HAMMOND — Bishop Noll junior Emily Sutton is not your typical three-sport athlete.
When she’s not running up and down the soccer field or the basketball court, she’s on the track. And at the start of her races, instead of toeing the line with her spikes, Sutton readies her mark behind the wheel of her Dodge Neon.
The 17-year-old from Hobart started stock car racing when she was 14 and last month she finished first at Shadyhill Speedway in Medaryville for her third career victory. After an underwhelming 2017 campaign, Sutton said accomplishing the feat brought everything full circle.
“It was just a regular night,” Sutton said. “It really wasn’t an important race. (The win) felt really good because last summer I think I won once. I had a big wreck. … I went airborne a little bit and went head on into the wall. Everything was banged up a little bit. I didn’t race for a really long time.”
Sutton said the accident shook her up, but she never thought about quitting. Although her racing career is unique to those on the outside looking in, it isn’t for her family. Both Sutton’s older sisters, Harley Sutton and Nicole Sutton, also grew up around racing and have had their moments drifting around the track.
All of their careers were sparked by a few men in their family, including their maternal uncle and maternal grandfather, but no one was more influential than their father.
Guy Sutton has been racing since 1998, but he never forced his daughters to follow in his footsteps. He said he has supported them in whatever they’ve wanted to do over the years, but he admits spending so much time in a racing environment definitely had an impact on them from an early age.
Emily Sutton started racing ATVs when she was 6 and Guy Sutton said her career took off from there.
“She kind of just knew,” Guy Sutton said. “We did have to teach her how to drive a stick shift, a manual. But she came from a manual clutch on her four-wheeler so it wasn’t too bad.”
Since Harley Sutton is in college and Nicole Sutton is in her second year of graduate school and no longer races, Guy Sutton said Emily Sutton spends the most time with him working on their cars. Around the garage, she has learned how to change the oil, replace breaks and change tires. She even has experience painting and sanding.
But despite spending so much time around cars — and the joy she finds in racing over 60 mph around a dirt track — Emily Sutton said her main focus is still basketball. She wants to continue playing in college. But before she can compete at that level, she must first build her game with the Warriors.
Bishop Noll has won five consecutive sectional championships. And with the core of the 2017-18 team returning, Emily Sutton now believes it is her turn to step up at shooting guard.
Emily Sutton said she worked on her skills nonstop over the summer. And even when soccer season started up in the fall, she still practiced basketball on Saturdays and Sundays at the Whiting YMCA with her personal trainer Kevin Moynihan.
She worked on several different aspects of her game but said shooting the ball has always been one of her strengths. And after countering her hesitancy as an underclassman by taking countless shots during the offseason, she doesn't plan to pass up on any open looks this season.
“I was always scolded for shooting the ball,” Emily Sutton said about when she first started playing. “So now when I come to coach (Vanita Golston), she’s like, ‘Why aren’t you shooting the ball?’ And I was like, ‘Well coach, I don’t want to get benched.’ So we had a problem with confidence in shooting, and confidence in being out on the floor. So I definitely want to improve mentally.”
As a team, Emily Sutton said the Warriors’ goal is to win a regional title. Bishop Noll lost 48-36 to Central Noble in the Class 2A Winamac Community Regional Championship last season.
Golston said the loss was tough for Emily Sutton and the entire program to accept but it also gave her returning players the conviction and belief that they can get back there and win it. But not looking too far down the line, Golston said the Warriors' main goal heading into the season, like every season, is to be "battled tested by the end of February." She added that each player has an essential role in building the team’s synergy and for Emily Sutton, one of her biggest contributions will continue to be her fire and passion.
“She’s a competitive kid in everything she does, whether it’s basketball, soccer, race car driving or pick-up games if we’re at the YMCA," Golston said. "And I think that’s good. It shows she has an expectation. She has a standard for herself. It shows that she demands the best, not just from herself but from her teammates as well.”
Emily Sutton said she owes a lot to Golston for supporting her in all of her endeavors, even outside of basketball. And the same holds true for her most consistent fan.
Jennifer Sutton, Emily Sutton’s mom, said she wants to see all of her children do what they love and accomplish their goals and dreams. And when the season begins in a couple weeks, it is almost certain she'll be in the stands cheering on her youngest daughter just like she always has.
“She makes me proud,” Jennifer Sutton said. “I don’t even know another way to say it because I’m the mom.”