ally raphael standing in front of race car

High-speed Spider: Meet the first-year who races sports cars

April 1, 2022


For as long as she can remember, Ally Raphael has wanted to be behind the wheel of a racecar. And now she’s the only teenaged, female, pro sports car racer in the country.

“I practically grew up on the racetrack with my father,” she said, recalling time spent with her dad, also a pro driver. “I remember being in awe at races and desperately wanting to be in the car.”

She started racing go karts at age 6, and never stopped. She made significant upgrades, though, and now races professionally in a BMW M235ir. 

“Racing is a more mental sport than it is physical,” Raphael said. “Outside influences try to manipulate your thoughts, but you have to overcome those forces.”

Unlike NASCAR, sports car racing is much more varied. Each car is different and races on tracks that are miles long, with curves that require different strategies.

“In sports car racing, it’s important to evaluate how your car manages these varying turns. For example, my BMW is an extremely heavy vehicle. This means I can brake in a turn easily, but there is minimal torque and top-end speed,” she said. “Every time I enter the car it is a battle.”

But the battle scars have made her tougher than ever. At 13 she graduated from racing go karts to specialized Miatas at Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York. She was, and usually still is, the only female, and youngest, person on the track.

“My competitors were not only older and men, they are the fiercest competitors I still have ever known. As a 13-year-old girl, this was terrifying,” she said. “Racing cars has taught me to lean into my discomfort, to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”

She’s now pursuing an economics major at the University of Richmond and said that perseverance applies to everything she does on campus.

“The depth racing has provided not only prepares me for the uncertainties beyond the green flag but the obstacles life places in front of me,” she said. “I have learned how to handle pressure at high speed. This mentality is not only applicable to winning a race, but to fighting challenges in life. The strongest mental warrior wins.”

That philosophy inspired her to found Driven to Success, an organization in partnership with the Girl Scouts of America, which helps children overcome mental barriers to make their dreams a reality.

She is also a motivational speaker with the organization and has given talks to hundreds of young men and women about believing in themselves.

"The kids have said things like, 'I didn't know that girls were allowed to race,' and 'It's exciting to see a girl racing in a car!'" Raphael said. "I love teaching kids that it doesn't matter who you are — you can excel in any field." 

She hopes to bring the organization to the UR to spread the word about improving children’s self-esteem and mental health through self-confidence and new experiences.