Tori reveals how she got the name Tornado Tori, talks about racing as a family sport and gives us an insight into her discipline sprint car racing.
WHEEL SISTERS: Tori, please introduce yourself.
Tori: My name is Tori Knutson, I am from Monticello, Minnesota and I race 410 winged sprint cars weekly at Knoxville Raceway as well as select local races with the World of Outlaws and Allstar Circuit of Champions series.
WHEEL SISTERS: Tori, you started your racing career at the age of four with go-karts. Can you please describe your motorsport background? How were you introduced to motorsport? What are the milestones?
Tori: I was introduced to racing through my parents. My dad raced dirt modifieds and my mom was part of his “pit crew”… my dad raced every weekend from spring through fall and when I was born they took me to the track with them. It quickly became a family sport; I grew up at the race track and to this day I still consider a lot of the people n the racing community my family.
WHEEL SISTERS: Who gave you the name “Tornado Tori” and what does it mean to you?
Tori: I got the name “Tornado” the one and only time I tried non-wing racing… to cut a long story short I DESTROYED the back stretch wall and my car all in one go. I came back into the pits on the wrecker and my dad was so mad, he told me “you wreck more sh*t than a tornado in a trailer park.” It was a long drive home that night, but the next morning my dad woke me up bright and early and said “Come on Tornado, we’ve got work to do if we’re gonna go race next weekend.” We laugh about it now. Since then the name Tornado just kind of stuck, everyone calls me Tornado.
WHEEL SISTERS: You race 410 sprint cars in the Midwest of the United States. Can you explain the sport of sprint car racing to us? What are the rules? What is special about this discipline?
Tori: Sprint car racing is a rush! The sprint car racing I do is on a dirt circle track anywhere from a ¼ mile up to a ½ mile in size. We go through a qualifying process based on time trials; you get two laps and your best time determines where you start in your heat race and how you finish in your heat race determines which feature you transfer into. Typically, the top four finishers in the heat race will transfer straight into the A-main (which is the main event) and the rest will go to the B-Main (sometimes there are D- and C-mains at big races). Then the top four finishers in the B-Main will transfer into the A. Typically 24 cars are taken into the A-main, and an A-main can range anywhere from 20-50 laps depending on the race and how big the track is!
WHEEL SISTERS: Can you explain the specifications of your sprint car?
Tori: A 410 sprint car has on average 900+ horsepower, and car, driver and fuel combined have to weigh a minimum of 1425 pounds. Sprint cars have all open wheels with two aluminum wings; one large wing on top of the car and one smaller wing on the front of the car. One thing that helps keep sprint cars so light is that they don’t have starters. In order to start a sprint car, you have to put the car in gear while the car is stopped then be push started by a pick-up truck. There isn’t any kind of clutch system, anytime the car comes to a stop the engine needs to be shut down and push started again.
WHEEL SISTERS: Have you tried other motorsport disciplines too?
Tori: I have not tried any other motorsports but I did race BMX bikes throughout high school and into college for a little bit.
WHEEL SISTERS: Apart from your racing career: What is your education and your job?
Tori: I studied Mechanical Engineering but currently I work in a local warehouse as a forklift operator…it’s one the few jobs I’ve had that allows me to race as much as I do.
WHEEL SISTERS:What does a normal working week look like for you? And what challenges do you have to deal with in your daily business?
Tori: On a normal week during race season I go to my “normal” job from 6am-2pm Monday through Friday. Then I will go home and decompress for a little bit, and make dinner. After that I go over to the shop across town where we keep the race car and do any maintenance that needs to be done. I typically work there until 9 or so then head home and go to bed so I can do it all again the next day! We typically have everything race-ready by Friday night so we can load up Saturday morning and head to Knoxville! It’s a 4.5-hour drive to Knoxville; we usually stay in town Saturday night and head home Sunday morning. Then Sunday afternoons are for washing the car so we can start the maintenance cycle all over again on Monday! I think the biggest thing I struggle with is balancing “regular work life” with my racing life.
WHEEL SISTERS: Back to racing: How did you finance your sport? How did you get sponsors?
Tori: The majority of our race team is funded by sponsorship and the money I earn working my full time job. I also am lucky to have a very supportive family that helps me out when they are able to. As for sponsors, I work very hard at creating visible social media platforms as well as at in-person networking. It doesn’t matter which kind of sport you do, it just makes you ambitious and you are always setting goals and you never stop working on yourself – that’s something you can also use in your private life.
WHEEL SISTERS: Who are the people around you? Who gives you the necessary support?
Tori: My family is definitely my biggest support system; they’ve always been there for me. But I’ve also met a lot of really great people through racing who I now consider close friends that I know I can trust and always count on when I need them!
WHEEL SISTERS: If you look back – what had the biggest impact on improving your driving skills?
Tori: Not taking the easy way out and pushing through the struggle. The 410 sprint car division, especially at Knoxville Raceway, is one of the toughest classes out there. The drivers are incredibly talented, as are the pit members working on and setting up the cars. Racing with that kind of talent every single weekend is humbling, and a lot of the time I did question what the heck I’d got myself into … but I’ve seen a night and day difference in my driving so far and this is just the beginning because I’ve still got a lot to learn! I live by, and truly believe in, the moto “You can only be as good as the people you race with”. If you want to be the best, you have to race with the best.
WHEEL SISTERS: Although there seem to be more women becoming involved in motorsports, why do you think there are still so few? What should be done to encourage more women to take part?
Tori: In my opinion and my experience, I think one reason could be struggling to be taken seriously. It’s hard to walk into a corporate office with a plan for your big dreams in a still very male-dominated sport as a woman and be taken seriously, plain and simple. In turn that can create a lack of funding which is not ideal in a sport that is so expensive. My advice is to just race anyways. Absolutely top-notch equipment is helpful, but I truly believe seat time tops everything… so if you can go out there and race with what you’ve got… do it!!
WHEEL SISTERS: Have you experienced any sexism during races and, if so, how did you deal with it?
Tori: I have not experienced much sexism during races as much as I have on social media. The negative comments annoy me but I just simply delete them and forget about them. No one’s opinion has any effect on what I can accomplish because it’s not their opinions that are putting the work in.
WHEEL SISTERS: What advice would you give girls or women wanting to get into motorsport?
Tori: Simply never ever give up, and with that never settle on your dreams. Don’t lower your expectations for your life, goals, and dreams based on someone else’s definition of what’s “realistic.”
WHEEL SISTERS: What are your sporting goals in the coming months?
Tori: I want to become a full-time race car driver; racing year-round and venturing outside of the Midwest!