Levittown's Marisa Niederauer, 26, races in the modified division at Riverhead Raceway. Her race car is one of the older, more worn-down automobiles on the track.
She is employed as a teacher's assistant, working with autistic children at Developmental Disabilities Institute.
It is costly to get through a season of racing, tens of thousands of dollars for tires, parts and general maintenance. Her salary alone does not cover the racing costs and she missed the season's first two races after a potential sponsor fell through. She has a few smaller sponsors, but that nets her a few hundred dollars per month, which is not enough to support a consistent race car.
She's able to scrape by with occasional help from family and friends but looks longingly at the racers with well-funded sponsors. "It kind of motivates me," said Niederauer, who hopes that some day more lucrative sponsorship will come her way. "It's just a matter of not giving up. And I'm not giving up. I've worked way too hard."
She began racing at 8, when her father bought her a go-kart. But in 1997, John Niederauer died in a motorcycle accident.
Marisa continued to race, graduating from go-karts to modifieds. Over the years, she has raced in Riverhead, New England, Pennsylvania and various NASCAR programs with varying degrees of success. But the goal has remained the same.
"I want to move up through the ranks, without a doubt," Niederauer said. "My dream has always been to get as high up through the ranks as I can."
This is her first season at Riverhead since 2007, when she won the modified division's most improved driver award. She is undeterred, though, by the lack of sponsorships or that imperfect race car. Four days a week, she travels from her Levittown home to a garage in Wading River, where she works on the car.
"This is not just a short-term thing for me," Niederauer said. "It's a way of life."