Sarah Burgess’ smile is infectious. So when she emerged last month at California’s Irwindale Speedway wearing a massive grin to pair with her blue and red driver’s suit, many noticed.
The sight of the 41-year-old native of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, wearing a driver’s suit was not out of the ordinary. She wears it when she serves as her daughter Bridget’s crew chief for ARCA Menards Series West races.
The smile, though, was telling.
Burgess’ beam was a projection of the joy she felt preparing to drive a stock car on an asphalt oval for the first time. This was only a practice, a test of her driving ability. But it was a key stage in a journey the Burgesses hope will end with a notable addition to stock car racing history.
Sarah and Bridget Burgess wish to race against each other in the same event, when the West Series visits Irwindale again on July 2. Their doing so would mark the first time a mother-daughter duo has raced in the same NASCAR or ARCA touring series event.
“The historic moment definitely would be one of those standout moments,” Burgess allowed in a conversation with ARCARacing.com “I will admit, though, I’m also the type of person who does something because I want to do it. I chose to be in the automotive industry because I’m fascinated by it, not because I wanted to be a girl in the industry.
“I just really want to go do one of these races. See how it feels, and go out there and be competitive.”
This is how the Burgesses are wired as a racing-obsessed family that uprooted their Australian lives in pursuit of motorsports glory on American soil. In 2008, Sarah and her husband Adam moved with their then-six-year-old daughter to the Los Angeles area after the Australian government prohibited people under 25 from driving cars with turbos or V8 engines.
All the family had when they arrived in the United States were six suit cases.
Once settled in America, Sarah Burgess raced drift and off-road cars. She and Bridget even competed against each other in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series after the latter made her debut at age 15. But the Burgesses eventually realized their efforts needed to be concerted and pushed toward Bridget’s career in a stock car.
Now 20, Bridget Burgess has been racing family-owned cars in the West Series since 2020 after making her debut driving a couple races for other car owners in 2019. She has five top-10 finishes on the platform.
Sarah Burgess not only lists herself as Bridget’s car owner for each event. She also works as her daughter’s crew chief and, sometimes, the entire crew. Adam typically serves as Bridget’s spotter.
On top of the racing program, Sarah works a full-time job at eBay in the business and development, parts and accessories department. Bridget works at a McDonald’s in their home of Tooele, Utah, where the family rents a three-bedroom apartment. Adam is not employed. His job, Sarah says, is working for Bridget for free, maintaining and preparing her car and coaching his daughter.
“I can’t afford to pay Bridget to be a race car driver,” Sarah Burgess said. “All of that money goes into the opportunity for her to be a race car driver. Same with Adam. My salary has always covered our cost of living.”
As if their situation supporting one driver was not difficult enough, for at least one race, the family wants to make it two.
“If I want to do something, I go do it,” Sarah Burgess said with a laugh.
The Burgesses have been thinking about Sarah joining Bridget in a West Series race for years. The process of turning that dream into a reality began last fall, when they began looking for a second race car to purchase.
This year, they finally found a Gen 4 Chevrolet chassis former West Series driver Matt Levin had posted for sale within their budget. Sarah said the car, which last ran in 2019, came with a relatively fresh motor. That was important to the family, because an industry-wide shortage of engine components had been restricting their development. The Burgesses took the “new” motor and dropped it the car Bridget has raced this year.
The next step for Sarah Burgess was getting clearance from ARCA to race. With experience behind the wheel on other platforms, she was able to obtain a license, but she needed some laps in a stock car on an oval. So she completed a couple practice runs in Bridget’s car during the open session at Irwindale last month. This despite the fact that Sarah’s legs are three inches longer than Bridget’s; the ride was not exactly comfortable.
After that session, ARCA officials told Sarah Burgess she was cleared to enter a race. In fact, she almost did just that the following day. Because of a driver no-show, Burgess, the only person in the garage licensed to race, was asked to start in Eric Nascimento’s car. She agreed to do so, but the team eventually withdrew the entry before the event.
Sarah Burgess still has one major hurdle to clear in order to race at Irwindale. She needs sponsorship to fund the efforts.
In fact, she said, a lack of funding at this point is the only thing that can derail what would be a historic mother-daughter moment. Even if something goes wrong with one of the family’s two engines when Bridget races at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, or in either of the two road course races on the schedule, they can make repairs in time for July.
“It’s a continual chase. This is the hard part,” Sarah Burgess allowed. “I’ll continue to chase it down until the week before if I have to. Sponsorship is a tough deal regardless. You’re not just competing against other race teams. You’re competing against Instagram influencers, TV commercials … so many different things.
“The hardest thing we have is the fact that companies have already done their budgets. And we couldn’t pitch anything in October of last year because we didn’t know how everything was going to pan out.”
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One thing the Burgesses are not concerned about is people power. Though Adam typically spots for Bridget, Sarah wants her husband in her ear while on track. Bridget, after all, is used to working with different spotters depending on the race location and Adam’s availability.
Victor Franco, a family friend who works closely with the Burgesses, would serve unofficially as the crew chief for both Sarah and Bridget. As for the crew, the family has enough friends in the LA area to piece together a team to service both cars. They also have two haulers, though they might need to borrow a truck to transport the second rig.
Sarah Burgess also feels as though she needs to improve her physical conditioning before racing a stock car. She is not at the level she was in her 20s, when she competed at an Olympic level as a speed skater.
This project, though, is on hold. Even for a person who rises before dawn and goes to sleep late at night, her schedule doesn’t allow time for exercise.
“The sooner I can spend my 4 a.m. mornings not sending emails about sponsorship, the sooner I can spend my 4 a.m. mornings on the treadmill,” Burgess joked.
If Sarah Burgess can land the sponsorship she needs, her attention will turn completely to the preparation required to compete at Irwindale. Because that competition is what these efforts are about. While Bridget’s program remains the family’s priority, if they get the opportunity, the Burgesses will prepare both cars to run as well as possible.
What has the potential to be a special night at Irwindale is not lost on Sarah or Bridget. Sarah said simply being able to talk to her daughter about the car’s drive after that practice session was a cool moment. She can only imagine how it might feel for the two to discuss their performance in the same ARCA race.
If Sarah Burgess gets the chance to race against her daughter in a stock car, regardless of how she performs or where she finishes, one thing is certain.
That infectious smile will return.