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A MODEL RACER Katie Vernola’s Career Went From Playboy Model To Polaris UTV Racer By Larry Saavedra Photos courtesy of Pro UTV N/A racer Katie Vernola says the road from professional model to desert racer hasn’t been easy, but she wouldn’t change a thing about the way her motorsports career got started. She is one of a growing number of women who entered the 2021 SCORE World Desert Challenge Series and recently competed in her first official Baja race at the 34th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE San Felipe 250 Presented by Ford. Unfortunately, she didn’t podium, but she placed 10th in the Pro UTV N/A class and gained enough confidence to consider returning sometime this season. A Model Life Fresh out of high school, Vernola said she had been battling typical female stereotypes that came with being a professional model. But on the racecourse, she discovered there was no judgment— it was only about speed and perseverance, nothing else mattered. “I’ve always wanted to race off-road after watching it for years,” said Vernola. “When I turned 18, I knew I had to race even though no one in my family supported it.” What really inspired her to race, was seeing Can-Am racer, Corry Weller at an event. “I saw Corry at a race, and I thought it was incredible, I wish I could do that!’” To get into off-road racing, Vernola knew she needed to get a good job that paid well. By luck, Playboy executives called her about the same time, after seeing her modeling portfolio, which ultimately provided a way to start racing. “I learned about legal contracts and marketing myself to businesses, so they would get a return on their investment with my sponsorship.” Polaris Connection The first purchase she made after appearing as the 2010 Playboy Playmate of the Month in the June 2010 issue, was a Polaris RZR 900 UTV. Then she began entering regional short-course races and learned how to be competitive. After several years Vernola said she transitioned into desert racing in the states, but after a bad racing accident, she totaled the Polaris she had worked so hard to buy. “Somehow, I finished that race, even with my car completely mangled,” said Vernola. “Polaris gave me a courage award, and that’s how I first became associated with them.” From that point, she needed to find a UTV builder that could handle the technical end of the business she envisioned. “I ended up partnering with someone I met in Arizona, and that association became a full-time business prepping UTVs in Southern California.” Today, Vernola runs and has thousands of followers on social media. Dabbling in Trucks After several seasons of UTV racing in both short and endurance courses, Vernola decided to press pause and accepted an offer to race short-course desert trucks. “These particular trucks had 10 inches of wheel travel,” she said. “I wanted to see what it was like, and loved it. I raced the truck for two years, but then the pandemic hit and I lost the sponsorship program. I really needed to find another program that could satisfy my sponsors and myself. I was feeling like I needed to step up into the big leagues of desert racing. I dabbled in lots of programs in the states, but never with SCORE in Mexico.” That’s when Vernola got back in a Polaris RZR and took on the 2021 SCORE San Felipe 250. “My experience was great,” she said. “I was so excited to be there, and the fans treated us really well. The course was difficult at times, but I applaud SCORE for putting on such a well-organized event. I finished in 10th place, but my journey is not over, it’s just getting started.” SJ

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