Photography by Brian J. Nelson
AMA road racer Melissa Paris was announced today as being chosen as one of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Women in the Winner’s Circle Project Podium Grant Class of 2014 – a project founded by the former president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, Indy car racer Lyn St. James.
Female racers were encouraged to apply for this grant for an opportunity to receive matching funds to help advance their careers. And while it seemed like a longshot because most of the language on the application was four-wheel driven, Paris decided to just try and apply for it anyway.
“I thought it was a real long shot, but I got a call a couple of days before Thanksgiving and it was actually from Lyn St. James calling to ask me some more about my plans for next year,” said Paris, who is married to three-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes. “And I remember I was on my bicycle out for a training ride when I got the call and it’s just like, ‘Oh my gosh I can’t believe I’m actually being considered.’”
In addition to feeling that it was a longshot because of the four-wheeled wording on the application, Paris only heard of the grant three days before the deadline - and during a race weekend at that.
“At our last AMA round this year at Laguna [Seca] I found out from a friend of a friend about this Project Podium Grant which Lyn St. James, who’s an Indy car racer teamed up with the Women’s Sports Foundation,” said Paris. “And the whole point is to try and help further women in motorsports. And not just getting women into motorsports, which is cool in itself, but actually giving women the tools they need to actually succeed and do well.”
Longshot or not, taking the chance to apply paid off because Paris joined the list of eight female racers to receive the grant for 2014. Those getting grants are: 20-year-old Ayla Agren (Mazda Road to Indy Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship); 19-year-old Sabre Cook (F1600 or Skip Barber Racing Series); 16-year-old McKenna Haase (305 Sprint Cars), 23-year-old Shea Holbrook (SCCA Pirelli World Challenge); 16-year-old Hannah Newhouse (NASCAR K&N Pro Series); 26-year-old Kristin Treagerfrom (Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge); 17-year-old Taylor Ferns (USAC Silver Crown/National Midget Series); and the only motorcycle racer in the bunch, Melissa Paris, who was listed as racing in the AMA/Spanish National Championships [CEV].
“I just found out today that I was one of eight girls that they get picked,” a happy Paris said. “I’m so excited. It’s just super exciting. In the press release it does say Spanish National Championship and AMA National Championship. I’m still trying to work out the details, but I am working really hard to compete in CEV next year. I just need to find a little bit more support and iron out a few more details to make sure it happens. So if there’s anyone out there that would like to get behind an American girl going to race abroad, we can always use extra help.
“But this definitely is going to help make it happen and help a lot of my dreams come true. So I’m just really excited. Plus I’m excited to work with the Women’s Sports Foundation because that’s something that’s pretty near and dear to my heart - making sure that girls have access to whatever sports they want to compete in.”
Her plans are to race either the 600 Superstock or what the CEV series calls Stock Extreme, which is 1000 Superstock.
“That’s what I would really like to race,” Paris said about the CEV Stock Extreme class. “It’s just a matter of working out the budget and ironing out things with the team that I’m talking to, you know all the details. I haven’t actually mentioned to anyone that I was working on this until now, but because it was in the press release I kind of got called out on the court a little bit.”
The CEV Championship is seen as a championship on the rise and the best way to get to the World Championships.
“It’s definitely a very competitive series if you look at all the top guys in Grand Prix right now almost all of them cut their teeth in CEV,” Paris said. “So it is… I don’t want to say intimidating but intimidating I guess. But at the same time, there is no better way to get fast than to just jump out there with the best of the best. I just think it’s an amazing opportunity that I have and I can’t pass it up.
“And I am still going to race hopefully a few rounds of AMA next year? That’s the plan. So I’m not abandoning that completely. I definitely love the scene here and I love my family in the paddock here also, but I just think that this is the best way I can think of to up my level of riding in a short period of time.”