When Caitlin Siem set out for Michigan Speedway that June morning, she only knew that she was going to go meet Nathalie Bijeau with BJ McLeod Motorsports. Riding a tornado for the next two months was not on her list of “to dos” for the summer. As with all great adventures, the main character never knows what is in store.
Her next race would come at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the most historic of tracks in this great nation. A complicated weekend with XFINITY and Cup series competition challenges the most seasoned of all NASCAR veterans. Through the hustle and bustle Caitlin found calm and serenity that enabled her to do her job, to put her nose to the grindstone and learn all she could.
“I definitely bonded with some of my team members right away. They didn’t make me feel unwelcome in any way and I felt like a part of the team even though, at that point, I thought this was a temporary endeavor. In a way, I felt comfortable. The race weekend was so unbearably hot (Honestly, Indianapolis in July does not play well with others) and you have to walk what feels like hundreds of miles to get anywhere inside that speedway (I’m being a little dramatic). But none of that seemed to matter. I mean, it did on some scale because there was never a moment I wasn’t sweating, but I was with the team and it felt so right. When the team left after the race Saturday (I was sticking around for the Cup race Sunday), I felt like a piece of me was missing. I’m pretty good about not feeling lonely, but I did that night.”
As quickly as the IMS weekend ended, Iowa Speedway began. With just two days to do laundry, reload, and prepare she was tested. She let up from her home in Michigan to continue chasing her dream. Pinching pennies and working on borrowed time, determination pushed her forward through a great weekend at the stand alone event in Iowa.
“Time. My time was so limited. Between work starting back up in August and only being allowed to go to so many races on credentials, my time was running out and it’s all I could think about, it seemed. I’d known this was what I wanted to do for ages, but within one weekend working with the team, I knew they were the crew I wanted to be with. It was like love at first sight, but with a race team I wanted to work with. When I left Iowa, there was only one more race left for me if I wasn’t hired in. Imagine reaching your dream, something you’ve wanted since you were a kid, but knowing there was a deadline to it. It was like looking into a black hole where my future was.”
Caitlin had a clock ticking. August 21 was coming quick, the date meant she would have to return to her life in a school library. Though she is a writer and loves books and loves the library, it was far from her dream. A dream 15 years in the making was at grasp and she knew she had to make things happen.
“I loved working at the library, I loved the staff and the students there. Writing and books are a huge part of my life. But it wasn’t racing, it wasn’t NASCAR, it wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t so much my feelings toward going back to the library as it was the thought of losing my dream. I honestly think I would have been completely miserable. I would’ve bounced back at some point, I wouldn’t have given up on my dream if I had to walk away from BJMM after four races with them. The recovery time would have been a long one though. My dad half-joked that I would have been impossible to deal with if I had to go back to the library. And he was probably right. I think I wouldn’t have been all there come August 21.”
Her first objective was finding a caterer for Watkin’s Glen International. This combined with preparing sample paperwork and all while she had just 3 days to get home and back on the road.
Life on the road quickly became a series of stops to do work, make calls, visit friends. As the days ticked down she learned she had to get a “Yes” from two different people if she was to join a team, join the crew, and live the dream she had been chasing.
I was lucky enough to be on the phone when the first of the two “Yes” answers came. An explosion of happiness and excitement. Emotions raced and overwhelmed us both. While I am easily moved, I’ve not seen this from Caitlin, not like this. This was something special. Then came the realization, that was only the first answer needed.
“I mean, I technically knew I needed more than one yes to get in. But sometimes the mind plays tricks on you and that part slipped my mind briefly. I half blame you, Couch, for that one. It sucked for a minute but I eventually pulled back together and focused on the next yes. In racing, you always need to be looking forward. Then again, that works in most aspects of life.”
Watkin’s Glen came quickly and so did her second “Yes” that she needed. Friday afternoon she called. Hiding between tire stacks, fuel cans, and a truck those words she spoke will be forever memorable to me, “I made it!” Three simple words held the weight to move the world, change the stars.
As the weekend flew by, Caitlin would have just 3 days to prepare to move from Michigan to North Carolina. We talked through the night as she drove for home, making tracks and setting plans as she drove through the dark to a destiny she had been chasing.
It is only fitting that she chased the stars through the night to make it home Sunday morning. Having chased those stars of destiny, she now ran them down on the horizon to give herself the time it would take to prepare. The days clicked off as she visited with friends, with family, visited those places that meant the most before she said her final “good byes” to that which she’s known for her lifetime.
Wednesday came as quickly as the last weekend had left. With her family, friends, work, and former life in the rear view mirror, Caitlin turned her wheels to Mid Ohio. With one last deep breath and asking tears not to fall, she left Michigan for the last time of the summer. As darkness fell she once again chased her stars onto the next horizon.
Having hopes, having dreams, that is something we all possess. The willingness to chase those is what truly epic stories are made from. Caitlin’s story is just beginning and only a few weekends have passed. The sky is the limit for those who give it all for that which they want. I believe we all have the ability to chase our own stars, but sometimes you have to work to change those stars for yourself.
“It kind of feels like I was at sea, enjoying life but I knew I was missing something. Then the fog up ahead clears and right there was the land I was searching for. It’s still my life, I don’t feel like a different person, but I stepped off my ship and onto land and it feels right.”
We can all learn to live more in the moment, to fight for that which we want. Only by doing that, can one achieve greatness.
“You need to learn to be invaluable. Don’t put yourself in a box. The more you have to offer a team, the better off you are. You have to be passionate about this sport or it’ll eat you alive, but if you’re a fan, you have to contain it. When you’re at the track, you’re at work. You can’t be freaking out about seeing a driver if you’re there to work. Don’t bad mouth anyone. The sport might be big but it’s tightknit. And because of that, the key to getting in, is knowing someone. It’s all on who you know in this sport. At the end of the day, just don’t give up. It took me years to get in, but I never stopped reaching for my dream. And here I am living it. Pursuing your dreams takes persistence. Never forget that.”
By doing this, one day… maybe…
I’ll see you in the box.