In just a year, Sanford girl, 10, has found her passion on the race track and is racking up trophies in state’s boy-dominated youth racing leagues
By Billy Liggett
Samantha Hargrove tried soccer. She tried dancing. But none of the team sports or activities her parents introduced her to during her first nine years of existence ever really stuck. But what Wayne and Shiella Hargrove never considered for their daughter was right in front of her the whole time.
“Her dad is big into cars, and one day he suggested introducing her to something called an ‘Arrive & Drive’ event in Salisbury, where kids her age raced in real cars,” recalls Shiella. “And immediately, she was hooked. She found her thing.”
Samantha’s introduction to race car driving came in October of 2022. One year later, she’s a force on the track. Her Facebook page (@SamHRacing) is a scrapbook of her trophies and her many appearances at events in Salisbury, Raleigh and, most recently, a “bigtime” event in Charlotte.
And it’s not lost on her or her parents that Samantha is a rarity in the sport of quarter midget racing — a girl in a league where the vast majority of racers are of the opposite sex.
“She raced in a rookie extravaganza recently, and one of the announcers was asking the racers questions,” Shiella says. “So he asked Sam, ‘How does it feel to be a girl in a boy-dominated sport,’ and without hesitating, she answered, ‘I’m just here to kick their butts and prove girls can do this better than boys.’ Everybody seemed to love her answer.”
Her love for racing comes honestly. Wayne Hargrove has been a mechanic for over 20 years, and Samantha has watched her father work on cars her whole life. When she expressed interest in pursuing the sport, her parents warned her that it required a commitment (an expensive commitment). The Hargroves cut some of the costs by building her vehicle from scratch — starting with a $150 frame and adding the motor and everything else on the fly.
Samantha’s first race was the last race of the 2022 season, and it didn’t go as well as everyone had hoped. Her car was among the slowest, and her inexperience on the track showed against young racers who’d been doing it all year.
“She and her dad worked together to figure it out after that,” Shiella says. “They worked on making the car better, and then one day it just clicked. The motor worked great, Sam went fast and she’s just been in love with it ever since.”
Asked what she likes most about getting behind the wheel, Samantha is quick to answer.
“It’s the adrenaline rush you get when that light goes green,” she says. “I knew I wasn’t the best when I started, but my parents told me to watch a lot of races. Look at what the older kids are doing and understand what it takes to win.”
The cars Samantha drives and races against are quarter midget cars, scaled-down versions of an actual midget racer. The bodies are fiberglass, surrounded by a roll cage and nerf bars. The engines are single cylinder and produce between 2.5 and 4 horsepower, and the car gets up to about 40 miles per hour (with restrictor plates) on the straightaways of a small oval track.
“They similar to go-karts, but built more like small race cars,” Shiella says. “These leagues have all sorts of different competitive classes, and right now, Sam races in the rookie class. Her goal is to keep climbing and eventually compete in national races.”
As a mother, Shiella has loved watching her daughter find something she loves to do and work hard to become the best at it. But also as a mother, it’s been an often nerve-wracking experience watching her little girl compete in a sport where wrecks happen and there’s always a risk of serious injury (despite the many safety protocols in place). At one recent race, Samantha’s car flipped, and in another race the car stood up on two wheels before falling back to the track safely.
Samantha came out unharmed in both instances.
“The first three or four races, I couldn’t even watch,” she says. “Every time she got on the track, I’d go hide somewhere like the bathroom. I’d tell them to come get me when she’s done. But after those first few races, I just got used to it. I told Sam that if she did wreck or something bad happened, she had to give me a thumbs up. So when she flipped, I saw her little hands come out of the car when she landed to give me a thumbs up. So I knew she was good.”
She even finished the race.
October was a big month for the Hargrove family and their new Hargrove Racing team. Sam raced in her first NASCAR Youth Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway (she even joined a table of other young racers who signed autographs before the race), and a week later, she took part in the NCQMA’s Rookie Extravaganza in Salisbury.
In Charlotte, she placed second during the qualifying round, even after she flipped during the practice rounds and broke parts of her car. Her father and some other “race dads” rushed to her aid and pieced the vehicle back together as best as they could before qualifying (it worked).
During the race itself, a flat tire and a few other minor hiccups kept her off the podium, though she still finished fourth. In Salisbury, she made the podium and took home some hardware.
“Both races were an eye-opening experience for Sam,” Shiella says. “She overcome a lot of bad luck and worked hard to finish. It was a new track and a new experience, and I think she’ll take what she learned and get better from it.”
The travel and the car upkeep are two of the biggest challenges for Samantha and her parents, but another challenge at home is convincing her classmates that’s she’s an actual racecar drive. Samantha is a fifth-grader at Tramway Elementary School, and she says despite the (many) photos her mom takes at races, there are doubters in her class.
“I’ll bring the photos to school, because that’s all my mom does is ‘click, click, click’ when I’m racing, but every now and then the kids will say, ‘No way’ and they don’t believe me,” Samantha says. “I guess that’s why mom takes all the pictures.”
Learn more about Samantha Hargrove and follow her racing career at her Facebook page, @SamHRacing.