If you know of Melissa Paris no further introduction is necessary. If not, prepare for a truly inspiring and motivating read!
Many gearheads dream of being a professional racer at some point in their lives, but for most of us that remains a distant dream, or perhaps something we pursue as a hobby a few weekends a year. We’re told you have to start very young or you need connections and a huge bank account.
Not Melissa. She started “late” by most standards, with a dream and a great work ethic. Now she’s “living the dream” as a professional motorcycle racer. Oh, and let’s not forget she is also a team owner helping others start their racing careers, and in case that’s not impressive enough lets add wife and mother to that list!
So here we’ll let Melissa, in her own words, talk about some of her experiences and share some things she’s learned along the way.
AG: What’s your basic background? How did you get involved in motorsports?
MP: I actually grew up playing more traditional sports, baseball, swimming, etc.
I did love messing around on BMX bikes with my older brother, but no one in our family was really into motorsports. I was always kind of intrigued by sport bikes though. You know, one would go by and I’d turn my head. I always thought it looked so cool, but didn’t seem like something that was really accessible to me.
Then, in my first year of college I met a guy in my dorm who rode on the street. We started dating and he taught me to ride, and that was sort of where it all started.
The Road to Success
AG: Many enthusiasts dream of a career in motorsports, but very few become professional racers, and even fewer manage successful racing teams. What is something in your background that has separated you from the “dreamers”? What is something that most people don’t know that is valuable in your success?
MP: I think everyone has a dream of some sort, just like you said… but I don’t want to just dream and have some boring life.
You know, while I was in school I was also working full time. I think at some point I realized that no matter what, in life you’re going to have to work hard at something… it might as well be something you like. I just truly couldn’t picture a life of driving to some job I hated and living only for the weekends.
The other thing I had that made the difference is a supportive family. When I graduated college and only lasted one day at my “real” job, my dad understood. He didn’t want me to be stuck in some job I hated either. Even though he couldn’t financially support me to go racing, knowing that he had my back and supported me was huge.
We had this talk one day where I reminded him that when I was little he had told me that if I worked hard enough, I could do anything I wanted. I asked him then, “Hey. Is that real? Or is that just some crap you’re supposed to tell your kid?” and he told me he believed it. So I’ve always told myself when I come up short on something, it’s on me. I must have not tried hard enough. That’ll motivate you!
AG: Our research shows that truly successful people have at least four common characteristics: ability, passion, initiative and the ability to develop purposeful relationships with others. How did you develop these attributes? Would you add anything to this list?
MP: I’m not sure. I mean, I think I had all these characteristics demonstrated to me by my very hard working parents. That’s huge I’m sure.
It probably falls under “initiative” but I think you really must have an unrelenting willingness to do the work… and also you can’t be afraid to fail. I think with those two things you can even overcome a lack of talent in a lot of ways!
AG: Being both an active racer and a team owner/manager is unusual and challenging. Each require knowledge and passion, yet they are quite different in application.
There appear to be several common traits, such as, boldness and strong personal commitment. What do you see as your underlying strengths that allow you to excel in both areas?
MP: Honestly, I’m as stubborn as they come. I figure I can put that to use!
AG: There are many different skills required for each role. For example, as a racer you focus on the individual race, the motorcycle’s performance, the track’s unique characteristics, etc., while as a team owner you are looking far ahead to advances in technology, rule changes, financing, etc. What do you find as the greatest challenge in balancing these roles (beyond time) and how do you achieve success in both?
MP: Unfortunately, something always has to give. I’d be lying if I said that my performance on track isn’t affected by all the other hats I have to wear. You just have to do the best you can.
For me that means having systems in place to make sure things get done, and being ok with asking other people for help!
AG: Would you recommend that others pursue both roles? What advice would you give them?
MP: Honestly, I think it’s better to focus on one or the other.
I just find myself in this position where I feel like having my own team is the best way to make sure I’m happy with the equipment I’m on. I don’t have the budget to have someone else do it for me.
AG: I recall that you are a fairly new mother. As a father to two young sons (ages 4 and 1) racing and maintaining cars is a real challenge, I expect this is magnified both by the unique aspects of motherhood and competing professionally. What are some specific challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
MP: Time. time. time. It’s so hard. You know how much time kids take! And you want to do it, but you also need to be training and making arrangements, and doing a thousand other things. I couldn’t do it without the childcare we have. I’m so lucky to have a nanny that comes to races with us.
AG: Is there a particular highlight in your career; a moment or experience that stands out as a favorite?
MP: I think there have been a few times. Testing a MotoGP bike, racing at Suzuka, the Bol d’Or, or racing World Supersport… where I stepped back and thought, “Man, someone is going to realize I’m just some squid canyon rider and tell me to go home!” The moments where you realize you’re getting these crazy opportunities that you could barely even dream of before.
AG: Are there any exciting projects you’re working on now that you’d like to share?
MP: I’m definitely trying to figure out how to get myself back into the World Endurance paddock. That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had racing!
AG: How would you encourage young competitors to pursue success in motorsports?
MP: I think the very first thing is to have a good work ethic. Go look at how your heros are training, and then do more than them.
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