Reilly Lanphear has a thing for adrenaline. Okay, it’s more than a thing: she’s building a career out of her love of going fast. This spunky, petite 17-year-old is quickly becoming a formidable stock car driver at Barre’s Thunder Road Speedbowl, where she started racing three summers ago at age 15—Thunder Road made an exception to the strict rule of “16 and older” because the owner of the track knew Reilly and her family, because she had a good coach (her father, an experienced driver himself), and because she had talent. In May, she had her first win.
On September 8th, Thunder Road will host Community College of Vermont Championship Night, which will crown winners in the Late Models, Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel Flying Tigers, and Allen Lumber Street Stocks divisions. CCV staff will be there doling out t-shirts and hats, and fans will be cheering on their favorite drivers. In car #21, Reilly will be hoping for a big night.
This year, Reilly has begun to branch out from the Street Stocks division at different tracks in New England. She entered a race in the Flying Tigers division and finished 8th. She raced in the Late Models division and finished 6th. Next year, she’ll race a Flying Tiger and an American Canadian Tour (ACT) Late Model car throughout New England and beyond. At Community College of Vermont Championship Night, she’ll be driving a street stock.
“You always have to go in with a positive attitude,” Reilly says of racing cars. Valuable advice, and she’s learned it through her three seasons at Thunder Road; whenever she approaches a race with uncertainty, things don’t go well. But when she starts out thinking, “I’m gonna win this race,” she says, she always comes home with a trophy.
And when Reilly starts college in a few short days, she’ll be bringing that same positive attitude with her. This fall, Reilly will join a group of her Harwood Union High School classmates in Early College at CCV. She’s looking forward to it. “I’m happy to be able to get college credits and finish out high school,” she said. Reilly’s also excited because in addition to getting a full year of college under her belt (with free tuition, no less), she can still be part of the social and athletic life at her high school. While her classroom time will take place at CCV’s Montpelier campus, she’ll continue to play for Harwood’s basketball and lacrosse teams. And her new school schedule will leave time to work on her car and race at Thunder Road until the season’s end in early October.
The Duxbury resident, who scoops ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s when she’s not at the track or in the garage, has also been exploring education in another unique way. She and her younger sister Peyton (who’s following Reilly’s footsteps racing at Thunder Road), and Alan Maynard (a professor at the University of Vermont) are part of a program called Race to Read. The drivers visit schools, libraries, and daycares across central Vermont, and offer kids a challenge: if you read 15 books, you get to sign our race cars. Reilly says the program works because kids are easily excited by racing. She remembers one boy who asked if the names would stay on the cars; when Reilly assured him they would, his reply was, “I’m gonna be famous!”
Former Thunder Road driver Troy Kingsbury started Race to Read, which was inspired by a similar endeavor in North Carolina. He invited Reilly and her sister to join, thinking they’d be especially relatable. He was right. In 2016, over 1,300 kids participated in the program, reading more than 19,000 books. Reilly says in addition to signing cars, kids who come out to Thunder Road and have read their 15 books can also sometimes get a chance to be part of the pre-race driver introductions and be the ones to announce, “Drivers, start your engines!”
While Reilly’s busy encouraging a younger generation to get excited about racing and learning, she’s walking the talk herself. She’s passionate about growing her career, both as a driver and a student. After getting started at CCV, she says she’d like to continue on to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to study business and motorsports technology.
Reilly gets carried away when she starts talking about her plans for after college. She wants to someday race for NASCAR. Or she would like to be a team engineer. She wants to have a chassis-building business, and maybe also a driver development program for kids who have talent but no financial support.
She stops herself with a shy smile. “I have a lot of dreams.”
Watch Reilly race at Thunder Road’s Community College of Vermont Championship Night, Friday, September 8th at 7:00 p.m. More information at thunderroadvt.com.