Member Spotlight: Savanna Little

Name:  Savanna Little
Age: 22
Region: Texas and Mid-Atlantic
Hometown: El Dorado Hills, CA
Racing Class: Spec Miata, TTU
Sponsors: Winding Road Racing, OMP, CoolShirt, Enjuku Racing, Toyo Tires, G-Loc Brakes, Fortune Auto, ISR Performance, SPL Parts, Racing Radios, Holley EFI, Konig Wheels, Ignite Racing Fuel
Day Job: Marketing
Favorite Food: Pizza
Favorite TV show: I don’t watch much TV, honestly
Favorite Movie: “Pulp Fiction”
Favorite Track: Road Atlanta
Dream Racecar: Nismo Super GT500 GTR

It’s no secret that auto racing is a boys club from the drivers’ seats to the crew chiefs, but Savanna Little is working hard to break into the club.

The second-year racer has big ambitions to get a seat in a pro series, but for now is focused is on getting faster at the track. Little came into NASA with no formal auto racing experience, but is shortening the learning curve thanks to her focus and eagerness to learn.

Friends say don’t bet against Little, especially since the 22-year-old model brings sponsors and a sizable social media following with her.

“She’s really early in her development, but what she has going for her is a tremendous amount of passion and discipline,” said Global MX-5 Cup driver and NASA member Mark Drennan, Little’s coach with Winding Road Racing. “She’s really dedicated to putting in the time and effort and seeking out the guidance to get better and better at each event.”

Little isn’t taking the easy route. Competing in one of NASA’s most competitive classes, Spec Miata in the Texas Region and Global Time Attack, Little got her competition license in January and in her first year did Time Trial and a few Global Time Attack events.

Little understands the practice and dedication it takes to reach the elite level of a sport by competing in equestrian show jumping. She started riding horses when she was 7, practicing on an old horse her mom owned.

Little grew into an accomplished rider to represent the United States on the Nationals Cup Team and compete internationally. But Little’s equestrian jumping career came to an end in 2012 after she broke her back during a bad fall at a competition in Sacramento, Calif.

It wasn’t until Little flew home to Houston that she discovered how serious the injury was—a spinal compression fracture.

“It did end up proving to be too large an obstacle to overcome to continue to compete and involve myself with horses in the way that I was,” said Little, who elected to do physical therapy instead of surgery. “It was definitely hard to give up, but at the same time I was phasing into racing so that made it a little less painful to give it up.”

Little upped the horsepower by jumping into the seat of a 2008 Nissan 350Z and attending as many driving schools and track days as her schedule allowed. Little had a steep learning curve, with no formal racing experience.

Many of the skills Little honed in her 15 years in equestrian competitions carried into auto racing. Besides the focus and commitment needed to compete at a high level, Little said skills such as reading lines is similar in both sports.

“I know a lot of drivers struggle with that at first, if they’re new to sports anyway, focal points, and that’s something we learned in riding,” Little said. “You’re always looking ahead and looking for your next jump, similar to racing where you’re always looking down track toward the exit of the turn.”

Little is racing in 26 events this year between her Spec Miata with Winding Road Racing and the Nissan 350Z in Global Time Attack and NASA’s TTU in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Attending college and working part-time, Little’s life is highly scheduled.

Little isn’t a typical second-year racer unless that involves being stopped for photos and autographs, even while wrenching on her Nissan 350Z. She’s built a substantial social media following with nearly 45,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook with thousands more on YouTube.

Being a public figure makes Little a target for critics, which her boyfriend Kevin Parlett says can be frustrating. Parlett said some of the criticism is rooted in sexism and that Little is adept at handling the social media trolls.

“For a young person to get in the sport nowadays is so much more difficult than it was in the past,” said Parlett, who was the crew chief for a World Challenge team and competes in Global Time Attack. “Talent doesn’t speak for itself anymore. For someone to be as marketable as she is, and be as driven as her to increase her talent is a deadly combo.”

Learning to be a racecar driver in the public eye has its challenges, but that doesn’t deter Little from sharing her racing struggles, which she chronicles as part of the driver development program at Winding Road Racing.

Little joined the program to gain wheel-to-wheel racing experience. Drennan has Little practicing her threshold braking, improving her endurance and focus, and car control.

“She does an amazing job of taking all the information in and actually putting it into practice on the track,” he said. “It’s fun to work with her and see her progress.”

Little said her coach pushes her to go outside her comfort zone whether on the simulator or on the track. She calls herself a “really precise driver,” which is great for endurance racing, but doesn’t work in Time Trial.

“I’ve grown more than I expected, even in the short amount of time that I’ve been doing this,” Little said. “Every race I do in the Miata, I grow so much and learn so much. It’s very easy to translate to the other car as well as other parts of my life.”

Little’s sponsor-centric approach to racing and her large social media presence is ideal for today’s pro-racing business model. As Little continues to develop her racing skills, Parlett said, pro opportunities should open up down the road.

“I’m going to take the opportunities that come to me and I’m going to do everything I can create more opportunities for myself,” Little said. “If that gets me into a pro series, then that’s awesome. That’s something a lot of people don’t ever get to say they did.”

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Images courtesy of Brett Becker and Brett Becker