NEWTON, Iowa - Ashley Freiberg does not want to be the next "Danica." She wants to be the first "Ashley."
The 21-year-old Illinois native knows the comparison of a woman open-wheel race car driver to Danica Patrick is inevitable, but Freiberg is determined to make her own mark.
Freiberg is in her first season in the Star Mazda Series and will make her debut at Iowa Speedway during the Iowa Speedway Foundation Star Mazda 100 Saturday 6:20 p.m. During Friday's practice, Freiberg suffered electrical problems and did not finish the first session. Another practice session and qualifying will precede Saturday's race.
The Star Mazda Series is a couple steps below the IZOD IndyCar Series. Freiberg didn't attempt to emulate Danica Patrick, the former IZOD IndyCar race winner from Illinois who currently competes in NASCAR, but has appreciated her impact on the sport.
“I feel like it’s been more of a coincidence than actually trying to follow her,” Freiberg said. “I do look up to Danica. She really has opened a lot of doors for women.”
There are other women drivers, including Simona de Silvestro and Katherine Legge. Freiberg said she wants to make a name for herself, but knows any woman driver will be linked to Patrick.
“I take it as a compliment," Freiberg said. "It’s going to happen, whether I want it to or not, but hopefully at the end people won’t refer to me as that because I’ve established myself.”
Like Patrick, Freiberg has accelerated into one of the higher levels of a male-dominated sport. She knew what to expect when she started, so she has been unfazed by her reception. Most of it has been positive, and gets better. She strives to gain respect of all of her peers.
“You definitely have to prove yourself,” Freiberg said. “You have to show your competitors you don’t mess around. (They) can’t push you around because you are going to push them back, which is what I’ve had to do. I want them to realize I’m serious about this.”
It might not be difficult for Freiberg. She grew up with two brothers and possesses a highly-competitive nature. It is no surprise she was attracted to racing when she served as a timing and scoring official at a local track when she was 11 and competed in her first go-kart race at 13.
"I think I was just born competitive,” Freiberg said. “It was kind of natural for me to love racing the second I tried it.”
She played basketball, soccer, gymnastics and studied martial arts. None of them passed auto racing, and neither did stereotypical female interests.
“I tried to do girly stuff like ballet and cheerleading,” said Freiberg, who listed cooking, cycling, hiking, skiing, art and astronomy as other hobbies. “That worked for a very short time.”
Freiberg succeeded at other levels, winning multple races and titles in the Championship Enduro Series and Skip Barber Racing Series. She had five wins in 2009 and four wins and four second-place finishes in a partial season last year. She signed a two-year deal with TrueCar in November, allowing her to compete in the Star Mazda Series.
“Every driver I’m driving against has three or four more years of experience with wings...,” said Freiberg, who drove a car that ran with street tires and no down force in the SBRS. “It’s a big difference.”
Experience is a major difference as well. In the SBRS, many of the drivers were just started out and now she is at a disadvantage to many others.
“Everyone has years of more experience,” Freiberg said. “I’ve been playing catch-up. It’s been interesting because I’ve been having to keep my expectations in check. I came in thinking I’m going to get some top-fives or a podium. I’m fighting like crazy to get top-10s.”
Freiberg is 12th in the points standing. She was ninth in the season-opening contest and has been in the middle of the pack in the other four. The learning curve has been steep.
“This year has been not focus on results,” said Freiberg, who has raced on only one oval track before this weekend. “Try to learn as much as you can and the results will come.”
Freiberg, who is part of the Mazda Road to Indy program helping up-and-coming drivers to climb the series ranks, aspires to compete on the elite circuit. She won't settle for just any spot.“I hope to be racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series,” Frieberg said. “From that, work up to being a front runner winning races. My ultimate dream is to become an IndyCar champion. I don’t want to be middle of the pack. I don’t want to be just driving around. I am always striving for more. I always want to better myself and be the best that I can.”