Claire Jedrek: Singapore's Racing Queen
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Southeast Asia’s high-tech powerhouse isn’t exactly up to speed in everything.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
From her high-rise condo in Singapore, a bad-to-the-bone 32-year-old Claire Jedrek belts out the lyrics to her racing pump-up anthem one Friday night. “I go zero to one hundred … real quick. Real quick, whole squad on that real sh*t,” she raps, rather terribly, albeit shamelessly. It’s adrenaline, it’s rough and it’s the perfect jam for this motorsports superstar.
Jedrek is a petite 5-foot-5 British-Singaporean with model-worthy cheekbones and girl-next-door appeal. She doesn’t look the way you’d imagine a prize-winning motorsports buff would, but her gleaming collection of trophies says otherwise. In fact, Jedrek is one of Southeast Asia’s most recognizable faces in the race car–driving realm. And although she hails from one of the world’s tiniest nations, better known for its squeaky-clean, gum-free streets than off-the-wall edge, Jedrek dreams big when it comes to igniting a thrill-seeking culture of extreme sports in Singapore.
She may have a shot at making that happen: Steve Jones, an extreme-sports consultant at Venture Xtreme, an adventure sports center, says Singapore is easily “one of the top 10 destinations in the world” for climbing, diving, high ropes and surfing. Increasingly, Asia is hosting some of the world’s largest extreme-sports festivals, like the Kia World Extreme Games, X Games Asia and FISE Malaysia, which have all “helped showcase action sports in those countries,” adds Pete Thompson, the editor of Extreme Sports Channel. Indeed, Jedrek intends to forge a bright, new career out of speed racing — a rarity in prim and proper Singapore.
It started as a joke — Jedrek, who just earned her driver’s license five years ago, took a bet with her fellow racer partner, who asked if she wanted to enter the Malaysian Grand Prix. “It was kind of like a ‘becoming an astronaut’ type of thing. But if someone gave you an opportunity to go to the moon, would you really do it?” she laughs. Apparently, and with style: In her rookie year, as the only female racer, she clinched eighth out of 36 competitors at the Malaysian Super Series. And in addition to a second-place podium finish in a support race to the Malaysian Grand Prix last March, Jedrek touts an outstanding-achievement award from the small but budding Singapore Motor Sport Association. Not bad for a former Deal or No Deal suitcase model.
Now Jedrek has to ace another race: making room for extreme sports. Step one: Land big-name sponsors like Puma that fund her racing dreams. Step two: Help build the country’s first ever electric karting circuit from the ground up. But unlike NASCAR household names in the U.S. and Formula One Grand Prix celebrities, Jedrek enjoys no government support; whereas in Malaysia, racers do (Jedrek often competes there). Instead, Singaporeans are putting their money behind more traditional athletes — for the up-and-coming Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps of the island, as opposed to the next Danica Patrick.
The vast majority of extreme sports — like rock climbing and motocross — are not officially recognized by the government and are consequently confined to a “hobby” status for athletes who dabble in them. No recognition translates to no nationwide competitions, underfunded athletes and a skeptical view toward the validity of extreme sports as a real profession, Jedrek explains. According to Leona China, another race car–driving athlete in Southeast Asia, the scarcity of sponsorships in the region remains a challenge. Which means Jedrek, who has years of experience in media and sports emceeing, does all her own marketing, fund-raising (all $50,000-plus of it) and negotiating. Even her handyman boyfriend helps tune up her car every once and a while. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s a Porsche Carerra Cup Asia competitor too.)
Always on “full charge,” Jedrek has tried her hand at break dancing, aggressive in-line skating, marathon running and nighttime bungee jumping off the world’s tallest leap from a building. Perhaps at the expense of her loved ones’ sanity, Jedrek just “loves the rush,” says her younger sister Rachel. “Sometimes it’s hard to get her to stop.” In motorsports, the inertial forces coupled with the intense vibrations and heat can lead to a heart rate of up to 200 beats per minute for racers like Jedrek. Every year, a handful of Formula 1 drivers die from serious injuries.
But a prophet is, as they say, without honor in her own country. Jones from Venture Xtreme notes that Singapore is the perfect “hub for extreme sports” with a “willing, well-educated population with the money to … explore.” For Jedrek, it really is a lot like car racing too, she says: “You can only look forward. You can’t really look backward.”
An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Jedrek’s win during the Malaysian Grand Prix.