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Formula Woman winner, architecture student bursts onto the race car scene

Formula Woman winner, architecture student bursts onto the race car scene

Once dreaming of the Olympics as an equestrian athlete, Sara Misir changed courses after tragedy struck and emerged victorious in motorsports

February 26, 2024 at 10:35am

Graduate architecture student Sara Misir has felt the need for speed since she began kart racing when she was a teenager.

Fast forward to today, and she is breaking barriers. In 2022, Misir became the first woman from the Caribbean to be named a finalist for Formula Woman, an international competition hosted in the United Kingdom for amateur female race car drivers. She ultimately won the competition alongside three other women, all selected as the final champions. As a result, she became a profesional racing driver and competed in the Grand Touring (GT) Cup Championship, driving for a McLaren GT team.

Misir consistently placed in the top 10 during her first year as a pro. Last year, she earned first and second-place finishes at the Jamaican Dover Raceway during the "Heroes of Speed" event. She was also selected to be a development driver for Lotus Emira GT4, for which she drove the car and provided feedback to manufacturers as they prepared the final model.

Misir is turning heads — and garnering media attention — as one of the first pro racing drivers from Jamaica to pave a way for herself in international GT racing. In 2022, she met Jamaica's Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia "Babsy" Grange. Most recently, Misir was named the 2023 Motorsport Athlete of the Year in the women's category by RJR/Gleaner Sportsman and Sportswoman Awards. This marks the third time in a row Misir is awarded the title.

The road to success hasn’t been easy, though.

As a child, Misir was a dedicated and successful equestrian athlete. As a teenager, her goal was to make it to the Olympics in the sport. One day everything changed. After her horse got spooked during practice, the horse ended up kicking Misir – who was falling off – in the face. The accident left her with a cracked skull and broken jaw.

Misir was in the hospital for a week and spent eight months recovering. She underwent five surgeries. Part of her face was paralyzed for some time, and her jaw was wired shut. Yawning caused extreme pain.

“That injury really was a break it or make it moment for me,” Misir says. “You don’t know how strong you are. When you are 16 and have just taken off your braces, and then you get kicked in the face, and half of your face is paralyzed… The mental aspect of it is so hard. You go from being a hyper athlete to a person, broken in bed that can’t go upstairs. You can’t recognize yourself in the mirror, you’re always swollen and bruised up everywhere and can’t eat solid food.”

She still has the scar on the right side of her face. She wears it proudly.

“It’s just become part of who I am,” she says. “No girl wants a scar on half her face. But I never considered doing plastic surgery. The scar is something that I conquered, that’s something that taught me so many valuable lessons. The accident was a reality check. I could have died. I realized it was time to do better, to treat people with more respect. To be better.”

It also taught her to never take anything for granted – and to pour even more of herself into her pursuits. She initially wanted to take up horseback riding again, but at the suggestion of her mom, she decided to focus on applying to college. She chose FIU for its proximity to her hometown in Jamaica and because of its architecture program’s excellent reputation. At the urging of her dad, who himself had competed in motor sports in Jamaica, she decided to give go-karting a try.

So began her career in motorsports and at FIU.

Pedal to the metal

So, what was it like to be named one of the winners of Formula Woman?

"It was so overwhelming when you finally see hard work pay off," Misir says. "I cried at least three times in disbelief. When they told me I made the top four and won, I got chills. I won the opportunity to race with McLaren for one year, which in turn was my first time racing professionally and internationally." 

She adds, “I had only been racing locally in Jamaica [before that]. Then I entered the Formula Woman competition. Thousands of women from around the world go to this competition. After a series of driving tests, I ended up being picked in the top 10.”

Then came the ice competition. The racers were tasked with driving a race car in a snowy location in Sweden. “You learn as you go,” Misir says. “You do the best that you can. They want to see your skills and how you can adapt.”

At the end of the competition, she was named one of the 2022 Formula Woman winners. She’s been gaining momentum in the sport ever since.


Her secret to success has been perseverance. Her transition to motorsports was not simple. 

“I was always on the top of the podium [as an equestrian athlete],” she says. “But every sport has its learning curve. Going into racing, I was putting in double the amount of hard work and discipline but I would finish at the back of the pack. The mentality had to stay the same. Every hour of my life I have to give my best. Every day my best can change, but as long as I know I’m doing the best I can, that’s what matters.”

Misir says her goal for 2024 is to compete in the GT series within the U.S. She also hopes to continue as a positive role model for young girls.  

“What I’ve noticed in racing as a woman is that little girls and young kids, they’re all coming to me and saying, ‘Racing is a thing.’ There still are very few women in motorsports. It’s really refreshing to see I’m opening little girls’ eyes that this is a door they can open.”

Sara Misir took first place at Dover Raceway last year.


She adds, “My main goal is to be a motivator, to keep pushing barriers. It’s not only showing girls that racing is an option. It’s showing them that the only person that stops you from living your dreams is you.”

She says her own mom and dad helped cement that belief in her.

“Everything I’ve done has been because of my parents,” Misir says. “My mom is the one that taught me that I could do anything that I wanted to do. She’s the one that gave me that confidence that I can do something if I want it hard enough. And my dad instilled all those disciplinary attributes, the idea that if you want to do something, always do it properly. You have to wake up early, do the things you need to do. I don’t think I could be where I am without my parents.”

Her brother, who has Down Syndrome, is also one of her biggest inspirations. Her brother loves motorsports, so Misir makes sure she races not only for herself but for him. 

"It has pushed me twice as hard so that he can experience his passion through me," Misir says. "It's great to see his face light up when he's at the races."

Panther Territory

Misir says FIU has been a key part of her journey. “I fell in love with FIU and the ambiance,” she says. “When I first started, I would get lost at every corner. It’s got huge, gorgeous facilities.”

She particularly enjoys the campus life opportunities at FIU — from joining intramural teams to playing on pristine soccer and volleyball fields. She’s made the university her home. She goes for five mile runs on campus and is happy to say that she knows exactly which spots mark one mile, two miles and so on.

She says the support she has received from her professors has helped her chase her racing goals while preparing to be an architect. Instead of making up work, Misir talks to professors so she can finish assignments ahead of time. That way, her racing schedule doesn’t interfere with her education. 

“My professors have always allowed me to get work done in advance,” she says. “I am a full-time student. The workload is heavy, but you have to keep that mentality that you need to be doing the best you can every day.”

Misir is a student in the combined bachelor’s and master’s in architecture program. In 2022, she worked at Debowsky Design Group, a residential and commerical design firm in Miami. Thanks to her FIU education, she says she was able to seamlessly jump into the work environment of an architecture studio. She is set to graduate this year.

“It’ll hurt to leave FIU,” she says, but she knows that, at FIU, she’s honed her skills for whatever the future may bring. 

Sara Misir with her family. From left to right: brother Kikko Misir, mom Alessandra Bartolini, Sara Misir, uncle Alex Stewart and dad Rugie Misir.