From the land down under to the American desert, there isn’t much on the motorsports landscape Sarah Burgess hasn’t touched. 2016 will be her second year taking on the Pro Lite class of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, after having spent years drifting, competing in Red Bull Global Rallycross, working in the automotive industry and running a parts distribution business with her husband, Adam.
“I’m a very competitive person that’s for sure,” Burgess says.
Her Chevrolet-bodied, Dodge 360 Magnum-powered truck for 2016 is heavily reliant on parts from a variety of well-known automotive performance brands, including COMP Cams, which supplied the camshaft, lifters, timing set and pushrods.
“When you start getting connected and know the people that are within these great American companies, you get very flattered by it,” Burgess says. “I’m very honored to be able to have COMP Cams on the front of my truck this year because it’s such an icon in the industry.”
Burgess grew up in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, a city whose weather she likens to Miami. She grew up riding BMX bikes, competing in triathlons and biathlons, and even speed skated as a representative of her home country. Her parents are originally from England and although she and her dad followed Formula One racing, she doesn’t come from a racing family. Her future husband was a car guy though, and his passion and knowledge piqued Burgess’ interest in the performance industry.
A business trip to the U.S. with her then-boyfriend (now husband) included a fateful stop at Thursday qualifying during the 2000 NHRA Pomona Winternationals; it got her hooked on all things automotive. The assault on the senses made by a Top Fuel car in particular created a lasting impression.
“From that point on that I just really enjoyed the horsepower, the noise, the smell, everything that goes with it,” Burgess says.
The following February she and Adam opened Buzzengines in their home country, where they imported turbos, fuel pumps and injectors from the U.S. and sold them in Australia. Burgess became more involved in the automotive and motorsports world over the next several years, becoming ever more adept at fabricating parts, installing fuel systems and components, and much more. In 2005, Sarah and Adam also opened Billet Machine Industries where she served as a CNC applications engineer.
Burgess participated in some track days in Australia, but couldn’t satisfy her racing bug until she, Adam and their now 14-year-old daughter and burgeoning racer, Bridget, took the leap 8 years ago and moved to the United States with six suitcases. They first lived in Torrance, California, before ultimately settling in Lake Elsinore in the Golden State.
They soon opened BMI Racing. Adam competed in some time attack events, and they employed the services of an outside driver for a time in Formula D, but it didn’t take long until Burgess got behind the wheel for the team in the drifting arena. In 2011, she drove their 4-rotor Mazda RX-8 in drift events, before switching to a 700-horsepower, 2013 Mustang with a Ford Coyote engine and 2.9L Whipple Supercharger for the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
In 2014, she made the move to Global Rallycross where she campaigned a Chevy Sonic. Finally, in 2015, she moved to the Pro Lite class of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, a short-course circuit that draws huge crowds, receives coverage from CBS Sports and MAVTV, and features household motorsports names like Jeremy McGrath and Tanner Foust among its competitors in the sport’s highest levels.
Burgess explains the differences in drifting and off-road racing are numerous, with the initial entry into the corner being the only real crossover.
“Every single lap, every single corner is different, especially when you’ve got 20 trucks on the track at the same time,” she says. “Ruts develop; there are all sorts of different things going on.”
She equates each 14-lap race to the frantic racing that takes place in NASCAR during its frequent overtime (previously green-white-checkered) period. “Everybody’s on it, and it’s just madness,” she says.
Yet despite the chaotic nature of the races, Burgess notes the family atmosphere and competitors’ willingness to share parts, in addition to their coming together at times of accidents or other crises. She says there was a lot of support and encouragement from fellow racers in getting her truck set up during her first season in the series, as well as advice regarding the nuances of each track.
This season, Burgess looks to run consistently in the Top 10 in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, as well as compete for the championship in Lucas’ Southern California regional series. She ultimately hopes to move into the series’ Pro 2 and Pro 4 classes.
In addition to her role behind the wheel, she serves as a brand ambassador and mentor to the next generation of performance enthusiasts. She also has spent time working for SEMA and Racepak Data Systems in the United States, making her well aware of the performance industry’s importance in the U.S.
“I think the industry as a whole just needs more people to get involved, whether they’re female or male,” she says from her unique vantage point.
Although Burgess misses her family and friends who remain in Australia, she hasn’t been back to visit, choosing instead to her focus on her life in America, a country where she was assimilated well.
“The cultural differences aren’t much of an issue,” she says. “I’ve been coming to the U.S. since I was 16 for speed skating and stuff. I’ve always loved this country, and I’ve always wanted to live here.”
More info on the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series is available at www.lucasoiloffroad.com.