Weedsport, NY — May 21, 2009 – By Gary Rowe, Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Selection Committee
*Rick Young Photo
Jessica Zemken joins winning racers Gloria Katona Scarpati and Serenity Sutherland as a co-recipient of the eighth annual Gater Racing News “Outstanding Woman in Racing” award during the 2009 Northeast Modified Hall of Fame ceremonies Sunday, May 24 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds held in conjunction with the annual Memorial Day Weekend holiday show at the adjacent speedway.
Most drivers who have come through the sport of auto racing make their mark in only one type of race car or series. Many have experimented with different kinds of race cars, but only a small number are successful and able to continue their winning ways. From these successful crossovers, only a handful of drivers found success not only by winning but by winning championships as well.
Jessica Zemken is among this rare breed of race car driver. At 23 years of age, the hot shoe from Sprakers, New York has already accomplished more in the
sport than most drivers will ever accomplish in their entire careers.
After six seasons of kart wins and championships at two local tracks, Jessica got the chance to run her father’s back up car at Fonda (NY) Speedway. At 14 she was competing in a limited number of events at the local tracks, winning heat races and consolations in just her first few attempts.
Over the past eight years, Jessica has won races in Modified, Sportsman, Sprint Car and Midget divisions. Adding to this sizeable list of exploits, she captured the 2004 Utica-Rome (NY) Speedway Sportsman Track Championship at the ripe old age of 18. Racing the DIRTcar Sportsman Modified circuit in 2003-04, Zemken reached victory lane nine times at four tracks in the United States and Canada.
“Maybe it was because I was brought up in a racing family and my dad had a lot success, but I always knew that I wanted to drive race cars,” Jessica said in a recent interview. “Especially sprint cars, and I always knew that I would be successful.”
The first half of the 2008 racing season was big for Jessica as she captured four DIRTcar 358-Modified features and was leading the points at both Brockville Ontario Speedway and Autodrome Edelweiss in Quebec. Mid-way through the season funding became difficult and her ride went away. Yet, to her high standards, the season was not one of her best.
“The sportsman track championship at UR made 2004 a very big year and ‘06 was a huge year when I won my first two sprint car mains,” noted Jessica, adding that the team had rented a 410 engine from Kriner’s Racing Engines out of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Jessica’s second time ever in a 410 sprint came at a National Sprint Tour race at Fonda Speedway against the finest group of sprint car drivers in the world. At this event she timed 8th fastest and ran runner-up in the dash to Jason Sides. Starting 6th in the six-lap dash, Jessica passed such marquee names in sprint car racing as Lucas Wolfe, Danny Lasoski, Dean Jacobs and Jason Sowald. In the A-main she ran 5th behind Lasoski, Jason Meyers, the “King of the Outlaws” Steve Kinser and Craig Keel.
Later that year, in a World of Outlaws race at Fulton (NY) Speedway, Jessica timed 13th fastest then went out and won her heat, beating Sprint car racing super star Craig Dollansky, who finished a distant second to her. In the A- main that night, Jessica was involved in a first lap tangle which took the front wing off her mount and bent the car’s front axle. Under red flag conditions, the team only had enough time to replace the front wing. Still with a bent axle, Jessica rallied from 23rd to a 10th-place finish.
In August of 2006 Jessica received a phone call from Jack Roush of Roush/Fenway Racing. And she has had meetings with the team to discuss the great future and potential of her racing career.
The Gater News “Outstanding Woman in Racing” award does not just focus on one season but rather on a multitude of accomplishments and that is exactly what Jessica has done over her short career. She has shown not only a competitive will to win but also a commitment to be at the top of the game. Yet, at age 23, she is still many years away from being in her prime as a race driver. This means that the future only holds greater success and bigger accolades for this talented driver from the Empire State.
DIRTcar Racing Northeast main office is located in Weedsport, New York on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds www.cayugacountyfairspeedway.com, home of the 2009 DIRTcar All-Star Weekend, July 17-19, featuring Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series events for Sportsman and Big-Block Modifieds in the richest short-track show of its kind in the nation — the $20,000-to-win Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series “DIRTcar All-Star 100” on Sunday, July 19.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Hoosier Racing Tire www.hoosiertire.com and VP Racing Fuels www.vpracingfuels.com. Promotional partners include Rite Aid Corporation www.riteaid.com, Dig Safely New York www.digsafelynewyork.com and the University of Northwestern Ohio www.unoh.com and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks www.barsproducts.com, Bert Transmission www.berttransmission.com, Bicknell Racing Products www.bicknellracingproducts.com, Bilstein Shocks www.bilstein.com, Brodix Cylinder Heads www.brodix.com, Ferris Industries www.ferrisindustries.com, Integra Shocks www.integrashocksandsprings.com, Intercomp www.intercomp-racing.com, KSE Racing Products www.kse-racing.com, Motorsports Safety Systems www.motorsportssafetysystems.com, Penske Shocks, www.penskeshocks.com, Racing Electronics www.racingelectronics.com, Rislone Oil Stabilizer www.barsproducts.com and Wrisco Industries www.wrisco.com.