Ally Raphael posing in front of her sports car.

First-year student races to the forefront and inspires others to join her

February 24, 2022

As the only teenaged woman professional sports car racer in North America, Ally Raphael stands out on the track. But she doesn't see the difference.

"When I'm competing against all the older men on the track, I don't think I'm some young female racer," she said. "I am just a competitor. I focus on the race."

Raphael first took the wheel of a go-kart at 6 years old after begging her parents to let her race. But if you're picturing a child in a toy car, think again. These go-karts cap out around 100 miles per hour and are the entry point for many pro drivers.

Raphael raced go-karts until she was 12 years old. At age 14, she completed her first race in a full-size car at the Monticello Motor Club. And by 17, she moved into the professional circuit in a BMW M240ir that can reach 170 miles per hour.

While she's often the only young female on the course, Raphael was surprised by the support she received from the older male competitors. She was also quick to realize that she was just as competitive — a mindset that turned out to be key to her success.

"I realized there was no real difference between us," she said. "We weren't male or female; we were all racers."

Raphael wanted to help other kids push through the barriers that might be holding them back. So, alongside the Girl Scouts of America, she created the organization Driven to Success, which helps empower children to overcome their mental barriers and achieve their own dreams.

She's talked to hundreds of kids — both boys and girls — about believing in themselves, even when there's no model to follow. She hopes to bring the organization to the University of Richmond and involve people from a variety of backgrounds and interests in the conversation.

"The kids have said things like, 'I didn't know that girls were allowed to race,' and 'It's exciting to see a girl racing in a car!'" Raphael said. "I love teaching kids that it doesn't matter who you are — you can excel in any field."