McKenna Haase is a twenty-three year old racecar driver from Des Moines, Iowa. She first fell in love with racing after accidentally meeting NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne in a shopping mall when she was in third grade. Haase began racing sprint cars primarily in the Knoxville Championship Cup Series at Knoxville Raceway when she was seventeen. In her second season she became the first female to win a sprint car feature at Knoxville in 114 years. In 2018, Haase picked up her fifth career feature win at Knoxville Raceway. Throughout her career she has gained seat time behind the wheel of outlaw karts, micro sprints, and sprint cars, as well as a little asphalt late model experience. Haase also owns her own youth driver development program, Compass Racing Development LLC, and appeared on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior Season 11 and Fox Sports 1’s This Racing Life in 2019.
How did you get into racecar driving?
When I was in third grade, we went on vacation to Tennessee. We were walking through a shopping mall going to dinner and we ran into Kasey Kahne. Kasey talked to us about racing in Iowa! When we left the mall, I was stoked! I eventually got his t-shirt and wore it every day. I became obsessed with not just Kasey, but following racing. In the meantime, I had a cousin who lives in Arkansas who started racing micro sprint cars. I went on vacation to watch him and I fell in love with the idea that kids could race.
In a male-dominated sport, was there ever a time when you felt like you were losing your confidence? If so, how did you get past it?
Absolutely, I feel like that's a continuous challenge. When you are successful at different levels of racing, you want to continue to move up the ladder and be successful, but that comes with more and more challenges. Within every level is a learning phase and that is the part where it's tough to keep your confidence up and not lose faith that you're at the level you're at for a reason and can indeed be successful.
What would you tell a girl that is interested in becoming a racecar driver, but doesn't know where to start?
I would say start with whatever you can get your hands on- that might be as simple as YouTube videos or watching it on TV. The next step would be going to watch races in person. From there you could either start helping out on a team or doing recreational karting. After that if you feel you're ready to start your own team, save your money and start at a level you can financially afford and have fun. Sometimes in racing there is a stereotype that you have to start big to start at all, and that's not true. Some of my best memories are from the very beginning of my career.
The sport has a place for everybody, so find out where you fit in, have fun, and go from there.
Have you ever been judged on your appearance rather than your ability?
I've always looked younger than I actually am and have always been kind of lanky. In other words, I'm probably not the stereotypical type to be a sprint car driver. I remember at my first sprint car practice I went to watch in the bleachers and an older gentleman looked over and asked me if I drove the pink car, and when I said yes, he said, "I didn't expect much out of you...but you really impressed me."
I think the biggest thing is proving yourself through your actions and not your words as you'll always have doubters no matter what you're doing and what gender you are.
What does "brake barriers" mean to you when it comes to women equality in sports?
To me, "brake barriers" means going places that no one else has ever gone before and hence carving a path for others to follow.
Sometimes we don't even realize how much watching other people impacts our thought processes. When I first got started, I would look at kids younger than me out there and tell myself that if they could do that I could too. At the higher levels that's harder to say because there's not as much I have in common with the drivers out there.
If I can accomplish something that proves to a younger girl it can be done, then I think that's "braking" barriers.