Mia Chapman: The off-road racer putting her foot to floor

(CNN) — For 15-year-old Mia Chapman, nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of off-road racing.

That’s been the case for the past 10 years ever since her Dad, himself a quad and dirt bike enthusiast, surprised her one Christmas with a race car.

It’s a gift that pressed the accelerator on a childhood spent moving between dirt-track races in America’s Southwest.

Recently, things have moved up a gear. Arizona-born Chapman, a seven-time champion in age-modified kart racing, is the first female off-road driver to be sponsored by Red Bull.

While racing runs in her father’s blood, for her mother it’s taken some getting used to.

“She still gets nervous watching me race, but it’s a lot safer than quads and dirt bikes so she’s okay with it,” Chapman tells CNN. “She kind of said no to the dirt bikes because they were too dangerous.

“My Dad, of course, has been there since day one. He knows me the best. He does everything from working on my car to driving to all the races.”

Under the watchful eye of her Dad and coach Jimmy Owens, Chapman has competed in a number of regional and national events.

Life is busy. She studies at the Insight Academy of Arizona — an online high school that allows her to do schoolwork on the road around her race schedule — and also has cheer practice — her other passion — three times a week.

Beating the boys

As ambitions for teenage girls go, becoming a professional racing car driver is an unusual one. The world of motorsport, especially at an elite level, is male-dominated. For a 15-year-old girl hoping to forge a career in racing, the prospect may seem daunting.

But not so for Chapman, who is no stranger to topping podiums ahead of her male rivals.

“I see myself as a driver, just like anyone else on the race track,” she explains. “Being a girl doesn’t really change anything for me. I think if anything it really drives me to succeed me.

“But growing up racing, with my Dad as my mentor, he always taught me that I’m never really a female driver. I don’t need to beat the boys — when I drive on the track I just need to work harder than every other driver.”

There are a handful of other girls competing in the modified kart class of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing championship, and even fewer in the senior competitions.

It’s a trend in motorsport more widely that female participation is limited.

The list of female drivers who have competed in Formula One, for example, is short; there hasn’t been a woman on the starting grid in over 40 years.

But given Red Bull’s presence in F1 — for many years one of the sport’s leading teams — you wonder if a change of surfaces could be a possibility for Chapman.

“I’m always open to trying different forms of racing, so if I ever got the opportunity or it came about I’d definitely try it,” she says.

“I don’t know too much about asphalt racing just because I’ve been doing off-road for the past eight or nine years now. But definitely trying new things would be really fun.”

As for the immediate future, this is Chapman’s final year in the modified kart class. The focus now is on climbing up the standings after a start to the season that has been hindered by mechanical issues — the most recent of which cost her victory in Nevada.

And beyond this season? That would be telling.

“Red Bull has a whole career plan pretty much lined up for me,” says Chapman. “I can’t speak of it at the moment but it’s definitely going to be exciting.”

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