Start your engines: Business grad launches crowdfunding campaign on course to NASCAR glory

Amber BalcaenProfile by Stacy Cardigan Smith (Creative Communications, 2006)

Amber Balcaen has her sights set on NASCAR. And to make it there, she needs your help.

The 22-year-old Red River College grad recently launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help raise funds for a test run at the end of December, where she’ll be driving an ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) asphalt car for HARE (Hassler and Associates Racing Enterprises) Motorsports, at Daytona International Raceway.

“If I showed you a picture of an ARCA car, you’d be like, ‘Oh that’s a NASCAR’ because it looks identical,” says Balcaen. “Essentially that’s what it is, it’s just another form of pavement racing, it just mirrors NASCAR. It’s another gateway into NASCAR.”

This test run is vitally important for Balcaen’s career – completing it ensures she receives her ARCA license, thereby allowing her to race in 2015. To get there, she needs to raise $6,000 by Dec. 24.

“It’s very hard to show proof of return on investment for a test, because it’s not a race. There aren’t thousands of fans in the stands; you’re just testing a car. So it’s hard to really show the numbers that sponsors want ­– that’s why I thought that crowdfunding was [a good way to raise] money for the test.”

Balcaen has been racing for 12 years, but this will be her first time doing so for ARCA, a minor but professional league of stock car racing that’s used as a feeder series for NASCAR. She had her first chance to drive for NASCAR in November of this year, when she was one of only 20 drivers invited to participate in Rev Racing and NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity.

“It was my first time on pavement so that was a big difference obviously from being on dirt, which is what I’m used to racing on. But my lap times were super comparable to everyone else’s, and everyone else that was there races on pavement regularly.”

Although she didn’t make the team, which is common for first-time competitors, she tested really well in speed, fitness and media skills – all vital skills for professional drivers.

“Not only is racing a sport but it’s almost like a business where you need to be that full package. You need to be able to speak to people, you need to be professional and then on the driving side of things you need to be physically fit so you are a good driver.”

That’s where Balcaen’s RRC diploma in Business Administration comes in handy. She graduated from the program in 2013.

“It gave me all the fundamental skills I needed as far as marketing skills, professional skills, public speaking skills – just everything, from little things like knowing what return on investment is,” she explains. “Also being able to say, ‘Yeah I’m a race car driver, but I also have a Business diploma.’ A lot of NASCAR drivers graduate out of high school and are in to NASCAR.”

After graduating from RRC, Balcean tried a year at university but didn’t like it.

“I was way more comfortable at Red River, it was more of a high school feel but you felt like you were still learning. Whereas at university it’s more like, ‘Here’s your book, here’s your assignment, go do it.’”

It’s only been a year since Balcaen decided to focus on racing full time.

“Sitting in class at University of Manitoba I realized, ‘What am I doing here? This isn’t what I’m meant to do. I’m meant to race cars – this is what I’m passionate about, this is what I love and I want to try go after my dream.’”

She’s amazed at how far she’s come in that time.

“I just want everyone to know: don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something. As cliché as that sounds, it’s so true… I deal with a lot of negative feedback and stuff just because I am a female in a male dominated sport and I look like a girl. I’m girly, so I’m not always taken seriously. But I think if you just keep your love and passion and determination you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Balcaen spent five years driving Go-Kart and another five in Lightning Sprints; this year she started driving a 410 Sprint Car, and later this month will be in her first ARCA race.

That means she’s also driving a lot faster – from about 120 miles an hour on dirt tracks to 200 miles an hour at Daytona.

Despite the speed, Balcaen says she doesn’t get scared.

“The only thing I’m afraid of in driving is failing or not being able to race.”

In the past year, she’s also had to step up her search for sponsors, and in the case of her crowdfunding campaign, her fans, too.

“The (ARCA) owners really want me to drive for them, but everything in racing comes down to sponsorship money. Once we can secure a sponsor, I can be their driver, but until then I don’t have that type of money to put out and neither do they.”

To secure an ARCA car, Balcaen needs sponsorships that top six figures. In the meantime, she’s focusing on her $6,000 crowdfunding goal – without which, she won’t be able to race in ARCA anyway.

For more information about Amber Balcaen, check out her website or her IndieGoGo campaign.

For more on RRC’s Business Administration program, click here.