Say this about Cassandra Denis’ entry into auto racing: She brings flash.
It was at a women’s race in Pennsylvania one day when Denis was thrown into a car and told to give it a shot.
“We duct-taped some blocks of wood to her feet so she could reach the pedals,” said her boyfriend of six years, Riverhead Raceway veteran Rob McCormick.
At the time, Denis asked McCormick: “When do I hit the gas? When do I hit the brake? What do I do? I don’t understand.”
At one point, she hit both the gas and the brake at the same time and struck a car next to her. “It was a disaster,” she said.
Not really, though. Denis ended up in second place.
From there, Denis went on to compete in her first race at Wall Stadium Speedway in 2014 in Wall Township, New Jersey. McCormick remembers the finish to that race well. “She won, driving up the wall in dramatic fashion,” with two wheels on the guardrail, defeating the runner-up by about 12 inches, said McCormick.
“It’s been history since,” said Denis.
Denis won four of seven races that year to become the Wall Stadium Speedway Powder Puff champion.
Last year Denis raced in the Truck Enduro ranks at Riverhead Raceway, but found that trucks weren’t for her. This year the 25-year-old Shoreham woman is racing in a car again, a 1980 four-door Chevy Caprice, a Christmas gift from McCormick.
In keeping with Denis’ style, the vehicle has flash. The black No. 6 car (her favorite number) is smartly detailed with streamlined splashes of pink and purple down the side and “MCCORMICK MOTORSPORTS” emblazoned on the back.
“It’s very girlie,” she said.
This woman is making her place in the male-dominated world of auto racing. Denis is one of two female drivers at Riverhead Raceway (fellow rookie Alyssa Paprocky is the other) who are competing in the Blunderbust class.
Denis grew up in Middle Island and was a former Longwood High School volleyball player, but comes from a racing family. Her brother, Jimmy, was a Grand Enduro and Super Pro Truck driver.
The jump from Enduros to Blunderbusts is a big one, especially for a rookie with much to learn. Even more so for a 120-pound woman steering a 4,200-pound car.
“Most of the guys I’m racing against, they have a little bit more muscle and weight,” Denis said. “I’m a tiny little thing that’s just trying to move this really heavy boat around, so, it’s a challenge.”
A challenge that she embraces.
“I love it. I absolutely love it,” she said. “I love the speed. I love the adrenaline. I just love going around in circles. It’s just so different.”
Denis has been driving faster and progressing. She said she could not stop smiling Saturday after she came in 10th place, her first top-10 finish of the season. She currently sits 13th in the points standings, one notch above Paprocky.
“She’s making big gains every week,” McCormick said. “Every week, we might take one step back, but by the end of the night we take two steps forward. So, it’s a big learning curve. Anyone can try and do this, but they’re going to have the same struggles that she has. Nobody is going to get in and just set the world on fire. You’re going to have to learn.”
McCormick, who races NASCAR Modifieds and Super Pro Trucks, may be Denis’ No. 1 fan, but that doesn’t mean he actually enjoys watching her race. “It’s nerve-racking,” he said.
Denis’ team has also made gains off the track, securing a sponsorship from Hampton Coffee Company as well as having signed National Business Capital of Bohemia as an associate sponsor.
Denis has made appearances at all four of Hampton Coffee’s locations. On Sunday she was at the Aquebogue shop with her car, meeting fans, posing for photos and signing autographs. She meets fans after races on Saturdays, too, when they visit her in the pit area. Among them are young girls looking for autographs.
Denis recalls what it was like to win her first race at Wall Stadium Speedway.
“I remember that feeling and it was like the best feeling ever,” she said. “I can’t wait to do it here.”
Maybe this time all four wheels will be on the ground at the finish, but no promises.
Photo caption: Riverhead Raceway driver Cassandra Denis of Shoreham with her car at Hampton Coffee in Aquebogue on Sunday morning. (Credit: Bob Liepa)