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'It's where my heart is': Oklahoma Christian basketball player Connor Atkinson set to resume her passion of auto racing

Connor Atkinson competes against the York College Panthers at Oklahoma Christian University in November. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY]
Connor Atkinson competes against the York College Panthers at Oklahoma Christian University in November. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY]

Being a woman in a male dominated sport, people always assume Connor Atkinson is a big Danica Patrick fan.

"I have heard a lot that I am going to be the next Danica, but I am not a big fan of that saying," Atkinson said. "I never was a Danica fan. I met her and never really liked her. She was there for another reason."

Atkinson, 22, would rather be known as the next Christopher Bell, the Norman native who has shot up the auto racing ranks and is now running on NASCAR's top series.

The Oklahoma Christian University senior just finished her collegiate basketball career, and now she is ready to pursue full-time the sport she really loves, auto racing.

"I have never loved something the way I love racing," she said. "I feel like God wanted me to do this. He gives everyone talents, and this is mine."

Her auto racing had to be put on the back burner the last few years while she played basketball at a Kansas junior college and then for the Lady Eagles, where she was the first player off the bench last season.

Auto racing, however, is the sport where she really excelled growing up in Hutchinson, Kansas. She has been going to racetracks with her dad since she was 3 and started racing go-karts when she was 7.

As Atkinson kept winning, she kept moving up. By age 10, she had advanced to racing only micro midgets, competing in the Jayhusker Racing Series which is held on dirt tracks in Kansas, Nebraska and at I-44 Speedway in Oklahoma City.

After wrecking her micro midget, her father decided to move her into a 305 winged sprint car.She practiced driving the 305 sprint car for a year before racing it at age 13 in the United Rebel Sprint Series across Kansas and neighboring states.

"When she first came out, she did a good job," said Rick Salem, founder of the United Rebel Sprint Series. "She kept the car underneath her. She wasn't one that exactly ran up front, but she held her own. She got faster every week."

Atkinson didn't wreck all season until there were only five races left, but when she did, the car was too damaged to continue and she sat out the remaining events. Even so, she still ended up being named as the URSS national and Kansas rookie driver of the year.

She kept racing in sprint cars during her teen years at speeds of up to 120 mph on dirt tracks in Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, South Dakota and Colorado. While her father was the racing fan, it was Atkinson's grandparents who were encouraging her to play basketball instead.

"They were all about basketball," Atkinson said. "My grandpa is a KU fan. They did not enjoy racing. They did not approve of it. They were really pushing me to do basketball and I never really thought about it until I got a little older."

Atkinson discovered she was a good basketball player, too, but says she gets more nervous on the court than behind the wheel.

"Every time I would get the ball, I would get a little nervous," she said. "Am I going to make the right pass? Am I going to turn it over?... There are so many quick movements (in auto racing) you don't have a lot of time to think about it."

While basketball helped Atkinson get a college education (she will graduate from Oklahoma Christian later this month with a business degree), auto racing is her passion. She works at Paycom in Oklahoma City during the week and plans to be racing every weekend when racing resumes. Like almost everything else, auto racing has been shut down by COVID-19.

"I really hope racing is still an option this year," she said.

Her father, Brad, is building two micro midget cars for Atkinson to race in this season at I-44 Speedway and tracks across the Midwest. Atkinson said micro midget racing is more affordable and there are more opportunities to race, but she eventually would like to return to sprint cars.

Atkinson said drivers are often skeptical of her at first because she is a woman, but they quickly accept her when they see that she can handle a race car.

"There is starting to be more women in it all the time," Salem said of auto racing. "I would like to see Connor come back (to the United Rebel Sprint Series). I think she has a good future ahead of her if they can afford it. This sport is kind of expensive. As long as they keep her in good equipment, she will do fine. She runs good."

Atkinson wants to see how far she can go in auto racing.

"I am really into the World of Outlaw series," she said. "I love the sprint cars. It's where my heart is."

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma Christian University basketball player Connor Atkinson also is an accomplished driver in dirt track racing. [PHOTO PROVIDED]</strong>

Oklahoma Christian University basketball player Connor Atkinson also is an accomplished driver in dirt track racing. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6e7945558468f6656a70cd8143c00c6e.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma Christian University basketball player Connor Atkinson also is an accomplished driver in dirt track racing. [PHOTO PROVIDED] " title=" Oklahoma Christian University basketball player Connor Atkinson also is an accomplished driver in dirt track racing. [PHOTO PROVIDED] "><figcaption> Oklahoma Christian University basketball player Connor Atkinson also is an accomplished driver in dirt track racing. [PHOTO PROVIDED] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8f9a6663d78cb659c3dc213def00044d.jpg" alt="Photo - Connor Atkinson competes against the York College Panthers at Oklahoma Christian University in November. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY] " title=" Connor Atkinson competes against the York College Panthers at Oklahoma Christian University in November. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY] "><figcaption> Connor Atkinson competes against the York College Panthers at Oklahoma Christian University in November. [PHOTO BY STEVEN CHRISTY] </figcaption></figure>
Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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