EXECUTIVE: Kristina Vorndran, who goes by KJ, is on the financial planning team at Allegiant Private Advisors in Sarasota. She was born in the United States, but moved with her family to Germany when she was a baby. Vorndran, 23, has dual U.S. and Germany citizenship, and her family moved backed to the U.S. when she was growing up.
DIVERSION: Auto motorsports-kart racing. Sometimes called karting, it's an open-wheel, four-wheeled vehicle that's essentially a high-end, souped-up racing version of an amusement park go-kart. Some racing karts cost up to $200,000 and hit speeds of 160 mph. Karting is often a precursor to higher-level motorsports, such as Formula One, and racing icon Michael Schumacher is among the racers that got his start in karting.
WHEELS UP: Vorndran is the first and only female U.S. Grand National Karting Champion, a designation she won in 2011 when she was 17. Vorndran has been in competitive racing since she was 13, but has scaled back in recent years to focus on her financial services career. She's driven four-stroke cycle engine karts that turn faster, she says, than Ferraris and Maseratis.
RADIO DAYS: In 2006, when Vorndran lived in Boston with her family, she heard a radio commercial for go-karts. She asked her parents to take her to a track. “I tried it out and I really loved it,” she says. Some professional kart racers saw Vorndran driving on the track a few months later, and told her parents she had some skills. “My learning curve proved to be faster than others,” she says.
LONG DAY: Vorndran finished in third place in her first race, held at a Boston-area track. That close-but-not-first finish drove her ambition further. “I learned that instead of saying, 'Why did I lose this race?'” she says, “I should be saying, 'How can I win the next race?'” She raced in events worldwide in high school, from Abu Dhabi to Italy and Germany to Portugal. She would get up at 3 a.m., she recalls, workout for two hours, mostly cardio and core exercises, then go to high school.
BE PERFECT: Early on, Vorndran saw that to be good behind the wheel you had to have flawless concentration. “You have to have the utmost focusing when racing,” she says. “Every curve, every lap, you have to be perfect.”
MIND CONTROL: Racing, especially as a female, also taught Vorndran about overcoming obstacles — and bullies. She was usually the only female driver in a race, she says, and her fellow racers would regularly trash talk around her. Several threatened to smash into her kart during a race. “A lot of guys don't want you to beat them,” she says. “You have no idea how mentally challenging that is. But you can't let your emotions get the best of you. You can only change what you can control.”
GEAR READY: Standard racing equipment in karting includes a neck brace to prevent whiplash, a fire retardant suit and a helmet. A key part of the gear is a carbon fiber rib protector. “When you turn,” she says, going at speeds up to 90 mph, “almost 300 pounds of metal can be leaning on your ribs.”
LOOK AHEAD: Vorndran says the big choice in her young life, so far, was between college and racing. She chose college, USF specifically. She still practices, on her own kart she stores in Palmetto, getting out on the track once or twice a month. While she wants to grow her financial services career, she knows she “will get back to racing someday,” adding she would love to own her own kart racing team. “The second I put on my helmet and get going I can zone out and clear my mind,” she says. “It's truly a free feeling.”