DEMI CHALKIAS IS A 24 YEAR OLD SEMI-PRO RACECAR DRIVER WHO HAS STARED HER FEARS STRAIGHT IN THE FACE, WHICH HAS BECOME A DEFINING ASPECT OF HER MOTORSPORT JOURNEY.
* Magazine Feature for client Demi Chalkias in the @autostradamagazine
Unlike most little girls, Demi Chalkias spent her childhood years at the track watching her dad race cars – not because she had to, but because she wanted to. For years, Demi would watch her father do laps on racetracks in amazement, as she counted down the days until she was old enough to experience a race from behind the wheel.
When she was finally old enough, Demi enrolled herself into go-karting, and after placing 2nd, she knew racing cars was something she was destined to do. Today, Demi is 24 years old and races at a semi-professional level. Her love for the sport has driven her through some of her toughest days; like her first time as the only female on the track, and a rainy day that changed her life outlook forever. That passion for racing still pulsates through her veins just like it did when she was a little girl watching her dad.
As I sit and chat with Demi, I immediately notice the zest she has for motorsports. The fire that burned inside of her the first time she got into the driver’s seat is still glowing bright as ever and is best seen when she’s either racing or talking about racing.
When she describes the feeling of sitting behind the wheel of her car, she radiates so much enthusiasm that you can’t help but get fired up with her. “Racing to me is an art; everything about it,” Demi explains, “It demands so much elegance and creativity, but has a competitive approach too. I have always been competitive by nature, so I think that’s why I gravitated toward it. Not in a vicious way. To be honest, I am mostly competitive with myself. I have always wanted to better myself and be the best that I could be; academically, physically, and wherever else.” She exudes a lot of confidence for someone in her twenties; a subtle surety of herself which she presents with effervescence.
I find myself wondering if anything intimidates her, “Of course,” she laughs, “being a female in a male-dominated sport was tough at the beginning; you have to prove yourself and earn respect – but that applies for everyone, not just females. Racing is a sport of courage, drive and determination. If you lack in those areas you will be preyed on and that is what can be intimidating. You have to be a certain type of animal to be a racer. It’s not common for females to be in the racing scene because those characteristics are not common in a female. When you’re on the track everyone is competition and when you’re off the track everyone is friends.”
After less than an hour chatting with Demi, it’s clear to me that she is definitely that courageous and determined type of animal, which is probably why she can count her memories of feeling intimidated on one hand. “We all shake hands and congratulate each other on good battles. The track is my second home and the people there are my second family. I really can’t say enough great things about the track. I encourage more women to try the sport, my only advice would be to come in knowing they have to be mentally strong to hold their own and earn their respect.” You can tell when she talks about it: being a woman at the racetrack is more of a distant memory than a reality for Demi. In fact, it’s the least unsettling of her memories.
On May 12th, 2017, Demi was to complete a three-hour endurance race on a track she had driven many times before. Demi prepared herself with a fresh set of rain tires to cope with the rainy weather, but 15 minutes before the race, the weather cleared up and the sun was shining. With a dry track, the rain tires she prepared to use were useless and Demi had to scramble to get a set of tires appropriate for the dry weather condition. She had to settle for a set of well-worn slicks.
“They penalized me for coming up to grid late and started me dead last,” Demi recalls, “The race started and I swiftly moved my way up to 2nd in my class and 7th overall, but 40 minutes into the race, my tires started sounding like they were running out. By an hour in, they were extremely slippery. I slowed down to let the tires cool, but then I felt a bit of grip with my tires and my anxiousness to speed back up made me think it was a good idea to start pushing the car hard again. It took me no more than a lap to realize this was a mistake… a bad one.” Demi’s car aggressively hit an unsettling hump, and with tires that were lacking grip, it went sliding toward a wall. “Before I could try anything else, the wall was milliseconds away and all I could do was accept it,” she explains, “I let go of the steering wheel so that my wrists didn’t snap when I hit the wall. I slammed the breaks to try and reduce the force as much as I could.”
After that, Demi was just there for the ride. Her car flipped after hitting the wall and she was dangling upside down. The car finally settled, and Demi took in the situation, “My first thought was, ‘I’m alive.’ My second thought was that I better get out of there before this thing lights up.” She tried to get out but the damages to the car trapped her in, “At that point, I felt fear,” she says. After some quick acting and maneuvering, Demi was able to crawl her way out of one of the windows, “I will never forget what it felt like when my first hand made it out of the car. It was in a puddle of fluids and broken glass and it was the most relieving moment I’ve ever had in my life.”
“That accident shaped me as a driver and a person. It taught me to be more disciplined in reading the car and not let my hunger to place first blind me from interpreting feedback.” Not long after her accident, Demi had one thought in her mind, “My number one goal was to get back on the track,” she reminisces, with that Demi-determination in her eyes.
In just under two months, she was back on the racetrack and placed 2nd. “You have to get right back into it, the longer you wait, the more the fear of driving will grow. The best way to crush something you’re afraid of is to stare it straight in the face,” Demi explains. As traumatic as that crash was, Demi’s courage remains unscathed. It’s that same courage that made her follow her dream when she was a little girl, and that same courage that earned her respect as a young woman in the racing community. “All of my racing experiences, the good and the bad, have shaped me into a better version of myself: smarter, wiser, but humbled. I’m sure I’ll have more experiences and lessons in life, and I will learn from them and aim to be a better person because of them.”
A note from Demi: “I want to thank both of my parents for their support during the time of my accident and throughout my entire racing career. I would also like to thank Joe from Tip Top Auto Collision on the Danforth, Anthony from Amplitude Racing, my racing partner Rich Grossi and John Nguyen from ABM Auto Center, who all showed me friendship and support when I needed it most.”
Original Story can be found in print in Autostrada Magazine
Story by Amandalina Letterio
Photos by Charles Nguyen, Mark Miller & Kevin Chow