Albion salutatorian is a race car driver on weekends
Jessica Schleede, 18, has been racing since she was 13
BATAVIA – The mud is flying at the noisy track. When cars hit the turns, an avalanche of dirt is sent into the corner.
Jessica Schleede keeps her cool. She doesn’t panic at Genesee Speedway, racing adults in the Mini Stock Division.
Jessica, 18, has been racing at the dirt track in Batavia since she was 13. She raced in the youth division for three years before moving up to the adult Mini Stock division last year.
In 2018, she finished 10th in points among 40 other drivers.
She spends two to three nights a week working on her car, a Honda Prelude, with her father, Scott Schleede. He raced motorcycles for 35 years.
“This isn’t about NASCAR,” Scott said. “This is about making memories. This is a fun thing for us to do together.”
He said his daughter has taken to the sport and has the right temperament to excel on the track.
She first raced a Nissan Sentra, competing in the youth division. After the engine blew up in the Sentra, Jessica switched to a Honda Civic and raced that car for three years. This year is her first with a Honda Prelude. That car has a wider wheel base and stronger suspension.
Jessica is the class salutatorian at Albion for the Class of 2019. She is headed to St. Bonaventure in the fall with a dual major of elementary and special education. She plans to keep racing in the future.
Before she races, Jessica checks to makes sure the lug nuts are on tight. She also checks the air pressure in all the tires. They should be 15 to 20 pounds. The tires should be softer so they have better traction. If there is too much pressure, the car has a better chance of sliding off the track on the tight turns. In Jessica’s first week of racing this week, she slid off the track.
“You want to run as soft as you can without them coming off the rim,” Jessica said. “If too much air, the tires don’t stick on the track as well.”
The Schleedes bring an air compressor with them, and a big box of tools. However, they can’t make any major repairs if there is a problem at the track. On June 1, they changed a tire in between the qualifier and the final because the car wasn’t handling well.
Scott Schleede checks to make sure the lug nuts are on tight. His daughter already went through with a wrench.
“I did it once already,” Jessica said. “He is double-checking. He gets a little nervous.”
Schleede said the pre-race and race can be tough on his nerves, but he is confident in Jessica.
“She has a level head,” he said. “She respects the equipment.”
Jessica is strapped in tight with a 6-point harness seat belt, which has head and neck restraints.
She also has a radio taped to her ear. That way she can hear the race director in the top booth who lets the drivers know if there is a yellow flag and drivers should slow down. During the race, the drivers are focused on what’s in front of them and might not realize if there has been an accident.
Jessica learned to drive a four-speed stick shift when she was 13 and started racing at Genesee Speedway.
Jessica stands for the national anthem with her boyfriend, Zach Petry of Medina. Zach, 20, works for Lyons Collision, doing body work and paint. He helps Jessica and Scott keep the car in racing condition.
Jessica Schleede, left, gets in position for the 8-lap qualifier. Zach Petry offers some last-second encouragement.
After the 8-lap qualifier, the top 25 cars advance to final race with 20 laps. The qualifier also determines the position of the cars for the bigger “feature” race.
Jessica Schleede races her Honda Prelude with other cars in the Mini Stock Division. Her car says, “Lil Bit,” which is her nickname from her grandfather. The track is 1/3-mile. Jessica competes in the Mini Stock Division with 20-25 cars on most Saturdays. Last year she came in 10th overall among 40 racers in the division.
Jessica didn’t like how the car was handling in the qualifier, so she is changing one of the tires.
Eric Weis helps change the tire. Jessica said she likes the camaraderie at the track and the friendly competition among the racers.
Jessica measures to see if the tires are perfectly upright. She also measured the back of the tires. She decided to change the tire after the qualifier.
Jessica became interested in cars when she helped her father restore a 1972 Ford pickup. She and her father spend 2-3 nights a week working on the race car, making frame repairs, checking the engine and other tasks.
She has had blown engines in races, and times when the wheels were hanging off. Scott doesn’t want to see the car towed off the track. He says with pride that Jessica has never been towed in a race. She always can get the car off the track and to the trailer.
“She is determined to do her best,” he said. “We fix the car and go back.”