LAKE STEVENS — Danielle Foster always has loved race cars. It’s a passion she shared with her family as she grew up, especially her dad and older sister.
She tried driving a race car, but quickly learned her love of the vehicle wasn’t centered behind the wheel.
Foster wants to be under the hood.
She plans to become a technician with a NASCAR pit crew. Her first step is completing a 15-month program at the NASCAR Technical Institute. She’s the only woman to receive one of the Universal Technical Institute’s first mikeroweWORKS Foundation scholarships. She’s got a full ride to the core UTI program of her choice.
A year ago, the NASCAR Technical Institute seemed out of reach.
Foster lost her dad to skin cancer last summer.
Vern Foster was one of his daughter’s biggest supporters, she said. He introduced her to racing, taught her to work on her first car and brought her to the Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, where she now works part-time inspecting cars before the races.
Her dad always wanted Danielle to pursue her dreams. But after his death, she and her family didn’t have the money for a $30,000 program at the NASCAR Technical Institute.
The 2014 Lake Stevens High School graduate took automotive classes at the Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center her last two years of high school. She works two jobs, one at the race track and another as a manager at Jiffy Lube.
“My dad taught me that working smart can save you time and money in the long run, but it’s never a substitution for working hard because if you don’t put your all into what you want to do, you’ll never know if you got as much out of it as you could have,” Foster said in a video she made earlier this year.
The video was a submission for the mikeroweWORKS scholarship. More than 270 students were selected as finalists, and the 33 whose videos received the most online votes won full rides.
Foster got the call two weeks ago that her core classes at the NASCAR Technical Institute are covered.
“I was really excited,” Foster said. “Especially with all the work my friends and family did to help with it.”
Brent Delfel, who teaches diesel power technology at the Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, has worked with Foster and was one of the people who rallied to help her get the votes she needed.
“It’s really hard not to get behind a student like Dani,” Delfel said. “She came to school every day with a spring in her step and a smile on her face, even on those days that her dad was struggling with cancer.”
Foster’s supporters announced at Evergreen Speedway that she was competing for the scholarship. They then made their way through the stands, urging people to vote for Foster’s video. It was the final day of the scholarship competition.
“The success of this was largely due to the fans and the people at the track,” Delfel said.
Admissions adviser Don Richards met Foster shortly before her father died. He was impressed by her dedication and determination, but they weren’t sure if she could start school on time. Financial aid is complicated, and the loss of her dad made it more so, he said. The scholarship was key to her education.
“She did really well because of her fan base,” Richards said. “She’s got a heck of a work ethic, too. She’s going to be a great student.”
The NASCAR Technical Institute is the only school Foster applied to. She knew where she was going and what she needed to do to get there.
She’ll start school in Mooresville, N.C., on Sept. 29. It’s a little nerve-wracking, she said.
“But I’m excited for it,” she said. “It’s a change.”
Foster knows she isn’t a typical race car technician. With her willowy build and long blonde hair, she stands out in the male-dominated field.
At Jiffy Lube, people have asked her if she knows how to change oil or if she just handles customer service. When she started looking for jobs at automotive shops, people seemed to rule her out when she walked through the door. She was told several times that “they were only hiring mechanics.”
Foster said the best thing to do is be respectful and prove yourself.
“Go after it and focus on it,” she said. “Don’t let anyone’s opinions influence you. Just show them you can do it, but be humble about it.”
That’s something her dad taught her, and the lesson has served her well.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, firstname.lastname@example.org