Des Moines, IA
A stripe of stock market data is emblazoned on the helmet of champion sprint car driver McKenna Haase. Nestled among the bold silvers, pinks, greens, and blacks of her racing gear, the stock ticker is a subtle symbol of her dual life as a finance major at Drake.
Haase, a Des Moines native, took up her racing hobby at the age of 12 in an outlaw sprint kart, then upgraded to the more muscular sprint model during her junior year of high school. She made national headlines when, as a high school senior, she became the first female sprint car driver to win a feature race in the 114-year history of Knoxville Raceway—also known as “Sprint Car Capital of the World.”
The next day, she was honored as valedictorian during her high school graduation ceremony at Carlisle High School: “So, that was a pretty cool weekend,” she remembers.
For Haase and other professional racers, the sprint car world is 90 percent business and 10 percent actual time behind the wheel. McKenna personally recruited and retains her racing team’s 25 marketing partners, including Iowa Select Farms—the largest pork producer in Iowa—Casey’s General Store, Wyckoff Heating and Cooling, Stine Seed, and Tyr Endurance Sports.
Merchandising, accounting, parts, inventory—Haase does it all.
Which is where Drake comes in: She’s been able to apply her coursework from every single class to some element of her racing. Her information systems course taught her to more efficiently do her accounting. Students in her marketing course formed a group project to strengthen her brand and help her sell more T-shirts.
“Even in philosophy, you know, studying the purpose of life helps me to think about who I want to be, as a person and as a racecar driver,” Haase says.
It’s tough balancing a full-time racing gig and a 4.0 grade-point average, but so far, she’s accomplished it, largely through support of the Drake community.
When she arrived to first-year orientation sessions banged and bruised from a gnarly wreck at the Speedway—one that totally demolished her car—her new friends, peer mentors, and professors made the necessary accommodations while she got back on her feet.
Even Drake Men’s Basketball Head Coach Ray Giacoletti has been supportive. A mutual friend introduced them at the Raceway one summer day, and the two kept in touch. Giacoletti shares workout tips, Haase cheers on the Bulldogs, and the two often meet in The Knapp Center to talk racing.
“We just kind of became friends,” she says. “He speaks my language.”