was 2011, and her parents put me in a car. They said, ‘just try to do it.’ And it was amazing. It was an adrenaline rush. Now I’m hooked. Last year was my rookie season and now I’m excited about this year. It all happened really fast.”
In many ways, racing has opened up a whole new world for Britto.
“My parents are wonderful,” said Britto. “They have made this so much the beginning of something that I never expected. They have provided me with a foundation for living my dream. When I figured out that this is what I wanted to do for my life, they were like, ‘We’re in.’
“I used to sit with my dad when he was watching NASCAR on TV,” added Britto. “I would ask him, ‘Why are you watching guys drive around in circles?'”
Racing has also served to extend Britto’s family.
“Racing is a different world,” said Britto. “Shellhammer has six or seven kids my age who are my best friends, even though they’re my competitors. The racing community is one big family, which I think, draws people in on a weekly basis. That support system is always there, no matter what happens.
“You can go from first to last one week, to last to first the next week,” Britto added. “I’m 14, but some of the kids I race against are nine. You can be 14 and be beating a 60-year-old who has been racing for years. Age doesn’t matter. And being a girl plays for me. I think it’s a bigger advantage. It’s our life now. It’s what we do.”
Britto isn’t quite sure where racing is going to take her. But she’s in the driver’s seat, buckled up and ready for the ride.
“To be totally honest, I really don’t know where it’s going to take me,” said Britto. “But if I did know, it might ruin my path. I’m spiritual and I believe in God, and I believe everything happens for a reason. It (racing) has brought our family closer. If anything, I’d like to move up (in divisions). And one day I’d like to drive for a team.
“If I work hard enough, we’ll get there,” Britto added. “Someday I’d like to say I started from nothing and we made it. But I don’t know if it’s financially possible. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Racing can be a costly pursuit/hobby. But that is a side of the sport which Britto seems to have a fairly good handle on. For this season, she has secured financial sponsorship from eight, mostly eastern Lebanon County, businesses.
“We bought my car used,” said Britto. “Last year the engine we had hadn’t had anything done to it since 2008. It was tired, but we still won. This year we have two brand new engines, so I’m anxious to see how we can do. But my dad really takes care of all of that. He tries to keep me out of it.
“I tell myself I’m a good driver,” continued Britto. “I’d like to think I am. I don’t believe in perfection. There’s a lot to improve on, but you’ve got to be confident. At the end of the day, if you know you put all you have into it, that makes you a good driver.”