Kenston Junior Ariel Buyarski still hasn’t passed her driver’s test.
Although she competes in off-road vehicle racing and has a top speed of approximately 80 miles per hour, she still finds her driving test a daunting challenge.
“My driver’s test doesn’t feel like a breeze,” she laughs. “I have a hard time obeying the law when it comes to speed because I’m used to driving fast.”
The Auburn Township resident has always been a speed demon, and this summer she’s stepping on the gas by competing as a member of the professional amateur class in the MidAmerica Outdoors Utility Terrain Vehicle series.
“My team put a lot of work into my car and I just go out there and compete as best I can,” she said. “I’ve been given the opportunity to come and do it, so when I’m out there, I give it my all.”
Buyarski, 16, has had a need for speed since childhood. She still remembers going sledding with her father Michael and always telling him to go faster when going downhill. She added that her father has competed in UTV races his entire life and credits him with introducing her to the sport more recently.
“We used to go horseback riding as a family,” she says. “When I was 10 years old, my mom and I started breaking away from it, so he went to a local series to start racing and keep going because no one wanted to do it with him.”
Buyarski said she no longer enjoys participating in the sport.
She rediscovered her passion for racing when she accompanied her father to a race in 2020.
“I saw the kids riding around on their quads because when we ran the UTV track,” she recalled. “The youth quads were racing and at the end I saw some of them take off their helmets and they were all having fun and talking and I just missed it.”
If she wanted to race again, she needed a new set of wheels.
Her father bought a Can Am 900 hO model over the winter, and they spent several sleepless nights disassembling the car to configure their needs.
Buyarski explained that she and her father adjusted the seat and steering wheel to give her enough legroom to drive, and upgraded the cooling system and other tech on her car.
Her goal was to compete in the MidAmerica Outdoors series in 2021, but she was a year younger than the age of 16 required to compete.
She said her family knew the series’ director and he allowed her to compete because he knew what kind of driver she was and believed she was capable of.
According to her, the director would pull her out of the competition at the first sign of trouble and make her wait another year before she could officially enter.
However, things went smoothly and she proved she can race with the big boys.
“I felt pretty pumped because it gave me a little kick start to my racing career,” she remarked.
Buyarski’s age made her compete in the amateur class, but she quickly excelled by winning the amateur championship in 2021 before moving up to the professional amateur class.
“The main difference is the horsepower,” explains Buyarsi. “Last year I had 130 hp and this year it’s 205. It’s definitely a bit snappier in the woods and revs up a lot quicker.”
Her favorite racing method is forest racing, where each vehicle drives into the forest and hurtles through the rugged terrain of the great outdoors.
“In woodland racing, my car is 64 inches wide and I’m going to try to fit between trees that are 64½ inches wide and the track is anywhere from 4½ to seven miles long,” she explained. “Sometimes you’re out there on some of the most brutal tracks and there are rocks, roots and every time you do a new lap the track is different and you see lines taken, trees down, cars overturned and stuff like that .”
She originally started competing on four-wheelers last year but switched to side-by-side competitions.
Side-by-side UTV racing is a two-person job with a driver and a co-pilot in the passenger seat, and Buyarski’s wingwoman is Katrina Koening, a resident of Apollo, PA.
“She’s the first person I’ve met and raced with on our series,” said Buyarski. “I thought she had a super cool quad so I walked over and started talking to her and she was my first friend on the show and I asked her if I could be in the side-by-side next year want to race for me and she was my co-driver throughout 2021 and mid-2022 and she is still my co-driver.”
She’s competed in more side-by-sides this year and has won a total of seven races so far. One of her most memorable wins came at the Red Bull Mountain Scramble on May 30th at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion, Penn. Buyarski’s competitions took place throughout the school year, so she had to juggle her duties between being a full-time student and a racer on the weekends.
“I left school for half a day around lunchtime,” she explained. “I did my schoolwork early or did it on the way to the race track and then I came back on Monday and everything was fine.”
Buyarski also has her own pit crew and is sponsored by Johnny K’s Powersports, a motorsport shop in Medina.
She explained that John Kalogerou, the owner, was more than just a sponsor and attended almost every race and helped set up the mechanics of their UTV along with her father.
Her life has revolved around going to school and traveling out of town to races on the weekends.
When she comes back from a race, she and her dad work on her UTV to fix any damaged or lost parts.
“My dad works on mine, so I help out most of the time,” she said. “I know a bit about the mechanical stuff, but my dad could probably build a side-by-side in his sleep at this point.”
In a year, Buyarski will move up to the pro class to compete with the more advanced riders.
“I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work over the winter, so I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “It’s work, but I know how badly I want it, I have to work super hard to get it.”
No matter how fast she drives, she’s never panicked and the more she puts her foot on the pedal, the more relaxed she becomes.
“I’m glad it happened because every time I get in a car I forget everything,” she explained. “It’s almost like relieving stress in a weird way.”