Mia Chapman, off-road racer, is a modified kid at heart
Maybe every kid wouldn't want to be Mia Chapman, but there are probably plenty who would.
Chapman, 15, attends an online high school, races mini off-road trucks on dirt tracks around the Southwest and stars in cool videos and commercials. She moves seamlessly from helping her dad work on her race vehicles to participating in her second passion, competitive cheer.
The small-town girl from Florence, Arizona, has the personality and talent to go places, which is why she is the first female off-road racer to be sponsored by energy drink giant Red Bull.
"If someone just met me out there on the street and didn't know anything about me, I don't think they would know that I race," Chapman said. "A lot of people don't expect a girl to be racing in that kind of sport. When somebody comes up to you and asks, 'Hey, aren't you that girl that races those little cars?' and we start talking about it, it's really cool."
Though she's a long way from making it in major league professional racing, Chapman has fared very well against mostly boys in regional and national competitions. The modified trophy karts she drives are scaled-down versions of the professional desert trophy trucks and compete in the Modified Kart class of the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series.
"She is 15 years old and has seven [age division modified kart] championships," her father, Joe Chapman, said. "We've raced multiple series. There were three different series in California and Arizona at one point, so she has seven championships in the karts and, like, 73 podiums [top-3 finishes]. If you take everything we've done, she is the youngest female to win and have that many championships."
Jimmy Owens, Chapman's car owner and spotter, said he's seen an uptick in her tenacity. "She's getting more aggressive, which we've been working on with her for about a season and a half," Owens said. "She was giving the boys too much room, but she's been roughing them up a little lately, so that's been helping her."
Owens raced sprint cars in his younger days, then worked on road racing, NASCAR and IndyCar teams and now owns Xtreme Machine & Fabrication, which builds custom off-road vehicles and parts. Xtreme also manages about a dozen kids ages 6 through 16 through its driver development program.
"What I like about Mia is she's versatile," Owens said. "We've put her in a number of different [racing vehicles], and she adapts quickly. I have a customer, an older gentleman, with a 6100 [full-size off-road] truck, and we were testing with him one day and he invited Mia to go for a ride. Then he decided to put her in the driver's seat, and within six laps, she was faster than he was.
"Well, he gets back and goes, 'Well, that kind of sucked. A 14-year-old girl is already beating me.' "
Florence, about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix, is a farming town that's also home to a prison. There's little to do there, so Joe Chapman adopted the same strategy his parents used to keep his two children out of trouble. He engaged them with racing.
But Mia Chapman's start in racing almost never happened. Joe had bought her an age-appropriate Trophy Kart for Christmas when she was 6, but his daughter wanted nothing to do with it. "It was just kind of scary because it was a car, and was totally new to me," she said.
About two weeks after Christmas, though, Joe went into the kitchen to get something to drink and noticed that the garage light was on. He went in, and Mia was sitting in the kart.
Thus began the family racing adventure. It hasn't been easy, though. Racing at all levels costs money, and Joe makes only so much as a refrigeration technician for the local school district. He racks up comp time during the school year and uses it to take Mia to races as far away as Wisconsin. Mia has helped with the wrenching. And, along the way, she has picked up limited sponsorship from MTRV8 radio control cars, Mod Kids USA, Kicker Audio and others, in addition to a new high-profile gig with Red Bull.
Video star in the making
Mod Kids produces 90-minute documentary-style movies that cover a full season of elite racers in the modified karts class. Chapman will be featured in three of the films, which will be available on Amazon Prime Video, and she also has filmed a high-energy commercial called "Engage" in which she drives a CanAm Maverick X3 utility task vehicle through Old Tucson.
Education and competitive cheer are part of the mix. Chapman attends Insight Academy of Arizona, an online public school with a flexible curriculum that matches her race schedule.
"When Mia is racing a ton, I don't see as much activity with her," said Meredith Bragg, Chapman's academic adviser. "And then, all of a sudden she's home, and everything jumps up. She's an excellent student, and she has really figured out how to work when she has the time."
The online school also offers Chapman the chance to continue with competitive cheer, an activity she had to give up temporarily in eighth grade.
"I took a year off to focus on racing, but last year and this year, I got back into it and fell back in love with it," she said.
Where all of this will take her, Chapman can't say.
"I really don't have any specific series I want to be in," she said. "Anything that I get the chance to drive, I'll take the opportunity. I'll see what happens after this year. I definitely want to try some new things. Maybe some asphalt stuff. Maybe some desert stuff. Whatever it is, I want to race."