TRAVERSE CITY — There is one place in the world where — if only for a few minutes — Rheanna Doberstein thinks about nothing but what’s ahead of her.
She slides through the driver’s side window of her Saturn four-door coup and sets aside thoughts of her parents’ divorce or trouble at school. Doberstein, 17, focuses on nothing but the race. Ahead of her is an oval dirt track and a sticker on the hood of her car memorializing her grandfather, Ron Doberstein, Sr.
“He just showed me, let nothing get in the way of what you want to do,” Rheanna said. “When you’re in the car, you don’t think about anything but passing the car in front of you.”
The elder Doberstein taught his granddaughter to drive a race car when she was 11 years old. The career over-the-road trucker insisted that she know how to drive vehicles with manual transmissions.
“I was hugging the steering wheel,” Rheanna said of her first experience driving her grandfather’s 1995 Ford Festiva on trails near his Copemish farm. Two years and some practice later and Rheanna was racing her own compact car at Cherry Capital Raceway.
She learned to push the four-cylinder engine in her stripped-down Saturn to the limit. Her dad, Ron Doberstein, Jr., worked as her mechanic and support crew, while her grandfather critiqued her driving between heats.
It wasn’t always a smooth ride. The young racer twice rolled race cars, sustaining a concussion in the first wreck. But her grandfather was there cheering for every success.
She often catches grief off the track from her peers about racing cars.
“They make fun of it,” she said with a shrug. It’s criticism Rheanna often shrugs off in favor of the sport she loves for more than just the speed.