Rarely in professional sports does a player or team come along and transcend the boundaries of the game, accomplishing what was once only a passing thought or a dream in the minds of those involved.
American motorsports has found that player this year in 17-year-old Jade Avedisian – the first female national Midget series champion.
Avedisian claimed the 2023 Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota championship in her first season with Indiana-based Keith Kunz Motorsports – breaking the mold for a rising presence of female drivers in motorsports.
“It’s a dream come true, honestly,” she said.
While Avedisian is the first woman ever to win a national dirt racing championship, her accomplishment expands upon the foundation laid by several women who have come before and found success in their own way.
Open the World of Outlaws history books to Oct. 29, 2004, and you’ll find another first for women in motorsports. On that day at Thunderbowl Raceway, Erin Crocker-Evernham became the first woman to win a World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Feature event.
At 23 years old, she beat Steve Kinser; she beat Danny Lasoski; she beat Donny Schatz. Evernham made her own mark in open-wheel racing, paving the way for a future generation of female stars in the sport like Avedisian.
“I do see a little bit of myself in her, and I think that’s why I’ve taken to following her and what she’s doing,” Evernham said.
Still an avid open-wheel racing enthusiast and present-day host of Winged Nation on the Motor Racing Network, Evernham kept up with Avedisian’s run to the Xtreme Outlaw Series title this year. While she immediately recognized the unprecedented achievement, she also noticed a striking resemblance.
“What she did this year is really significant and I think it truly shows the natural ability she has,” Evernham said. “I love the way she carries herself. She wants to be known as a racer, not as ‘I’m the woman racer,’ which is how I always felt throughout my career. Like, I want to be a racer, and I want to go out there and win. And I get that feeling from her.
“I think it’s huge – she gives me a lot of hope for women in the future.”
Avedisian’s road to the future began in February with the announcement of her signing with KKM – the 17-time national Midget championship-winning team – for 2023 and their plans to chase the Xtreme Outlaw Series title in its first full-length schedule. Fast forward eight months, and Avedisian was hoisting the championship trophy after a season of five Toyota Racing Feature wins, 16 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes.
“I’m just super grateful to even be in contention to win a championship,” Avedisian said. “To capitalize on it just means the world to me.”
For several weeks during the season, she questioned whether or not she’d even be in title contention by the end of the year.
A win inside the Southern Illinois Center in March bolstered her into the Series points lead to start the season, but an average finish of 8.9 and only one top-five result over the next eight Series races dropped her back to fourth in the standings – 180 points behind the leader.
With the schedule already a third of the way complete and a mountain in front of her to climb, Avedisian turned to the one mantra that’s repeatedly defined her season.
“I knew just had to put our heads down and never give up,” she said.
Standing right behind her was the deep roster of KKM crew members with a matching appetite for victory. For her first season with the team, Avedisian was paired with car chief Jarrett Martin – a five-year expert on the wrenches with KKM. Right away, and more frequently as the season progressed, he noticed Avedisian’s never-say-die mentality.
“She wants to make sure she never loses the will to always get better,” Martin said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed about her that sets her apart – she never wants to give up, she never wants to slow down.
“She works at getting better and wants it as bad as us, so that makes it easier for all of us when we do have a bad night to know that she’s upset too. She’s working hard as well.”
Throughout the year, Martin also helped coach Avedisian through many of the darkest moments of her season – including the Appalachian Midget Week opener at Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway, where she crashed and flipped while leading, then did it again from the tail of the field only two laps later.
“She’s up front leading the thing, and she said she just felt so good that she wanted to go faster and faster,” Martin said. “By the end of that night, we had the talk about knowing when to when to slow down and knowing when to push it.”
“I feel like those kinds of moments could’ve thrown the championship away,” Avedisian said. “Luckily, it didn’t.”
After several months of working together, the duo had made significant progress – improving their average finish to 4.6, collecting four additional Feature wins and climbing all the way back from 180 points down, up to the top of the Series points standings coming into the final race weekend of the season in Oklahoma.
“The second half [of the season], I really started to take the stuff I learned and apply it,” she said. “I feel like I was two different drivers from the first half to the second half.”
From 11 points up, Avedisian had expanded that gap to 59 by the time the weekend was out. In Victory Lane, she exchanged hugs, tears and endless smiles with the KKM crew and her family as the celebration began.
“To get it done for her, for the people around her and around us that wanted it just as bad as everybody else – that feels good, for sure,” Martin said.
But the next day, it was right back to business. Business with her future as part of the Toyota Racing Development lineup and working on what’s next for The First Lady of the Xtreme Outlaw Series. Life for the teenager from Clovis, CA has changed dramatically in the past year, and she’s taking it all in stride.
“To have Toyota give me a lot of opportunities… me doing a commercial the other day – obviously a lot has changed,” she said. “I’m a lot more busy now, but it’s a good busy, that’s for sure.”
While Avedisian spends the next few months solidifying exactly what her 2024 racing season will look like, one thing is for certain – she’ll have the attention of Evernham and her other female racers as the motorsports world awaits her next potential historic achievement.
“I’m really excited to watch her in the following years,” Evernham said.