This weekend the United Sprint Car Series will make another trip to the hill country of east Tennessee. The open-wheeled, winged race cars will compete at the 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour on Friday evening then move to the Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville for a Saturday night show.
Among the drivers to watch as these high powered machines make their way around each of these facilities will be 21-year-old female racer Morgan Turpen.
“Heck yeah, I love coming up there,” Turpen said in a recent phone interview. “It’s so much fun every time we get to travel that way. We don’t really get many races in east Tennessee, and it’s so pretty up there.”
Aside from the mountainous scenery, she has good reason to look forward to this weekend’s trip.
“We led most of the race the last time we were at Smoky Mountain,” she recalled. “I think we got passed with four or five laps to go. It’s more my type of race track, but we have new cars this year and we’re better than we have been in the past. Then again, we’ve been running good on the smaller race tracks this year so we could go up to 411 and put on one heck of a race.”
Turpen has taken somewhat of a traditional path to get her to this point in her career. She began racing go-karts at 10 years of age and has worked up into her current class.
“I came from dirt go-karts,” the University of Memphis student explained. “I skipped over Midgets and went straight to 305 Sprint Cars then I stepped up to the 360 winged cars. My dad raced and my brother raced, but at that time, they just didn’t have the money to keep racing. When I got into it, things were much better and I was able to keep doing it.”
But the Cordova, Tenn. resident wasn’t sure where her racing journey would lead during those early years.
“I really didn’t think I was ever going to get past go-karts,” she declared. “I don’t really know how the sprint car thing happened. We have a track about twenty minutes away in West Memphis and I just started going over there and thinking I wanted to race one of those. It just kind of fell into place. I just happened to be in an area where sprint car racing was the thing.”
But her biggest break in racing was, indeed, a literal break. Veteran sprint car driver Terry Gray put her in his car after he suffered an injury and the young driver hasn’t looked back since.
“Terry broke his foot and he let me race his car one weekend, then he said ‘OK, you’re in’. I kind of snuck my way in when he broke his foot. That’s how it first happened and now I’ve been racing for him for five years.”
And Turpen believes she could not have found a better mentor.
“Terry Gray has won everything that can possibly be won,” she pointed out. “I’m really fortunate to be on his team because I’ve learned so much. And he’s probably the best crew chief around. He’s my friend and a really good racer.”
Turpen will enter this east Tennessee weekend with momentum on her side after coming off of a pair of very successful events in the Carolinas.
“Last weekend we went pavement racing,” Turpen said. “The first night was on Friday in Anderson, South Carolina and the second night was in Kenley, North Carolina. Friday night, I set quick time and started from the pole, but we just weren’t that good so we ended up finishing 3rd. Then on Saturday night I set quick time and qualified on the pole again. That time we were able to hold on to it. I led all 40 laps.
“It was pavement racing which isn’t something we do often. It was our dirt cars turned into pavement cars. We just changed a few things and went and ran. It worked out, we were really fast. I think we set one of the fastest times that’s ever been run on that track so it was a really good night.”
Turpen hopes to parlay that success into a win or two this weekend.
“We just haven’t gotten it done quite yet,” she recounted. “We’ve been leading races and finishing in the top-5 every weekend. We just have to have some of that luck at the beginning of the night to get in the winner’s circle.”
As far as her future in racing is concerned, Turpen would like to continue her rise through the ranks.
“I hope to go further than this because I can’t quite make a living doing this,” she explained. “I’d like to go asphalt racing because that seems to be what I’m best at, and it’s what gets you the furthest.
“I keep up with NASCAR every Sunday. I’m a Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski gal.”