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April 19. 2014 8:04PM

Rising star in auto racing helps kick off season in Loudon

LOUDON - Taylor Martin first wants to be a police officer for several years, and then she wants to move into forensic science and help solve crimes using the latest technology.

But that's career plan No. 2.

On Friday, Martin, 16, of Windham, stood among race car drivers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, to help open this year's Legend Cars race season at the speedway.

She is already well on her way to becoming a professional driver.

"Racing is my first love," she said. "I don't think skipping college is an option, but my career goal is to be a NASCAR driver."

Martin wants to follow the road blazed by Danica Patrick, a star NASCAR driver and an idol for many young female drivers.

Martin's already racing through the ranks of young drivers in New Hampshire and New England. In December, she became the first female world champion in the INEX Legends Young Lion Road Course Division.

"I have a lot of respect for Danica. I know how it feels to be the only girl in a race, or in life, in a male-dominated world," she said.

Jerry Gappens, the speedway's executive vice president and general manager, brought Martin and three other Legend Cars drivers to the track's kickoff event for the 2014 series at NHMS, which runs this weekend through October.

Among them was Shaun Buffington, 37, of Plainfield, Conn., winner of 35 of the 50 Legend Cars races at the rack.

The cars, powered by motorcycle engines, are a smaller vehicle designed to resemble the legendary American race cars of the 1930s and '40s, Gappens said. They can go as fast as 130 mph and cost about $13,000, he said.

Although the average person may not know much about Legend Cars, young drivers see them as a step on the ladder to success in professional racing. Many NASCAR stars, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, started in Legend Cars racing.

"It's the Little League for the sport of auto racing," Gappens said.

Auto racing, though, is badly in need of more participants.

Having Martin join older male racers at the season kickoff served several purposes, Gappens said. It allowed the track to showcase its best drivers and, in Martin, to show off one the sport's most promising young drivers.

"Developing new race car drivers in this country is difficult, especially for female drivers," Gappens said.

Some Legend Cars drivers are older men who do it as a hobby. To Buffington, a construction professional by day, it's a way of life.

"This is all I do, this is all my family does. When we aren't doing other stuff, we're working on one of our three cars," he said.

But Martin represents what the sport needs most - role models for future drivers - and she knows that.

"I have always loved the idea of being an idol for other girls," she said. "On Facebook, the kids who are following me post things saying they want to be like me. When I read those things, I melt. I love that I can do what Danica has done for me." dseufert@newstote.com


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