Born to Drive
A Fort Worth attorney speeds past the competition.
Interview by Jillian Beck and Lindsay Stafford Mader
Lisa Lumley in 2015 with her BMW race car. Photograph by Ralph
Fort Worth attorney Lisa Lumley chalks up her need for speed to genetics. Having an Air Force fighter pilot for a father, Lumley naturally gravitated to thrills—from tumbling down steep slides as a toddler to water-skiing as fast as the pulling boat could take her. In 2007, she attended a BMW CCA Club Racing School in nearby Cresson, curious about what the sport was like. Before long, Lumley had built her own car and was off to the races. “My competitive spirit kicked in, and I wanted to not only drive my car fast but faster than others,” she said. Competing satisfies more than just Lumley’s attraction to the rush of rapid speeds. She has to learn new concepts, problem solve, and strategize—all skills also necessary for success in representing clients during her day job. Now almost a decade after first getting behind the wheel, she’s racked up regional awards and competed at the national level. But more than anything, for Lumley, it’s about getting out there and having fun.
How do you explain the sport to somebody who might assume
that you’re just sitting back and pushing the pedal?
Some things are easier demonstrated than explained, which is why I have a passenger seat I can install in my race car to take people along during practice. They always emerge from a 20-minute session exhausted! The car is loud and hot, and the g-forces throwing your body against the harnesses and race seat are pretty extreme. Then the adrenalin really kicks in as you approach tight corners at speeds anywhere from five to 10 times what most people would. Imagine turning into your driveway while going 50 mph. If it were as easy as sitting back and pushing a pedal, everyone would do it.
Lumley stands near her BMW street car in 2008 at MotorSport Ranch in
Cresson shortly before she transformed the vehicle into a race car.
Photograph by Buddy Socks.
What did it take to earn your competition license?
The sanctioning bodies for which I have competition licenses required that I demonstrate extremely good car control skills (no spinning or losing control) and that I have good judgment under pressure. To do that, they watch you drive under a variety of situations over a series of events and get recommendations of other racers—are they willing to trust you to drive your car at full speed, inches from theirs? Then you have to drive in at least four races with no incidents before you get to take the “rookie” sticker off of your car.
How do you prepare for a race?
You have to be vigilant about checking your car and practicing preventative maintenance. So, you make sure your wheels and tires are in good shape; check all the nuts and bolts under the car to ensure they’re not vibrating loose; change the oil; check the brake pads and rotors; change all the fluids; and routinely swap out metal parts if they take a lot of stress, such as the studs that hold your wheels on. The race sanctioning bodies require medical physicals, where doctors certify you are healthy enough to endure the 100-plus degree heat that is common in the cockpit, the adrenalin, and the g-forces. You need to eat well, exercise, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
What is it like to be the only woman competing at many races?
Since I went to law school, and then became a trial lawyer focusing on business disputes, it hasn’t been unusual for me to be the only woman—or one of a very small number—in the room. As a result, it doesn’t bother me at all to be the only one at the racetrack—it is just a source for some funny stories. A few examples: At one meeting for the drivers, the race steward lectured me that it was improper for my husband to send a representative instead of attending in person and then turned bright red when another racer pointed out his mistake. A tire delivery service clerk wanted me to get my boyfriend to tell him where he wanted “his” tires (that were being delivered for me). And at one race, several spectators cornered me (dressed in a race suit), because they’d heard a woman was driving one of the race cars and they had bets on which car “the girl” was driving. I don’t race to break sexual stereotypes, but if I help open people’s minds to the endless possibilities in front of all of us, that’s a great side benefit.
Have you ever had any close calls or moments when you felt
If you look closely at my car, you can see that many of the body panels have slightly different colors of red. Car-to-car contact does unfortunately happen, but I actually know more people that have broken bones hanging Christmas lights than driving race cars. And interestingly, racers I know say they feel safer racing—on the track with drivers who are paying attention and know what they’re doing—than driving on the street.
Tell us about your favorite racing
A year or so ago, I was facing a fellow racer with a much larger budget, and his car’s expensive engine boasted 25 to 30 more horsepower. Rain began to fall as the race started, and he was several cars in front of me. Racing in the rain is always more difficult than when it’s dry, but by the end, I had passed all the cars between us and was inches from his tail. On the last lap, I was able to come out of the last corner faster than he did, which gave me the speed advantage down the straight to the finish line. We crossed side-by-side, and most people watching could not tell that he’d managed to keep the nose of his car just inches in front of mine, winning by less than one-tenth of a second. Even though he won, it was a great battle, and I had a ton of fun. I made him buy the beer that night. TBJ