Bridget Burgess entered October’s ARCA Menards Series West race at All American Speedway with confidence. In her ninth series start, she finally had experience on her side.
The 19-year-old from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, had competed in the West Series race on the third-mile paved oval in Roseville, California, the year prior. She remembered running well. This time, she figured, she would make sure her car’s performance could meet her level of comfort.
The newfound determination meant Burgess’ team would need to purchase a second set of General Tires for the hour-long practice/qualifying session held before the race — a rare luxury for a driver who typically qualified and raced on the same set of scuffs. Money was tight, but for this race, the splurge was warranted.
Burgess’ No. 88 HMH Construction Toyota was assigned the pit stall next to Holley Hollan’s No. 50 JBL/NAPA Filters Toyota, a car fielded by the Bill McAnally Racing stable that has won five of the last six West Series championships. Sarah Burgess, Bridget’s mother and crew chief, could only laugh when she watched “like 10 guys” jump over the pit wall to service the No. 50 during the practice session.
Sarah is not just her daughter’s crew chief; she is the entire crew. So when Bridget brought her car into their pit stall, her 40-year-old mother changed all four tires herself. Sarah estimates the process took eight minutes.
Bridget returned to the track and ran more practice laps on her new tires. Over their radio, she and her mom discussed the impact of the upgrade. Bridget was back in her pit stall after a few circuits; she wanted the original tires on the car for the rest of the session in order to preserve the newer set for the race. Sarah changed all four tires again.
“I save on gym memberships by doing this,” said Sarah with a tepid laugh, seemingly exhausted by the thought of the physical burden. “We’re just working with what we’ve got. It’s better than not being at a race track at all.”
Added Bridget: “We go racing because we love it. We want to race, so we do everything we can to keep on racing and continuously go to the next race.”
Bridget finished 11th at All American, and perhaps as important, was running at the end of the race.
Sarah and Bridget Burgess have competed as a mother-daughter / crew chief-driver duo in 11 West Series races dating back to 2019, including nine of the 11 events on last season’s schedule. The most unique team in the sport is undeterred by the challenges.
In August, when the West Series held a doubleheader with races on back-to-back days — the first at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington, and the second at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon — some teams brought new, pre-tuned cars to the second leg. Bridget spent the night in the garage at Evergreen replacing the gear differential on her car before she and Sarah drove to Douglas County the next morning.
“That’s how we roll,” said Sarah. “She wants to race, she has to work on it.”
In November, when the West Series concluded its 2020 season at Phoenix Raceway, Bridget spun early in the race and damaged her car. She drove to her pit box, where her mother jumped over the wall and began to repair the damage. Sarah was fortunate to have a family friend on hand at Phoenix to help. Their work was enough for Bridget to again find herself running at the end of the race.
The Burgess family is an Australian clan of racing enthusiasts. It includes Adam, Sarah’s husband, who often serves as his daughter’s spotter. Bridget calls her dad the brain of the operation.
Adam, Sarah and Bridget moved to the Los Angeles area in 2008 with nothing but their luggage. They did so after the Australian government prohibited people under the age of 25 from driving a car with a turbo or a V8 engine. The new law was the last straw for what was becoming a racing-obsessed family looking for viable avenues to satisfy their craving for motorsports competition.
A little more than a decade later, after Sarah had dipped her toes in both American drift and off-road racing, the Burgesses chose the path of stock-car racing.
Now they’re going all in with Bridget behind the wheel and Sarah on the pit box, looking to learn, advance and win in the ARCA Menards Series West before, they hope, pushing Bridget to the top levels of NASCAR.
Growing up in Australia, Sarah Burgess planned to arrive in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002 representing her country as a speed skater in the Winter Olympics. Her parents, a brick layer and a grocery store worker, supported the ultra-busy childhood of “a total sports jock,” but a lack of finances eventually ended her dream of competing internationally.
Now she lives in Tooele, Utah, about 30 miles from the arena where she was supposed to skate for a gold medal.
“It still kind of hurts a little,” she admitted.
Sarah has new racing-related goals these days, the roots of which took hold when she met her husband.
Sarah can recall her father watching Formula 1 racing when she was a child, and she considers those vague memories her only ties to motorsports before she started dating Adam in 1999. Cars meant nothing to Sarah, until they meant everything.
“I met him when I was about 19,” Sarah said, “and it was one of those things where if I wanted to spend time with him, we were hanging out in the garage and it was always car stuff. He was into Mazdas. And I’m not the average girl, so I’m like, ‘OK, how does this work? What do you do here?’
“So I learned how to wire aftermarket ECUs, tune cars and things like that. At date nights, we were at the local drag strip back in Australia for a test and tune.”
Sarah’s newfound interest in automobiles evolved into a passion for motorsports after she visited the United States in 2000 on a business trip with Adam. They attended an NHRA drag race, and Sarah’s first experience observing a car exceed 300 mph blew her away, in part because she didn’t know she needed ear plugs.
When Bridget was born the next year, she arrived into a full-fledged racing family. Adam and Sarah operated a high-performance shop in Brisbane, and they owned a 22-foot dragster with a rotary engine.
Sarah’s childhood was defined by BMX bikes and speed skating, and Bridget grew up around cars.
The common denominator, and where the mother and daughter’s worlds collided, was racing.
Bridget Burgess didn’t mind the move to a new country when she was 6. She misses her brother (Adam’s son) and other family, but thanks to racing, she otherwise loves life in the U.S.
Bridget graduated from homeschool earlier this year and is considering local options for higher education. Her family relocated to Utah from California in 2018, but she continues to communicate often with her best friend, a young actress in LA. Still, her life outside of motorsports yields to her passion.
“I fell in love with racing the more I saw it,” said Bridget. “Just, racing kept me so connected to wanting to stay in America and not move back.”
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Bridget in 2017 began competing in the Open V8 class of the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series. She was good, as evidenced by the podium finish in her first race.
Bridget quickly progressed to the ProLite class. She even earned opportunities to race against Sarah, who was competing regularly in the series.
There came a point, though, where the Burgesses realized Bridget’s career could only go so far under the limitations of off-road racing.
“Off road is amazing,” said Sarah. “It’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s a crazy different type of racing for people to watch. At the same time, there’s only so far you can go with it. …
“With Bridget coming into racing, it was like, ‘What are the paths for her to take?’”
The family’s obvious move was a jump from dirt to asphalt. They just needed to know how to make it.
The Burgesses live 6 miles from the Utah Motorsports Campus, where they have access to a paved road course and where Bridget helps her parents run their race shop. Sarah works at the facility organizing track days for people who have no experience racing.
“Just a lot of unique stuff to get people into really bad habits,” she joked.
Based in Tooele, Sarah in 2019 began traveling to NASCAR races as a brand ambassador for Axalta Racing. She brought Bridget to the events at Sonoma Raceway that June because she knew what was then the NASCAR K&N Series West — and renowned West Series car owner Bill McAnally — would be there.
Sarah’s goal was to “basically get in (McAnally’s) face and say, ‘Hey, this is Bridget. This is what we’d like to do. How do we get started?’ ”
“They introduced themselves,” recalled McAnally. “Said they’ve been racing off road, and they were really interested in getting into the NASCAR side of things. So they came up the next day and toured my shop, and I talked to them about the path that would be best for Bridget moving from off-road trucks.”
McAnally told the Burgesses that Bridget would need to spend time racing late models in local weekly races on asphalt ovals, where she could learn the basics.
The Burgesses found a modified listed for $8,000, and Bridget, who says she loves the business side of racing as much as the competition side, negotiated the cost down to $4,500.
“Don’t negotiate with Bridget,” said Sarah.
Bridget over the next few months competed in 10 modified races at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho, with a best finish of fourth. She capped 2019 running her first pair of West Series races after working out a deal with Idaho-based car owner John Wood.
Bridget ran the 2020 West Series season-opener in Wood’s car. She completed 40 laps at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before the car’s rear end failed. And prior to that, Bridget said, the car’s engine was not running on all eight cylinders.
Stressed and frustrated about the state of their equipment, Sarah and Bridget were weighing their options for the rest of the 2020 season when McAnally intervened. Sitting in his shop was a 2007 Toyota chassis that was in good enough shape to race.
“I must have had a particular look on my face that night,” said Sarah. “Bill said to me, ‘Sarah, you can’t have Bridget in this car. I’ll let you guys use a car. You can have it for the year. It’s yours to take care of.’
“There were no strings attached. If it got severely messed up and she put it into the wall and she couldn’t afford to fix it, then we could give it back to him with no questions asked.”
Added Bridget: “He knew I looked at my gauges. He knew I paid attention to the sound of the car. He did know that I would take care of his car and give it back in one piece.”
McAnally said he didn’t hesitate to let the Burgesses borrow his car because they were clearly serious about their ambitions in the West Series. They had followed his advice as though it were an instruction manual.
“They just needed some help,” McAnally explained. “I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have people help me.”
Bridget indeed kept McAnally’s car relatively clean through the eight West Series events in which she raced it. She even drove the car to three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a career-high seventh in the series’ return to The Bullring in September.
“It’s definitely motivating and encouraging to know you’re continuously getting better,” Bridget said. “We’ll always learn from our mistakes.”
Bridget’s long-term goal is what one would expect from a young stock car driver; she dreams of one day racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.
As for Sarah’s goals, she jokes about hoping to eventually attend Bridget’s races as “a normal mom.” She stepped away from her own racing career last year to serve as her daughter’s crew chief, but she does not consider herself retired as a driver.
After all, she does have one short-term objective for herself in a race car.
“I don’t know how we’re going to achieve it just yet,” said Sarah. “At some point next year, if we can get Bridget’s program sorted out, I actually want to step into a car so we can have mother-daughter racing against each other in the same race.
“I think it’d be really neat to actually have that opportunity, to continue what we did in off-road. Not a road course, just an oval — a short oval.”
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The Burgesses are considering their options for 2021 in terms of sponsorship and partnership opportunities for Bridget. They want to put her in a newer car, and they’re aiming to run the complete ARCA Menards Series West schedule. They also will race every road-course event they can since Bridget’s experience at their home track has prepared her for those challenges.
Sarah and Adam are studying to understand the best ways to set up their daughter’s car. They know they have plenty to learn before they can graduate to the point where Sarah is not Bridget’s lone crew member and Adam no longer needs to fill in as her spotter.
The Burgesses’ palpable passion for racing remains as strong as ever. They set alarms for 4 a.m. so they can catch Formula 1 practice sessions on TV. Sarah stays busy working at the track. Bridget and Adam spend time modifying the BMW Z3 they bought for $1,000 as a drift car.
All the while, Sarah says, Bridget is working “10 times harder than the other young people chasing the same dream.”
She has a point. Who else has to wait in the pits eight minutes for a tire change?