Like a scene from a movie where the fierce car racer takes off their helmet to reveal (surprise!) a girl, Ashburton street sprint racer Danielle Mitchell isn’t what most people would expect from your average motorsport aficionado. With her long blonde hair, well-applied makeup, soft voice and sweet demeanour, she first appears as someone that most wouldn’t expect to know much about racing.
“I guess I’m not your average racer,” Danielle admits, sitting in her element amongst all things automobile at Repco Ashburton, where she works as 2IC. “I love doing my hair and makeup, all that kind of stuff.” But at the same time, it’s the thrill that gets her. “It’s that buzz,” she says. “Some girls get it from shopping, I get it from cars. It’s the speed I love, the bettering of myself when I’m behind the wheel. When you’re racing, it’s just you and the car; you’re there in your helmet and you just feel race-y,” she laughs. “At least if I’m not going to win, I’m still going to look good doing it.”
At age 24, Danielle has been racing for half her life. Her uncle Ray introduced her to go-karting when she was 8 years old. But soon after picking up the hobby, Danielle had a minor accident that stopped her young self from getting back in the go-kart. When she finally decided to try again, it was in a proper car. “The security of having the car around me was what helped me start again,” she said.
Danielle earned her race license by age 12 and has thankfully had no serious accidents since. She competes regularly in races, averaging about 5-10 per year. Most have been in the South Island, such as Timaru and Ruapuna, where she proudly raced her personal best at a Super Track meeting in January, but her first North Island race will be in November in Feilding, at Manfeild Racetrack. “It’s one of the biggest national motorsport races,” she says excitedly.
Her passion for the sport is palpable, as vibrant as the race car she and husband Bryce own: a green 1980 Toyota Starlet bequeathed Kermit. “It came with the name,” she laughs. It’s had a 5k engine put in it, and had “head work” – all improvements to achieve more speed. It’s the only car she races at the moment, but she has occasionally raced her uncle’s car, a white Ford Anglia. “I’d love to get another car, to take my competing further,” she says. “But it’s an expensive sport, so until then I’ll grab any opportunity I can.”
For Danielle, racing is a family affair. The love of the sport can be traced all the way back to her grandmother, who got her uncle Ray into it. He passed along that passion to Danielle, who introduced it to her husband Bryce and stepfather Mark. Her little brother Stephen is also a keen racer, having been around it his whole life. Their mother is “very supportive, but more of a spectator,” Danielle laughs, though Stephen managed to take her out with him for the first time last Mother’s Day.
With Ashburton Wheels Week fast approaching, Danielle is busy helping on the committee organising the street sprints, in which she and husband Bryce will compete on the 9th & 10th of May. She’s hoping to convince a friend to join her, as passengers are permitted in such races. “For me, if I can give someone else that feeling that I get behind the wheel, pass on that enjoyment… well, that’s incredible,” she smiles. “That’s what I love.”