MARTINSVILLE, Ind. — Misty Cosman smells the burning gas and calms.
From grocery shopping to setting out helmets and uniforms, so much goes into getting to this moment. She’s been running around all day, and her pre-race anxiety has been growing.
Misty is so involved, people at the racetrack call her Mama Cos.
But now, for a moment, she’s still.
She has already put on her racing suit, raised her hand up to make an “I love you” sign to her son Owen and driven into the lineup shoot.
Around her, Hornet race cars buzz angrily. Stripped and caged four-cylinder street cars from the '80s, '90s or 2000s, the cars are named after this bee-like sound their engines make.
Misty sits alone in her own Hornet, a stripped and caged Chevrolet Cavalier, listening to the buzz. She loves this sound.
These next laps in the heat race will determine her placement in the final race later that night. If she wants to win later, she must win now.
She knows her family — her team — is watching her: her husband Paul, her son Owen, her daughter Ashley Blondell and her grandchildren Joey, 6, and Amelia, 1.
As the race begins, Misty leaves the other cars behind. For the next few laps, it’s just her and the track.
The grandmother got her first motorcycle at age 7. It was from her dad, a race car driver himself.
Misty became addicted to the adrenaline rush. At 15, she started racing off-road dune buggies as one of the only women on the track.
“I was beating grown men,” she said. “And they didn’t like it.”
Misty is 47 now. She got married and had kids, and then one of her kids had kids. Now when she races, a 6-year-old sits in the stands rooting for her.
“Go, Mamaw! Go!” her grandson Joey cheers.
Misty’s oldest child, Ashley, 24, is Joey’s mother. Her other child, Owen, 22, also races Hornets.
The Martinsville native spends her week working in medical billing for AmeriPath, at a desk lined with pictures of her kids and grandkids.
But those weekends racing Hornets with Paul, Owen and their family friend Dan Smith — who call themselves “A-Team” — are her favorite.
Paul serves as the team’s mechanic and has built Hornets for the team. Misty, Owen and Dan race them.
There are a community of tracks in Indiana, including ones in Bloomington and Paragon. While the A-Team primarily races locally, they've also traveled to Illinois, and they made their furthest trek the weekend of Feb. 8. They drove all the way to Georgia for Owen, who placed ninth in the country in Hornet racing in 2017, to race.
Misty and the rest of the A-Team traveled to support Owen.
In the racing world, Misty is one of the oldest on the track. After every race she is covered in bruises, and she has a bad neck and knee. She’s begun racing less.
“The body won’t allow it much longer,” Misty said.
But Misty can’t seem to give up the sport she loves.
“I keep saying I’m done, but I can’t bring myself to do it,” she said.
With each race, Misty puts on her helmet and signs "I love you" to Owen, knowing she's coming closer and closer to retirement.
Some racers have good luck charms. Not Misty.
“That’s what the right foot is for,” she says.
Misty drives with two feet. Her left foot is exclusively for the brake and her right foot is exclusively for the gas.
Even when driving her GMC pickup truck through the neighborhood, Misty does this.
Driving has become a rite of passage in the Cosman family.
Ashley was 11 when she first learned to drive in a Kia Spectra. Owen was so short when he learned to drive at age 9 that he had to sit on a pillow to see out the windshield.
Ashley didn’t take up racing, but Owen did.
Joey first sat in a race car when he was a few months old.
He was 14 months old when he first started a race car. Instead of a key ignition, it had a button to start and Joey pressed it. The car roared to life and Joey smiled. He loved it. The car was in park, so they let him sit there, giggling as the car buzzed.
Amelia was also young when Misty began putting her in a driver’s seat.
While Misty waited for a Green Apple Slush with Jolly Ranchers at Sonic one October afternoon, she stood the 11-month-old up in the front seat.
Amelia instantly grabbed the steering wheel of the truck.
“You wanna drive, don’t you?” her grandmother asked her.
Ashley’s husband doesn’t want Amelia or Joey to race. He thinks the sport is too dangerous. But Misty is adamant that her grandkids grow up around race cars.
Someone will have to carry on the family tradition.
The A-Team are leaders at the track. Even people who don’t know them come for advice and extra car parts.
Despite being one of the only female racers at the track, Misty is accepted.
“She’s like one of the guys,” her A-Team teammate Dan Smith said.
But her age and gender change her role at the track.
"I'm like a mother to all these track guys," Misty said.
She said she always jumps to help out by putting out cones or directing cars into the lineup.
Misty partially does this because she doesn’t understand the mechanical side of cars. Her husband jokingly says it’s because “she’s just a woman,” but Misty said she also prefers taking care of people.
"I'm always out there talking to everybody because there ain't nothing I can do on the cars," she said.
Misty’s car has “Mom Cosman” printed on the front. Her racing responsibilities include packing the family's large white car trailer with food, water, clothes or anything they might need. The team may not leave for the race until the afternoon, but Misty’s day starts at 10 a.m.
“I am so detailed,” Misty said. “Being a female and a mother, you pay attention to detail and think about what can happen. I always plan for that shit.”
Misty will do anything for her family on the track. One time, an angry competitor stormed into the Cosman’s camp and started yelling at Owen. Misty walked up to him and poked a finger into his chest.
“I jumped out of that car lickity split telling him to get out,” Misty said.
Misty stood at the fence waiting for Owen to race a few months ago when someone came and stood next to her.
“You don’t want to stand there,” Misty said.
She needed at least an arm’s length of space so she could cheer for her son properly.
This spot on the fence is a place where she’s getting more comfortable lately. The bruises covering her body after each race are reminders of her age.
Still, even in retirement, Misty knows she’ll never be able to stay away from the adrenaline rush.
The smell of the gas.
The sound of the car.
Even after Misty signs “I love you” from the driver’s seat for the last time, she will still be at the races. She’ll just be here at the fence, cheering for her son and, hopefully, her grandkids.
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