HOMETOWN HEROES: Alana “Mad Cat” Bessette

Meet Alana “Mad Cat” Bessette, a 21-year-old Wild Things kart racer, crew member, and social media manager from Danbury, CT. I sat down with the young driver and racing media personnel, to talk about her family’s deep racing roots, diversity in motorsports, and what lies ahead for her and her racing career. 

Q: Hey Lana! Would you please introduce yourself to our readers? 

A: Hi there! I’m Lana, also known as Alana or Mad Cat. I’m a 21-year-old woman from Danbury, CT, who’s been into racing for as long as I can remember!

Q: You have had quite a few job titles in regards to racing including being a kart racer, a social media manager, crew member, and many more I’m sure! And an individual would not take on this many racing-related job titles if they didn’t have a deep love for it, so I wanna know what started it all? 

A: My father George “Mad Dog” Bessette, had been racing since he was 17. Growing up, we had a beautiful orange, black, and white pro stock in the garage, for as long as I can remember. My father was the one who introduced me to the sport, you could say I was a “racing baby”. There would be nights that his crew would be with him working on that car and I would be sitting in his seat in the cockpit of the car and would play with a ratchet. As years went on, I would attend his races with my mother at Stafford and Thompson Speedway, where he would run his SK modified or late model.

Q: Aw, that’s very sweet! So racing was always an interest, but you didn’t start racing yourself until very recently, why is that?

A: I personally ask that question myself. My dad never asked me if I wanted to when I was growing up. My younger brother George, who is three years younger than I am, was asked at around 10 years old if he wanted to race. I was 13 at the time my dad brought home a go-kart for him.

Q: Do you ever regret not starting your racing career sooner, or are you content with the way everything has panned out?

A: I highly regret it. Sometimes I envy my brother’s progress. I always wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, he was my role model as a child. If you asked my childhood self where I would be, it wouldn’t have been here where I am now. A lot of kids start their careers young nowadays. 

Q: Now though, that you have the opportunity to race yourself, what does that mean to you?

A: It means a lot to me. I think of it as feeding my inner child. Jeff Champagne was actually the reason I got behind a wheel. He happened to call me up after my brother’s first SK light win and offered me a test out on a rental go-kart he had at Stafford, which races on Monday nights. 

Q: Do you mind telling us a little more about Jeff Champagne and who he is exactly? 

A: Jeff Champagne is a fellow racer I met through Devin O’Connell. Devin raced with my father in the GSPSS and many other divisions with some of my friends. Devin introduced me to Jeff Champagne via social media, until we formally met at the Spring Sizzler at Stafford. Jeff Champagne has run many different divisions, from your local home track go-karts to racing at the former Whip City dirt track, where he raced sprint cars with my uncle. Jeff also helps out local go-kart racers on Monday nights at Stafford with their setups. 

Q: Since getting that opportunity to race from Jeff, what has your racing career been like thus far? 

A: Pretty slow to say the least. I got the opportunity late in the go-kart season, only running it twice, Though I have talked to many people throughout the community about racing other divisions. Nick Fraulino for example has been a very good hand in helping me decide what I’d like to drive next. I’m thinking fenders. As much I enjoyed karting, I think I would love to rubbing doors with someone and having a mirror.

Q: We look forward to seeing what your racing plans are for the next racing season! Obviously, though, there was a large margin of time before you actually got behind the wheel. If I’m correct, you were a social media manager for your brother, could you elaborate on that? 

A: Yes! Before my brother hopped into a street stock in 2017 at Stafford, he came to me and asked if I could post a few things to his racing Instagram. I said “sure thing”. Little did I know, it would be a big opportunity I was taking on. I’ve been managing his media for about five years now. That included engaging with fans, posting updates throughout the season and off-season, and looking for potential sponsors. A lot of people didn’t know I was behind the screen of his page for the longest time, I am the one you are talking to unless you are looking specifically for George. You’re interacting with me. It’s a pain in the butt sometimes, but I do it for him. I will say, we got him noticed by ASAP: Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention and the Hero Project INC, which together became Racing 2 Save Lives.

Q: Turning pages here, I wanted to talk to you about something that both you, and I care deeply about, diversity in racing. In particular in our country, racing has been dominated by straight white males, and it’s only recently, we’ve seen a change in that demographic with names such as Bubba Wallace, Devon Rouse, Toni Breidinger, and even Rico Abreu to name a few. So I ask you, what are your thoughts on these diverse set of drivers getting recognition, and what do we need to do in order to help these minorities break the “straight white male” mold in American auto racing? 

A: I personally think it’s wonderful that these drivers are getting the recognition they deserve. The stereotype in racing has always been the “straight white male.” Going back to growing up, I really didn’t know many women in racing, besides Danica Patrick in the Cup Series. Even then, she was belittled by many male fans. I am a woman in racing, already there are extreme stereotypes against us, whether you’re a driver or just someone’s wife/girlfriend/or crew. Being white in racing, I don’t experience what drivers of other races/ethnicities experience and I personally cannot speak for them on what we should be doing for them. They are the ones who should be telling us what to do to help them. I don’t want to be anyone’s justice warrior, but I want to back them.

As a woman who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community, I can tell you that just because we love who we love, it does not make us any different than you. A good friend of mine was just attacked this weekend after the Thompson 300 for being himself. In the years I’ve been in racing, I’ve thought of this to be a safe space for those who enjoy racing, regardless of how you identify, the color of your skin, your disability, and so on. We are all so diverse, though, at the end of the day, we all enjoy one thing. And that is racing. 

We need to be accepting of the current change in the world, being stuck in a single mindset will be the downfall of many. I believe it is fine to have your political differences, but the rights of human beings themselves are not up for debate at all. We need to show more support to those in racing and outside of it that don’t fit the typical straight white male criteria. 

There is an organization called Drive for Diversity started by NASCAR that helps attract minority individuals to the sport and I believe it deserves more recognition.

Q: I believe that was a perfect response. Before we finish this interview, I have one final question for you. What is your ultimate goal with your career in the racing industry? 

A: I believe my ultimate goal is to finally tie down my career itself and to help others with theirs, while also introducing others to the sport. Even if I never get to where I want to be, I still can be a hand to my favorite drivers and friends. My father raised my brother and me as crew members before drivers and taught us to be ourselves. I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Q: Well on behalf of myself and everyone at Pit Box Press, we thank you for your time and wish you luck Lana!

A: Thank you so much! 

Featured image credit to The Replacements.

Published by Gianna Lashley - Nicholas

Gianna "Gi" Lashley - Nicholas is a 19-year-old writer from New Jersey. Her favorite drivers include Ryan Blaney, Myatt Snider, and Christian Eckes. You can find her on Twitter @basicallygi as well as @basicallygi23 on Instagram. She is a writer for Pit Box Press.

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