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Southwest Orange Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 3 years ago

Meet Shea Holbrook: Windermere's race car driver next door

Windermere resident Shea Holbrook is a professional race car driver who competes in the Pirelli World Challenge and heads her own, four-car race team: Shea Racing.
by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

WINDERMERE Shea Holbrook really likes living in downtown Windermere.

Living just blocks from the town’s center with her fiancé, Nick Chorley, she enjoys walking her dog, Kona, through Windermere’s famous aesthetic of big trees and dirt roads.

“I love Windermere,” Holbrook said. “This is the best place to live in all of Florida, in my opinion.”

For neighbors whom Holbrook might casually greet while on her adventures walking Kona, it might be hard to guess what her day job is. That’s because Holbrook, who likes to think of herself as just the “girl-next-door in Windermere,” is a professional race car driver — and she is a successful one.

At 26, Holbrook is a mainstay on the Pirelli World Challenge with her own four-car team, Shea Racing. She has six wins to her credit in her career, along with 33 finishes in the top-five, and she has even dabbled in IHRA Jet Racing. Holbrook has been written about by ESPN W, regularly competes in televised races on NBC Sports Network or CBS Sports Network, and was the subject of a national commercial for TrueCar in 2014.

Even more recently, Holbrook got some ink in the Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal for her role in helping Denise Mueller ride a bicycle faster than any woman ever has. 

Holbrook served as the pacing driver for Mueller as she reached a speed of as high as 147.75 miles per hour — all the while, just inches separated the Ranger Rover Holbrook drove from Mueller.

For Holbrook, whose general fearlessness has enabled her meteoric career arc, it was a different kind of scary knowing an error could dramatically harm someone else.

“We referred to it as a like a dance or waltz,” Holbrook said, explaining her role in pacing Mueller. “It can be terrifying.”


'I'm a doer'

More than just being a successful woman in a male-dominated sport, Holbrook’s rise is more impressive when considering how late in the game she got started. Growing up in the Groveland area of Lake County, Holbrook was a nationally-ranked water skier as a youth. It wasn’t until a chance opportunity to ride along in the Richard Petty Driving Experience back in 2005 that racing even popped up on her radar.

“A lot of people told me ‘You can’t do it — you have no knowledge, you have no money, you have no background and you’re late in the game. Every time somebody said that to me, I was like ‘why not?’ … My mentality is ‘I’m a doer.’”

— Shea Holbrook

“It was, at the time, the coolest experience I had ever had,” Holbrook said. “There was a different type of fire in my gut with that experience and that’s kind of what piqued my interest.”

So, Holbrook made the switch, but at the age of 15, she was miles behind her soon-to-be competition, many of whom were racing go-carts when they were toddlers.

Add to that that she and her family really only had a friend of the family to lean on for knowledge of the motorsports world, and it became clear that Holbrook was going to have to swim against the tide for a bit.

“I became like a super-fan in a day,” Holbrook said. “I really didn’t know what I was doing … I relied a lot on listening.”

Holbrook remembers attending conventions to pass business cards to would-be sponsors who were, as she recalls, eager to avoid a teenage girl with little besides enthusiasm and a firm handshake. 

It was then that Holbrook got in the habit of “creating opportunities” — a quality that has served her will since.

“A lot of people told me ‘You can’t do it — you have no knowledge, you have no money, you have no background and you’re late in the game,’” Holbrook said. “Every time somebody said that to me, I was like ‘why not?’ … My mentality is ‘I’m a doer.’”


Taking the wheel

Fast-forward through some breakout performances and seasons and Holbrook’s Shea Racing team has just become the anchor team for Honda Performance Development’s touring car division in North America — a significant goal that she had focused on for the past three years.

The evolving partnership with Honda, as well as her many sponsors like BUBBA Burger, is another avenue that the Windermere resident is especially proud of. As someone who is incredibly hands-on in crafting her brand and the business side of her team, Holbrook considers herself and entrepreneur as much as a race car driver.

“I enjoy that (part) so much to the point where, if I didn’t have the entrepreneurial spirit in myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Holbrook said. “I learned very early on that I needed to become a successful person in the business industry of motorsports.”

Holbrook and her team are excited for what’s to come in 2017, and as she returns to drive her Honda Accord for another season, it’s safe to say that — in one form or another — she’ll be creating opportunities.


Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].

Steven Ryzewski was the Senior Sports Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and Southwest Orange Observer....

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