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Career

Meet the Auckland mum-of-two who races porsches

When it came to choosing between studying for a PhD, or a Porsche 911 – the car won for teacher Steff Chambers (45).

"I had a really significant car accident, a head-on collision with a police car, in August 2015. It was one of those wrong place, wrong time situations and I ended up in hospital.
It happened at almost exactly the same time as I'd been accepted to do my PhD. It made me realise that if you have ever wanted to do something, you may as well do it now because you don't know if you'll have tomorrow. It made me really rethink life.
I've wanted a Porsche 911 ever since I made a little plastic model of one when I was 18, so when Betty appeared on TradeMe two years ago, I had to have her. She's the classic, bug-eyed Porsche with little round headlights. She's an air-cooled upgraded model of an old special 911, a BTR RUF, which is where the name came from, and cost $38,000.
I started taking her to the track and loved it – the going fast – but she's not a race car. If I wanted to race in the Pirelli Porsche Championship series, which I did, I had to find another car. My wee race car is a 944, pretty much the cheapest version, and she's not road legal. I've also got a Prado Landcruiser, which I use for towing her on a trailer to races.
I've always been keen to try new things and take myself out of my comfort zone, but learning to drive the car, how to look after her, jack her up and change tyres, has been a really big learning curve.
Things have always come naturally easy to me – I'm reasonably intelligent and learn quickly – but this was a real challenge. There have been a lot of times where I've been really frustrated. I wanted to be better than I was and faster than I was.
Doing this is expensive.
I don't have a sponsor so I've been doing it on my own, pretty much on the smell of an oily rag. But I love it – racing is my happy place. It's a cliché, but it is a bit like a drug – you just want more and more and more of it.
I've really only been racing for six months. My first race was in the Classic Series at Hampton Downs, which was really just a training run for the Pirelli series – six races held around the country. Unfortunately, in the first one, I got shunted off the start line, crashed and had a little fire. I spent every single day over Christmas in the garage pulling bits off but not really knowing what I was pulling off and rebuilding the car with a bit of help.
Eldest son Tristan likes to tease his mother about her race car and having a "midlife crisis".
The last race of the season was at Taupo in April. I got Driver of the Round, which was a bit of an accolade, so I'm already competitive with the boys, right in the thick of it.
How fast are we going? Over 200km/h on the straight, and around corners, you're doing about 120 to 150km/h at times.
They don't make race suits for women, only men. Luckily, one of the race-suit companies here had custom-made one for a lady in Europe who had underestimated her size, so I now have a Ferrari red racing suit for a cheap price, which is great. A racing kit – the suit, balaclava, helmet, head and neck device, harness, boots and fire-proof undies – is really expensive. Yes, I've got fire-proof undies – you have to!
My two boys, Tristan (18) and Mitchell (16), had me on about a midlife crisis, and my eldest looks at it from time to time and goes, 'Hmm, how much?' He probably thinks I'm spending his inheritance.
Reactions are varied – tootling around in the 911, you get a few guys who rock up to the lights and want to race you. But I'm not into that and you just pass them 100 metres down the road anyway.
The pupils at Westlake Girls' High School, where I teach, all know who Betty is and will come to take photos with her, while the boys at Westlake Boys' High wander down and go, 'Oh, slick ride!' There's been a few times when I've been at a car meet and people just think I'm the wife.
I never did my PhD in the end. It was going to be in education because I'm heavily involved in gifted education, extension courses and girls in STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths programmes in schools], but then it was yeah, nah. I could either afford to do the PhD or race a car, so I decided to race a car. Getting a PhD, I'd get a Dr in front of my name, but that's hardly that exciting."
Words: Julie Jacobsen

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