What does playing the clarinet and racing in the Battery Tender® Global Mazda MX-5 Cup have to do with each other?
Pressure. For Sarah Montgomery, dealing with pressure is a necessity if she wants to pursue her dream of racing cars – a dream that took a giant leap at the Global MX-5 Cup race at Portland International Raceway on August 30. Competing in the ND1 class for 2016-2018 Mazda MX-5 Cup cars, Montgomery became the first woman to finish on the podium in series history with a third-place finish in the first race of the weekend.
She then backed up her first podium finish with another third-place finish in the second race of the weekend.
A young Sarah Montgomery’s first passion was not racing, but music. She served as the lead singer of a band, and was a prodigy in drum band and the clarinet. While in high school she was a nationally honored clarinetist and soloed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. But after a visit to see the Indycars race at Texas Motor Speedway, ten-year-old Sarah also fell in love with racing. She began karting before jumping to Spec Miata.
Montgomery would go on to race in the MX-5 Cup series from 2014-2016, but a crash put an end to her 2017 racing season and would force her to sit out 2018 while working to create a program that would allow her to return to racing in 2019.
“For me to be performing at this level, I need partners to help me get here,” says Montgomery. “The pressure I put on myself to fully outperform anything my partners have in their minds is truly immense. Knowing that without other people believing in me enough to invest in our racing program, I don’t go racing, means I am always under pressure – finding sponsors, finalizing agreements, and then delivering results.”
With a marketing degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (’16), Montgomery may be better prepared than most drivers for sitting in those meetings but it may have been performing in front of a crowd that prepared her best for the businesses of racing and the craft of driving a race car.
“Playing in a band taught me patience and playing in front of large crowds has taught me how to deal with a high stress situation in a calm manner,” says Montgomery. “I’ve traveled to national competitions as part of a band and played large venues by myself. When we are on track in the MX-5 Cup, even just in practice, we feel like all eyes are on us. A final practice session is comparable to a final rehearsal on the stage you will be performing.”
Montgomery’s work paid off when she took to the track for the first Global MX-5 Cup weekend of the season at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas for a season-long championship effort. But following numerous fourth-place finishes this season, the actual payoff may have been standing on the podium twice in Portland.
“My entire personal goal for this year was to become the first female ever on the podium in a Global Mazda MX-5 Cup race,” said Montgomery. “This series has some of the most talented drivers around and I have been heavily invested in my training. To be standing where my mentors have stood is truly a blessing. I am completely honored and humbled to be racing on this stage and representing my partners, my team, and my very supportive family and friends.”