Before 2012, the only kind of racing Renée Brinkerhoff had done was rushing to grade her four home-schooled kids’ papers before they returned from soccer practice. But the Sedalia resident soon found a passion that involved less red ink and a lot more redlining: rally racing, an adrenaline-charged motor sport in which drivers compete against the clock on closed-off sections of teeth-rattling back roads. Often the turns come up so quickly that drivers need a navigator with them to shout directions from a guidebook that’s provided to all competitors. After hearing about the sport from her husband’s cousin, Brinkerhoff decided to take some lessons—and quickly discovered she had a knack for the high-speed pursuit.
Six years later, 61-year-old Brinkerhoff remains the only woman to twice win her class in La Carrera Panamericana, a dangerous Mexican street race that spans seven days and 2,000 miles. “You have to have a balance of speed and endurance,” she says. “But a lot of it is adrenaline and guts.” That’s a recipe Brinkerhoff is familiar with: Her father’s military service and civilian career took the family to Hong Kong in the ’60s, during the pro-communism Cultural Revolution, and to Laos toward the end of the Vietnam War.
Now she’s decided to take her talents on the road. Over the next three years, Brinkerhoff plans to drive her Porsche 356 on all seven continents. She hopes to use the trips to raise global awareness about child trafficking and women’s rights; as one of the few women navigating a male-dominated sphere, she feels a responsibility to advocate for fellow female drivers. “We, too, can do this,” she says.
She’s proven that multiple times over. In La Carrera Panamericana, Brinkerhoff dealt with everything from hazardous terrain (waterfalls splashing over the roads) to poor weather (tropical storms and dense fog) to car malfunctions: During the 2015 event, her brakes, shocks, and steering wheel all started to malfunction on the last day of the race. She still managed to cross the finish line.
That unpredictable environment has helped prepare Brinkerhoff for the other races she plans to check off her list. Her next one, the Targa Tasmania (April 16 to 21), occurs on the Australian island known for its devilish mammals and rugged country. In 2019, the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge will take her on a monthlong journey through remote countries like Mongolia and Uzbekistan on “roads that will beat your car up in a day.” And in the winter of 2020, she’ll attempt to drive 356 kilometers—a tribute to her Porsche—on Antarctica’s ice cap. She’s hired Jason De Carteret, who used a tricked-out Toyota Tacoma to set two world records for the fastest journey from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, to help her modify her luxury sports car for the treacherous conditions. But it’s a risky endeavor: On another private expedition to the South Pole, two Land Rovers made it about three miles before they broke down. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter if Brinkerhoff fails in her quest. She’s already found the adventure she was looking for.