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Family Seeds Grow into Historic Championship Run for Ruman in Trans Am

When Bob Ruman ventured off to the garage to work on his restored 1967 red Corvette, daughters Amy and Niki satisfied their curiosity by helping him tinker.

That’s how it started. After that, Amy “always had a wrench in her hand,” her father recalls. During autocross events, where cars raced in parking lots against the clock, the girls jumped at the chance to pedal around those pylons on Big Wheels. And when the racing family from Akron, Ohio, later traveled to more high-profile race venues, Bob would give his girls memorable hot-lap rides.

“We’d put the helmet on and strap us in,” Amy said. “You’re talking a 350-cubic-inch motor with the side pipes that you’d burn your legs on if you got out the wrong way.

“Dad would take us for a hot lap. I was always like, ‘Go faster, faster, faster!’ And you can’t even see out the dashboard. Picture me in a little open-faced helmet that’s too big on my head, I’m maybe 7 or 8, sitting next to my dad, with a lap belt on. Picture that.”

Amy Ruman, now 43, thrives on driving the competition crazy by going faster as a two-time defending series champion in the Trans Am presented by Pirelli TA class. She is the first female driver to win a North American full-season sports car championship.

The 850-horsepower, V8 rear-wheel drive TA class cars make their Indianapolis Motor Speedway debut Saturday afternoon as part of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational weekend.

She’s looking to push her No. 23 McNichols Company Chevrolet Corvette to finish first after 42 laps or 75 minutes elapsed in the 2:40 p.m. race. Back in the day, the daughter delighted in pushing the limit with dad on those hot laps.

“I’m sure he would get up there, maybe 90 or 100 mph,” she said. “It felt like 100 to me. Whether it was 100 or not, I don’t know.”

Bob smiles and says: “It was 100 mph, for sure. She loved it. It’s the same thing with a rollercoaster. The first time on, she got scared terrible. Then the next time she goes on, it’s ‘Faster! Faster! Faster!’”

The intensely competitive daughter immediately disputes the notion she has ever been afraid of going fast.

“Nah, nah,” she said, shaking her head.

Bob and Barb Ruman raised their daughters at racetracks. That included a 1984 visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway while in town for an event at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Those were just a couple of laps, and the Rumans weren’t allowed to push the proverbial envelope.

“It wasn’t very fast,” Bob said, suggesting a top speed of 60 to 70 mph.

“We weren’t allowed to get on it,” Amy said.

Now, finally, she has that opportunity. Bob and Barb are still part of the Ruman Racing team. As Amy chatted Thursday about her career path, Bob was the one holding a wrench and working on a car part.

“All you have to say is I’m racing at Indy, and people are like, ‘What?’” Amy said. “Just being here and being around such a great history and heritage, it’s amazing. I would love to win here and add that to the list. We’ve got some wins at Daytona, which is another great track, and Watkins Glen and Sebring. I’d like to add this to my list. It would be awesome.

“I’ve always kind of wanted to come to the Indy 500, but we’ve always been doing something or racing. This year, I actually went to Monaco. My dad and I and my crew chief, Dave Skinner, and a couple of other family members went to Monaco and took in the F1 sights and sounds. Of course, it was the year (two-time F1 World Champion) Fernando Alonso came here, so that was kind of a switch. I crossed that off the old bucket list and maybe here in the near future I’ll cross the Indy 500 off and come to that race and see it in person. That would be cool.”

Amy didn’t start racing until she was 18. She encountered anticipated biases because of her gender. But the more she’s won, the less anyone has said anything.

“I used to hear the guys saying, ‘I can’t let that girl beat me,’” she said. “They think they’re funny and laughing with you, but really you’re insulting me. Most everybody around here at this point is probably joking now because they know who we are.

“I’m proud of our achievements. I don’t shy away from being a woman, but I just approach people as a driver. If they want to ask me about being a woman driver, that’s fine. But I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about that. I wake up in the morning, and I’m Amy Ruman – I do my job; I come here and try to win races.”

She pushed her car too far in Thursday’s initial practice, spinning out twice on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. She shrugged that off as “learning limits.” She recovered to qualify third Friday for the TA feature race.

Amy insists what separates her from other drivers is while she can be aggressive, she also knows how to use her head. She’s college educated with a business degree from Kent State. She spent a quarter of a century working in the family business, eventually becoming owner and vice president of Cenweld Corp. Truck Bodies and Equipment. When the family decided to sell the business five years ago, that freed up the family to go racing full time.

“As long as we’re proving ourselves over time, I think everyone obviously knows we’re a contender,” she said. “We’re a two-time champion. We not only won one, we backed it up the very next year.

“This year, we’re still in the running for it. We’ve had a lot of glitches, unfortunately. Sometimes that happens. The season is long. We’re working hard to make changes and get better momentum going into the second part of the season. Hopefully it starts this weekend.”

She’s third in the TA class standings with 91 points, 29 behind leader Ernie Francis Jr. But don’t be too quick to count her out.

“One championship is hard,” she said. “Two championships is really hard. Three championships, they tell me it’s nearly impossible to get three in a row.

“I say let’s try it.”

Visit IMS.com to order tickets or learn more about the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational. Ticket prices are $30 Saturday and $20 Sunday. Kids 15 and under are free when accompanied by an adult.

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