For some women, a dose of retail therapy can make a bad day better. For others, it’s a trip to the spa or a glass of red wine with their best gal pals. But for Amber Vernezze, 43, nothing relieves stress like putting the pedal of her ‘68 Camaro to the metal at Great Lakes Dragaway in Union Grove.
When the light turns green, Vernezze charges down the quarter-mile strip, reaching speeds of up to 110 mph and leaving her cares in a cloud of dust.
Why drag racing is her stress remedy of choice isn’t something Vernezze can easily identify. “Yes, it’s the rush and the challenge and the speed. But the overall feeling it gives you is hard to describe,” she said.
What isn’t hard for Vernezze to describe is when and where she first fell in love with cars and the idea of racing. Her dream of owning a ‘68 Camaro started somewhere around 10 years old.
“I remember I just happened to see that car — it was midnight blue with white racer stripes — and it just stuck with me,” she said. “It was my dream car.”
When she turned 37, her boyfriend at the time surprised her with the car of her dreams, though in real life the car was red.
“Ruby Rose,” Vernezze said, her voice warm as if talking about a close friend. “I call her my feel-good car because I can have the worst day, but as soon as I get behind the wheel, everything’s good. From the minute I get into my car, I can feel the stress layers decreasing.”
Wednesday nights are Vernezze’s racing nights. That’s when she heads to Great Lake’s Dragaway for ladies’ night, when women are waived the usual $35 entry fee and have the chance to race other women in their everyday vehicles, everything from the soccer mom’s minivan to Vernezze’s ‘68 Camaro. But by the time the ladies-only competition starts later in the evening, Vernezze usually already has taken several trips down the dragstrip during the “open fun racing” session, which is open to men and women. She usually doesn’t stop racing until she has just enough gas in the tank to get home to Kenosha.
It’s no secret to Vernezze that some of the more traditional stress relievers may be less expensive due to high fuel prices, not to mention safer. But Vernezze said the feel-good endorphins she gets from racing last longer, which, in her mind, means more bang for her buck.
“Racing is a rush from beginning to end,” she said. “The feeling of a great day of de-stressing and going shopping eventually goes away. But the feeling I have from racing? (That) has yet to even slightly fade.”
She notices other benefits from racing, too, like increased confidence gained from being part of a handful of women willing to try what’s traditionally considered a “boys’ sport.”
“A lot of people think women can’t race, and yet there are women out there who are faster than I am,” she said. “I feel that if I can bite the bullet and speed down a race track, I can most certainly handle anything that comes my way. It makes me see things from a different point of view.”