By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Savannah Binney’s parents might have predicted her future the day she climbed into her first car.
Granted, she was 5 or 6 and it was a battery-operated pink Barbie-mobile. But Savannah already was showing mad racing skills.
“I’d tool around in the yard and chase the chickens,” the Santa Rosa High School junior said.
Now, 16-year-old Savannah is a bona fide race car driver, speeding and bumping around the oval with drivers — mostly men — two or three times her age.
Savannah quickly outgrew the Barbie-mobile, so her father, firefighter Howard Binney, brought home a 7-horsepower, two-seat go-kart. It could reach speeds of 30 mph, but he rigged it with a speed restrictor so she couldn’t do too much damage.
It became apparent that Savannah had a talent for racing and a love of the speed and thrill that come with it.
The family started going to the Petaluma Speedway, where speed demons race around the ¨-mile dirt track every Saturday night from March through October. At the time, there was another teenage girl running sprint cars.
“I always thought it would be cool to get into that,” Savannah said. “It sparked some interest that there was a girl out there doing that.”
At age 14, Savannah started racing in Lakeport, driving a 500 Outlaw kart, a smaller version of a winged sprint car. That one could go 80 mph on a straightaway.
“It’s pretty cool, but nerve-wracking, too,” she said. “Some of those older guys, they’ve been doing it their whole lives.”
Savannah’s mother, LeAnn Binney, who runs the Petaluma School of Music, said the aggression shown by drivers of both sexes can be intimidating.
“It was kind of an eye-opener for the whole family,” she said. “It was a little rough. We want her to have fun out there.”
In Savannah’s first race, some older male drivers rammed her car from behind. Later in the pits, they realized their target “was a little girl,” Howard Binney said.
“We’ve always told her, if she’s going to cry or be upset, go in the car and we’ll deal with it later as a family.”
Savannah said she’s more comfortable now.
“You get used to it after awhile, and you want to kick some butt,” she said.
On her 16th birthday, Savannah got her first full-size car, a 1978 Chevrolet Camaro with a 350 engine that is her current racer.
She had a big race on Saturday at the Antioch Speedway <NO1><NO>in the Hobby Stocks field. Next season, she may move up to the more competitive Super Stocks, which can yield $1,000 in winnings.
“I wanted to get used to it instead of being thrown to the wolves,” Savannah said.
Racing can be a costly sport, but Savannah has won over a group of sponsors who help with expenses, which include the car as well as high-tech fire-resistant safety gear.
Flowmaster, DiMatteo’s Street Rods & Automotive, Malibu Compost, Identity Graphics and 1-800-Radiator all help defray race costs in exchange for advertising logos on Savannah’s Camaro.
Although she has driven hundreds of miles on the racetrack, Savannah hasn’t yet gotten her street driver’s license. When she does, it’s unlikely she will burn rubber on city streets.
“I know the consequences of reckless driving,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
School: Santa Rosa High School
Family: Parents LeAnn and Howard Binney
First Ride: Pink Barbie race car
Cool car fact: Won a revving contest in school car show
Dream job: To work as a nurse at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “I’ll help any kid in need.”
Heroes: Her parents, Jim Wofford
Favorite book: “Please Stop Laughing at Me”
Favorite films: “The Blind Side,” “Eat, Pray, Love”