What comes to mind first when you hear the words car and racing? Speed, right? Well, according to Emelia Hartford, race car driver and actress, when she is racing, “time slows down.” Some fuel for thought.
One thing that is indisputable is that Hartford has serious drive, and she is not slow to press the pedal to the medal towards her goals. Not only has she broken a record for building her new-generation Corvette with one of the highest horsepower engines in the world, but she is also co-hosting a weekly podcast with actor Sung Kang called “Car Stories.” Constantly challenging the societal stigmas associated with women in the auto industry, Hartford harbours an impressive roster of partnerships with household brands including Nissan, Chevrolet, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Lamborghini, to name a few. Hartford made a pit stop to speak to Schön! about her passions of cars and acting and her goal to merge the two.
How have you been doing this year overall?
I’ve been good and my family is good! In terms of business, it has been cool to see growth after I’ve put my heart and soul into something that I really care about.
If you were not a race car driver right now, what would you be doing instead and why?
I’ve always been very driven – no pun intended – from a young age. (Laughs) My mom will tell anyone that the one thing I told everyone was how much I wanted to be an actress. I’ve just known and had this gut feeling that it’s what I need and what I want to do with my life since I could speak and communicate that. So I’ve always been very passionate about that. Cars kind of came second. LA is expensive and there were times I was unemployed. It was my mom who highlighted that I was already working on cars and that I should film working on them and put it on Youtube. So, I started doing that and it did give me a different perspective on life of being able to kind of control my fate and my destiny in a way where I wasn’t relying on working for someone else. I was filming for the past seven years, doing three videos a week which helped me build my following and put me in a position where I didn’t feel like I was so desperate for an income. It also relaxed me for auditions because it gave me this creative freedom that I’m so thankful and blessed to have.
You’ve built a world record-breaking new-generation Corvette with one of the highest horsepower engines in the world! Tell us how that went down and how you got the idea to do this.
It definitely wasn’t me waking up thinking I wanted to break a world record. About five years into making YouTube videos, I was ready for my next major car purchase. I started building Nissans, and when I moved to Indiana, everyone was about their Chevy Small Block V8s. I wanted a supercar, but I couldn’t afford the one I was familiar with when Chevrolet announced that they were creating a new C8 Corvette. I put my name on the waitlist to get the car and I started making videos about the car even before receiving it. Chevrolet saw that I was making these videos and I was hand-selected by them amongst a couple of others to go out and test drive the car before its release in
Vegas. When I was out there, they were so kind to me and huge supporters of what I was doing in this industry that they helped me to secure an early allocation for the car. I still paid for it, but it was a huge help to get an early allocation so I could create content before others got it. When I went to Kentucky to pick up the car, I had no plans to modify it. I ended up stopping in Houston, Texas to see friends on the way back from Kentucky and I thought let’s put a bottle of nitrous in the car. Then, it was, why don’t we just take it to the drag strip and see what it can do? It all came in steps. Next thing you know, I was working remotely with Alex from Peitz Performance Tunes and we were building a kit and when things settled down with COVID-19, I drove out to him. We installed it, and we were one of the first ones to get a twin-turbo kit on the car. And we kept taking it a step further and broke the record! It was such an incredible feeling and experience, and that really kind of helped put my name on the map.
How do you describe racing in your own words?
There are only two times in my life that I really feel present and truly in the moment – when I’m behind the wheel and when I’m acting. In terms of racing, many people associate it with speed. However, for me, when I am racing, time slows down. It is a really beautiful feeling that when I am driving, I am connected with this machine. When I am acting, I am connected with this person. But, yeah, time slows down when I am racing.
Let’s talk about Gran Turismo. How did this come about and what was your experience?
So, I had done Fastest Car on Netflix and a producer saw it and started following me. A few years later, I did some other Netflix movies and some Christmas films and something for HBO. I posted about those red carpet premieres, and I guess the producer for Gran Turismo saw I was acting. So, they reached out about the role and had me audition on tape. I got booked from the audition because they said I was perfect for the role. I didn’t know what it was for because there was a different title on it at the time, but I knew it was a car movie. I was so excited because my dream is of course blending both of my worlds of car and film. I had two weeks to pack up and move to Hungry for a month. They loved me so much that they wrote me into the ending of the movie, so I got to stay for two months. Neill Blomkamp, the director, was a dream to work with! The producers, cast and crew were so great and it was my first major motion picture experience. They set the bar so high! I literally felt like I had never felt more peace in my life than when I was out there doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
What types of other roles are you pursuing?
Well, I really aspire to be a leading actress in the action space. I just love those stories!
You are also the co-host of Car Stories with actor Sung Kang (“Fast & Furious” franchise). Tell us about what you hope people will take from this.
Yes, he is such a great actor and has done so many beautiful movies! He is such a blessing to have in my life, and being able to tell car stories with him is great. Everyone has a car story or some memory associated with a car. So, the idea is to share those experiences and stories and have a shared conversation about something we love. So far we’ve had guests that are people we look up to and people we want to talk to in the industry. The hope is to inspire the people listening!
Gran Turismo is out now.
photography. Brent Waterworth
fashion. Karolina Frechowicz
talent. Emelia Hartford
hair. Joanna Klein @ Exclusive Artists using Leonor Greyl
make up. Yasuko Shapiro @ A-Frame Agency using Shiseido
production. Clara La Rosa