Dust and exhaust rise from the ground as thousands of horsepower rumble to life. The deafening engines drown out the crowd’s low roar as anticipation and excitement builds. This is exactly what Amber Cook loves about race day as she straps herself into her 350 horsepower car.
“Yeah, it’s almost like an adrenaline rush … you just get sucked into it.” Cook said. “Your mind kind of turns off when you start the car and pull it onto the track.” Cook has followed in her parents’ tire tracks — they both attended Union College and started racing at approximately her age.
In fact, the Lincoln local grew up on the dirt track, racing with both of her parents and her younger sister. “I’ve been racing go-karts since I was 15. Then I moved up to dirt sport mods when I was 18.”
As highschool was wrapping up, Cook decided to study graphic design. Her love of racing had pointed her in that direction. She had already immersed herself by creating and designing vinyl car wraps and delighted in the creativity.
But as she neared the end of her first semester in college, she couldn’t see the potential of a career in graphic design and decided to use her talents in a very different field. “I went into social work,” said Cook. “These two majors are just complete polar opposites. I guess I just like helping people and wanted to go into something like art therapy. It was one of the top options that I was looking at.”
During her two years studying social work and an internship, she continued to take elective art classes — some from Amy Smith, who teaches pottery and drawing. “Amy Smith was one of the teachers who really pushed and helped me,” said the Union senior. “She really took the time to listen and helped me realize what I really wanted to do.”
After talking to Smith, Cook switched back to her first love. She also had encouragement from Alan Orrison, the director of Union’s Art and Design Program. “Alan really supported me coming back into the program and helped me get into the rhythm of graphic design again.”
Earlier that school year, Stumpy’s Custom Creations invited Cook to be a graphic designer on their team. Stumpy’s creates vinyl wraps for race cars, letting Cook combine her two passions, racing and art.
Cook truly loves to see “her” cars take their turns at each race. “It’s really all about seeing the outcome of all the work I’ve done.” Cook shared.
Now with two years at Stumpy’s and finishing her last year of college, Cook has ambitions to start her own business, TurnOne. She plans to specialize in branding, logos and car vinyls — always with an emphasis on her passion for racing.
For Cook, the joy of both racing and graphic design is in the journey as much as the win. “I was leading most of a heat race,” she recalled of one her most memorable racing moments. “At the last second, I was passed by the favorite to win. But the fact that I was able to keep the lead for the majority of the race has to be one of the most memorable moments of my career.”
Now thanks to the guidance of caring professors and great real-world work experiences, Cook will be able to live her dream both on and off the track.
by Gabriel Sanders, sophomore English major