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After late start to racing career, Stacy Halsey embraces the challenge

At times, Stacy Halsey contemplates changing the color of her race car.

Currently, her 1985 Monte Carlo is an impossible-to-miss shade of dark pink — raspberry, she calls it — a conspicuous color, especially when you’re the only female driver competing in the 8-cylinder Enduro division at Riverhead Raceway.

Earlier in her racing career, her car was black. The 48-year-old Southampton resident says she remembers a moment when she spun out in a night race and ended up facing the other cars barreling toward her.

“They were coming around the corner and couldn’t see me,” she said. “I thought I was going to be hit every time.”

She admitted it was scary, but for Ms. Halsey, the rush she gets from racing always wins out in the battle with fear, allowing her not only to survive but to thrive.

“I’ve had my scary moments and rewarding moments,” she says. “But the adrenaline is incredible.”

On Sept. 29, a bright and warm Sunday, Ms. Halsey was in fourth place in the points standings out of 30 racers in the division going into the final race of the season. Bad luck struck within the first few laps of the race, as a flat tire forced her to retire early, waiting it out in the infield as the rest of the drivers battled for the title.

Racing is a family affair for Ms. Halsey. Her husband, Brian Halsey, and stepson, Jarred Halsey, 22, race in the division as well. Brian’s father, Glenn Halsey Sr., aka “Hot Rod Halsey,” competed at Riverhead Raceway one year but was mostly known for competing locally in Southampton, including racing dune buggies up and down the beach in the 1950s. Brian now competes with his signature No. 75, with a photo of his father on the hood of his own car. He passed down the love of the sport to his son and helped kick-start Ms. Halsey’s career when he bought her the Monte Carlo five years ago.

This season, Jarred won the points championship for the second year in a row, while Brian — who was trailing his wife in the standings going into the final race — finished fourth. Ms. Halsey ended up seventh. In her five years of racing, Ms. Halsey has finished outside of the top 10 only once.

Mr. Halsey admitted he wasn’t sure if Ms. Halsey would stick it out as long as she has and become quite as successful — when he made adjustments to her car, he made the seat adjustable, figuring the car might eventually become his. That hasn’t happened.

The Enduro division is not for the faint of heart. Aggressive contact is not only permissible but part of the game for racers in the division, and a look at the cars as they file onto the racetrack bears that out. They are all marked with sizeable dents and scratches, and over the course of a 40-lap race, tires are blown and bumpers and fenders are torn loose by collisions, flapping in the breeze as the drivers barrel around the track with reckless abandon. The screech of tires and roar of engines fills the ears of spectators, while grit and smoke chokes the air and tire fragments litter the outer portions of the track.

The pink No. 32 Enduro race car. (Credit: Peter Milano)

Ms. Halsey is not the only woman to race at Riverhead, but she has been the only woman competing consistently in the Enduro division, and admits that, while she is treated as an equal by most of her peers, she has faced sexism in a male-dominated sport where a certain kind of “old school” mentality can still show itself.

Mr. Halsey admits this is true as well, but says Ms. Halsey more than holds her own.

“She’ll walk right up to the biggest guy on the track and stick a finger in his face and say, ‘You’re a bully,’ ” he said. “I don’t need to defend her at all.”

Ms. Halsey lets her performance on the track speak for itself. Mr. Halsey pointed out that a transponder he put on the top of her car proved that she had the fastest single lap in three of the six races during this year’s racing season.

Those who know her well are not surprised by Ms. Halsey’s talent for racing. Ms. Halsey’s sister, Brooke Cracco, said her natural inclination toward the sport existed from a very young age, while they were growing up in Sagaponack.

“As early as I can remember, there were motorcycles, quads, bikes and ‘lot’ cars parked at our house,” said Ms. Cracco, 42. Growing up in Sagaponack, there weren’t strict rules back then about riding around in the farm fields or to a local friend’s house. Stacy was, and still is, an adventure seeker in every circumstance.

Ms. Halsey’s car is customized with pink rims and the white No. 32 on the side of the vehicle is outlined in pink as well. Sitting in her car on race day, she wore mascara, a heart necklace and a bracelet with a Wonder Woman chain dangling from it, wearing a full-length black fire suit and helmet. But she also described herself as a “tomboy” during her youth, saying she would cut the hair off the dolls her mother gave her before placing them in Tonka trucks and taking them out to the field to play. Her father bought her first dirt bike when she was 8 years old, and before long she was racing all kinds of bikes and cars. She earned a few speeding tickets as a teen, and found a like-minded partner when she met her husband 10 years ago. He bought a race car for his son, and five years ago, he came home with one for his wife as well.

Ms. Halsey jokes that, at the age of 48, she’s a “late bloomer” when it comes to finally embarking on a racing career that was always a dream of hers. But she’s been holding her own in the Enduro division.

“Your car never leaves a race unscathed,” she said. “You always have some kind of dent.”

Ms. Halsey — who is the mother to Dylan Borrelli, 14, and Samantha Halsey, 8, as well as stepmother to Jarred — remembered being pregnant with her daughter and watching races from the stands with her husband and stepson. They talked about a day in the future when they’d all race together. Jarred was in his early teens and Mr. Halsey was in the middle of a long hiatus from racing. He had stopped racing in the late ’90s when he became a father, and didn’t pick it up again until after he had gotten Jarred involved in the sport.

“We said, ‘we’re gonna do it one day,’ ” Ms. Halsey said, recalling that moment. “So now here we are.”

Ms. Halsey prepares to race on the final day of the season in late September. (Credit: Cailin Riley)

She admitted that there are times when things can get a bit “heated” among them, depending on how a race went, but for the most part they support each other. Ms. Halsey credited her husband with doing a lot of work on her car to keep it in racing shape, and said he chose the raspberry color.

Over the course of five years, Ms. Halsey has earned respect on the racetrack and a certain level of notoriety with the fans, particularly young female fans. It’s part of the reason why Ms. Halsey is hesitant to paint the car black again. The positive attention and fan recognition outweighs any negatives.

“Since I have it painted pink, I’ve really gotten recognized a lot,” she said. “And all these young girls want to get photos with me and my car in the pits. It’s really neat.”

Ms. Halsey said she considers herself a humble person and doesn’t race for attention or personal glory. It’s simply something she loves to do. But she admitted that being in a position to be a role model for young girls is something she relishes.

“It’s pretty incredible, and it’s very special,” she said. “Girls can do anything; they really can. You just have to get out there and do it and have confidence and not be intimidated.

“I was intimidated at first,” she continued. “But now these girls look at me with admiring eyes, and I hope I do make a difference in their future and make them more empowered in who they are.”

Top photo caption: Ms. Halsey pictured at the track with her No. 32 Enduro race car. (Credit: Peter Milano)