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Full Throttle: Local off-road pro racer Sarah Burgess loves her life and racing her 525-horsepower rig

Tooele resident and off-road pro racer, Sarah Burgess, says her sport is chaotic, but provides an ‘amazing lifestyle’ for her and her family in Tooele. She says living in Tooele is like ‘being on permanent vacation.’ (Photo courtesy Sarah Burgess/BMI Racing)

This article originally appeared in the September 14, 2018 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin

By Clint Thomsen

The 525-horsepower custom truck is her pride and joy. She knows it bumper-to-bumper, maintains it meticulously and services it thoroughly after every run. In fact, she routinely takes it all apart and puts it back together — because when it comes to the world of professional off-road racing, attention to detail counts.

“It’s amazingly chaotic,” Sarah Burgess said of her sport as she navigated the bay of her workshop at Utah Motorsports Campus in Grantsville last week. Sparks flew from her truck as her husband, Adam, used an angle grinder to prep the chassis for a weld. “But it’s an amazing lifestyle here in Tooele. It’s like being on permanent vacation,” she said.

Burgess’s company, BMI Racing, operates full-time out of UMC, and is entirely a family affair. Sarah is the owner and driver, while Adam serves as crew chief and engineer. Their 16-year-old daughter, Bridget, joined the team driving her own truck last year. 

“It’s a lot of family time together,” Burgess said.

Burgess was the only Utahn to compete in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series at UMC last month, placing fifth in the event. She races in the Pro Lite class, which features mid-size V-8 trucks that resemble pickup trucks, only leaner and meaner, and with more extreme angles. The Burgesses are currently preparing for their next event in San Bernardino, CA. The series runs through October.

Burgess was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, where she got into extreme sports at a young age, starting with BMX bike racing.

“I always liked to get my hands dirty,” she said. “I always followed my brother through what he was doing. We did speed skating on roller blades, then speed skating on ice.” 

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Sarah Burgess’s Pro Lite truck (Photo courtesy Sarah Burgess/BMI Racing)

She says the fact that racing is a male-dominated sport doesn’t faze her. Nor does she get any grief from the guys she races against.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl,” Burgess said. “When you get in that truck and put your helmet on, it’s all about horsepower. It’s about bravery and making good decisions.”

Burgess fell in love with the automotive industry in 2000, when she accompanied Adam on a business trip to the U.S. and attended a National Hot Rod Association drag race.

“That was my first motorsports event,” she recalled. “I saw a car pass at 320 miles per hour and I was blown away by the sound, the feeling, the visual of this dragster zipping down the track.”

The Burgesses moved from Australia to the Los Angeles area in 2008. Burgess estimates that the family has driven more than 300,000 miles across the country over the last decade. When racing events brought them to Tooele Valley, the Burgesses knew they were finally home. They relocated to Tooele City in June.

“We eat, sleep and breathe this stuff and wanted to be closer to the track,” Burgess said, noting that it was the small-town atmosphere and sense of community that drew them specifically to Tooele Valley. “Every time we came up here, there was this feeling.”

Burgess says she was especially touched by local Independence Day celebrations. 

“We were driving on up Main Street on the 3rd of July and everyone already had their chairs set up for the parade, and that’s amazing,” she said.

When they’re not on the road, the Burgesses spend most days in their workshop near the off-road track at UMC. Bridget is home-schooled, which allows her the flexibility to work ahead in order to spend time at the track. Burgess noted with a smile that while Bridget has been racing in her own truck for two years, she only recently got her driver’s license.

“What we do is super stressful, especially on the business side of things,” she said. “It’s the lifestyle, peace and quiet of Tooele that we love.”

As owner of BMI Racing, Burgess wears many hats. She personally manages marketing and writes all proposals. Fabrication, engineering and technology are also handled in-house. But although she’s learned to enjoy the business aspects of her operation, it’s the dirt track behind the workshop that speaks to her soul.

“We hit the front straightaway full-throttle,” she explained, her enthusiasm obvious in her inflection as she described the track from the top row of the spectator bleachers. “And we have a ‘rhythm section’ after Turn 4, which is a ton of fun. The trucks bounce through it really good. If you get it wrong, you just hold on for dear life.”

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Sarah Burgess (right) qualifies in her Pro Lite truck at the Lucas Oil Off-road Racing Series at Utah Motorsports Campus. (Photo by Sue Butterfield, source: Tooele Transcript Bulletin)

Burgess says that while the skills of driving a track can be learned over time, qualities like bravery, discipline and decisiveness are critical to off-road racing. 

“Because it’s dirt, the surface of the track changes every lap,” she said. “You’ll come into a corner and you’ll see this divot, and your natural instinct is to let off the gas. But you actually need to put your foot down and power through it. Otherwise you’ll catch the rut and it’ll flip you.”

Burgess speaks from experience; she’s rolled her truck 12 times. On one occasion, it rolled four times before coming to a stop.

“The fear is something you have to overcome,” she said, noting that close calls often facilitate wisdom. “When we fly off a jump, we hope that everything’s fine on the other side, because there’s nothing you can do flying through the air.”

And while she delights in the uncertainty of it all, she speaks about maneuvering the track as if it were a science — a mere matter of analysis and iteration.

“If I were to hit the brakes mid-air, I would nosedive and crash,” Burgess explained. “But if I’m flying and I’m rotated too far up, I can touch the brakes to bring the nose down for a better landing.”

Burgess believes the lessons she has learned on the track are applicable to everyday driving, and she takes every opportunity to pass them along. Last year, she partnered with a sponsor to provide a series of women’s car-care clinics that educated women about the various issues that can arise with their vehicles. 

“We talked about what certain dashboard lights mean, when to panic and when not to panic,” she laughed. 

Burgess plans to hold similar events specifically for millennials and younger drivers. She says she’d love for UMC to hold winter clinics for driving safely in bad weather.

In the meantime, she’ll race and work on her truck, tearing it down and scrubbing the chassis with oil. While she hasn’t yet given it a name, she has considered a few, including “Christine” and “Wile E. Coyote,” the latter because “no matter what we do to this truck, it keeps on going.”

The Burgesses received their Green Cards last year and are working toward U.S. citizenship, something Burgess considers an incredible privilege.

“I’ve been to NASCAR and I’ve stood there for the National Anthem and watch the planes fly overhead, and I’ll tear up,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be here.”

Burgess says people often assume that since she’s a professional racer, she must have come from money. 

“We moved here with six suitcases,” she said. “My dad was a bricklayer and my mom still works in a grocery store. Everything we have is the result of sheer determination. If your heart is really in it, then it’s something you will accomplish.”

Follow Sarah Burgess on social media:

http://www.facebook.com/sarahburgess97
http://www.instagram.com/sarahburgess97

Story Copyright 2018 Clint Thomsen/BonnevilleMariner.com
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Posted by on September 14, 2018 in Tooele Transcript Bulletin

 

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Historic Memories: Old Grantsville church celebrates 150th anniversary

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This piece originally appeared in the September 22, 2016 edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.

“Are you going through?” Emily Johnson asked her friend, Rachael Anderson, as they perched atop a ladder in the historic Grantsville First Ward Meetinghouse last Saturday afternoon. Anderson aimed her flashlight through a small opening in the adobe wall, illuminating the vacuous attic beyond. The decision was a no-brainer, and with an animated “yep!” she disappeared through the dusty portal.

More than two decades have passed since the childhood friends first explored this attic and peered through tiny ductwork holes into the chapel below. The beam from Anderson’s light danced across the exposed rafters, scanning for the spot where they had signed their names in dust.

“It’s all still here, Em!” she called back, her voice trailing off as she tiptoed over ancient joists. “Just like I remember it.”

The friends had come to the old chapel at the corner of Clark and Cooley streets for a special open house celebrating the 150th anniversary of its dedication. The building’s current owners, Kelly and Macae Wanberg, said they couldn’t let the milestone pass without paying tribute to its legacy. Former Grantsville mayor Byron Anderson also attended the event, along with several other families with ties to the chapel.

img_4927“Being here brings back good memories,” said Lanae Williams, who attended LDS services here beginning in the 1940s. She remembers delivering a talk or two from the pulpit. “The talks were something we all tried to avoid,” she laughed as she ran her fingers across the backrest of an old pew. “But I loved it here.”

Construction of the chapel probably began in the late 1850s, according to Craig Anderson of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers, Twenty Wells Chapter. Prior to its construction, church services were held in a primitive log hall southwest of the site on what is now Cooley Street. The building directly west of the chapel (now the Donner Reed Museum) was the original schoolhouse. These buildings were situated at the heart of the early settlement, which was surrounded by a wall made of adobe brick and mud for protection from Indian raids. The new meetinghouse would also be built within the walls of the fort.

The new church was built under the direction of Hugh Gillespie, an early Mormon pioneer who cut stone for the Salt Lake LDS Temple. Gillespie designed the Greek revival structure in the traditional style of early LDS buildings, with a gable roof and a vestry on the rear side. The chapel’s walls were over 2 feet thick and built with adobe bricks fashioned from mud and hay, then plastered over with stucco.

Inside, a pair of kerosene lamps hung from ornate rosettes in the ceiling. The lamps could be raised and lowered through the rosettes via framed pulley systems in the attic. Similar rosettes can be found in the Salt Lake Temple.

img_4928“It’s hard to believe this was all done without power tools,” said Kelly Wanberg. “Just old-fashioned tools with wrought iron nails to hold it all together. It’s really amazing.”

The meetinghouse was dedicated on July 14, 1866, with many LDS dignitaries in attendance. The beloved structure remained central to religious and social life in Grantsville as the community grew. The first major upgrade to the building came in 1952 with the addition of a wing of classrooms on its east side. The Grantsville Ward (now the Grantsville First Ward) called the chapel home until 1978 when it relocated to a modern facility.

The meetinghouse was then sold to Tate Mortuary for use in viewings and funeral services. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The building holds the distinction of being one of the oldest continuously-used buildings in the region and one of the only LDS meetinghouses of the era still standing.

“Every Church president from Brigham Young to David O. McKay has given an address from this pulpit,” Anderson said.

save-new2The church was then used as a residence — first for the Pectol, then Hamatake families. Anderson, the seventh of nine Pectol children, spoke nostalgically of her childhood spent in the old church.

“We all had classrooms for bedrooms,” she said. “We each had our own chalkboard!”

As a close neighbor and Anderson’s best friend, Emily Baird Johnson also spent considerable time at the building.

“The place was magical,” she said. “There is a sweet, peaceful feeling that has always been here through the years.”

By the time the Wanbergs purchased the chapel in 2011 with hopes of starting a theater and drama school, the building’s west wall had become dangerously unstable and threatened the entire structure.

“The wall was buckling,” Macae Wanberg said. “There had been a lot of damage from rain, and adobe doesn’t really do well when you mix it with water.”

The Wanbergs hired a contractor to shore up the wall with reinforced cinder block, then added interior pillars to prevent the ceiling from collapsing in the event of an earthquake. The renovated assembly hall, known now as the Old Grantsville Church, features a stage and an open floor. It bustles with drama students, theater audiences and wedding parties.

“When I was a child, I was a bit quiet around most people,” Macae Wanberg reflected. “I found that the stage was the one place I could really feel confident.”

She says her favorite part of theater is watching children who lack confidence or have disabilities stand in front of an audience and receive applause. The children’s theater side of the business recently finished its run of “Jack and the Giant,” and the dinner theater will present Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” in October.

Saturday’s open house featured a historical presentation by Craig Anderson and performances of selected numbers by cast members of past and upcoming productions. Guests enjoyed cake while reminiscing about their experiences in the chapel.

For Anderson and Johnson, now in their early thirties, the memories came flooding back. They remembered pretending to be animals on the old rostrum ledges and jumping from the pulpit onto a trampoline that the family set up in the room. They remembered spooking their friends by stepping on a particularly creaky part of the floor.

Then they remembered their trek up to the attic and the signatures they left in the pioneer dust. And with that, they headed for the stairs.

The search for their signatures was ultimately unsuccessful, but it afforded the friends a veritable trip back in time. They marveled by flashlight at the strands of hay and finger impressions still visible in the exposed adobe bricks. There was the hand-hewn truss system that still so ably supports the roof. There was the pulley rigging for the kerosene lamps, and the boulder that acted as a makeshift counterweight for them. It was as if the clock had stopped in 1866.

“This has made my day. My month. Possibly my whole year!” exclaimed Anderson.

The Wanbergs later joined the ladies in the attic. Although she had once looked inside, this was Macae Wanberg’s first time climbing through.

“We’re not originally from Grantsville,” Macae Wanberg said. “But we feel a part of it now. I guess we’re also a part of the history — and future — of this building. That’s been a great thing.”

 

Copyright 2016 Clint Thomsen and BonnevilleMariner.com

 
 

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