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Leah Wroten celebrates her first feature win on July 2, 2013, in Independence.

Last year, Leah Wroten became the first woman to win a feature race since 1971 at the Independence Motor Speedway, and came close to becoming the second woman to ever win a feature against male competitors at the Benton County Speedway in Vinton.

Wroten, of Independence, was a rookie last season, racing the car her husband, Nick, gave her for a wedding present.

She and her two-tone purple 14C Dominator Chassis Hobby Stock race car were among those on display during Sunday’s car show in Vinton.

“The day after we got married we exchanged gifts and he had it written out for me so I could choose what car I wanted – hobby stock or stock car,” Wroten recalls. “He wanted me to have a choice.”

The gift left Wroten “shocked,” she said.

“Nick made a sacrifice by giving up the car we owned for me to fulfill a dream of mine,” she said. “I was really surprised. I had always wanted to try racing as I have always been a competitive person but never really thought I would actually have my own car.”

Nick Wroten has been the owner/operator of Dominator Chassis in Rowley for more than a decade, making cars for other racers.

“I had a my choice of a Hobby Stock or a Stock car and I decided on the Hobby Stock as I thought it would give the best opportunity to learn, since I had never raced anything before this,” she said.

Successful first season

In addition to her win in Independence, Wroten enjoyed several top 5 or top 10 finishes.

“I ended the season 3rd in IMCA Rookie Points and 4th in the IMCA Lady Eagle Points, despite racing a limited schedule do to work,” says Wroten, whose job schedule only allows her to race in Vinton every other Sunday.

Her best night of the season came on July 2, when she won in Independence.

“It was a pretty amazing night,” she said.

On June 23, she had been leading for most of the first 10 laps in the mid-season championship event in Vinton before being spun out by another driver (who was penalized).

Her car includes a combination of purple colors, and words of thanks for family and friends who have helped.

“Thanks Grandma Grandpa” painted on the right side is a tribute to Wroten’s grandparents, Felix and Julie Butters of Independence.

“They have become two of my best fans and supporters,” she says. “Not only did they want to sponsor me this year, they also helped me improve my safety program and helped me purchase a new and improved racing suit for the 2014 season.”

As far as colors, Wroten says, there is not really any reason in particular for the scheme.

“I just love those colors together. Most years when Nick raced and we owned cars we had some purple on them so I put my own twist with the purple.”

2014 goals

While pleased with her rookie season, Wroten is looking for more success and more trips to Victory Lane this year.

“My goal this year is to become more consistent – from lap to lap, race to race, become a more consistent driver. Last year my goals were to learn and have fun which I think will be goals every year,” she said.

“To win in Vinton will take not making any mistakes,” says the driver. “The competition at both tracks is some of the best in the state, if not the country. Everything happens so quick in Vinton and the speeds are faster than you'd expect for smaller track. As a rookie last year it was the hardest track for me to figure out. If I stick to my goal of consistency hopefully that will lead to victory lane.”

Another attraction for Vinton is the racing fans, who truly love the sport,” Wroten said.

“I have always enjoyed going to Vinton as a fan and now as driver, because the fans there are so passionate about racing,” she said.

The men she competed against did not treat her any differently than they treated their male competitors, Wroten said.

“I didn't really feel like they treated me any different as a woman. Most were really helpful on giving me advice.”

One of those competitors is her cousin, Chris Luloff, who won the race in which Wroten spun out.

“We raced each other like everyone else. But it was nice having his perspective from the track. He was helpful and gave me a lot of advice,” Wroten says of her relative.

Dirt track writer Ryan Clark offered this observation about the history of women in Victory Lane at Vinton: Jena Barthelmes won features in Vinton in the Sport Compact division and she was also a track and national champion in the division in the mid-2000s.

“The last female driver to win before Jena in Vinton was Corrina Tharp on August 29, 1999,” Clark said.”That was in the Women on Wheels division.”

Changes in car for 2014

Like other drivers, Wroten spent the off-season working on preparing her car for a long, tough racing season.

“We completely went back down to bare chassis, reprinted the chassis, made sure the rear end was straight, and went through everything to make sure everything was in good shape,” she said. “We also got a newer motor so now we have a spare.”

Wroten plans on competing in the Frostbuster events, starting at Marshalltown on the April 11.

Thanks to family, sponsors

Like other drivers, Wroten depends on a long list of sponsors, friends and relatives to help her succeed.

“I want to thank all of my family and friends and sponsors ; they include Dominator Chassis, NE Iowa Fur Exchange, Pat's Tap, S&G Rustics, Hoefer Construction, Eschen/Tarpy Napa, West Edge Auto Salvage, Lil Racer Car Club, Wrap'd Up Designs and Hansen Fun Bus. Also my pit crew my husband Nick, Dad, Mitchell, Rick, Steve, and Norman. Without their help the car wouldn't make it to the track.

Thanks to fans

The Lil Racer Car Club is one of Wroten’s sponsors; she loves interacting with fans, especially the youngest ones.

“Thanks to all the fans, especially the kids,” she says. “I love seeing them all in the pits after the races and all the signatures on my trunk. The fans make it worthwhile.”

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