TWIN FALLS - Eyes from throughout the racing world are watching Twin Falls as the season opens, but the focus isn't all on the Magic Valley Speedway.
Since finishing last year's season with seven wins, 16-year-old Hannah Newhouse received national news coverage when she raced in NASCAR's K&N series and broke records as the youngest and fastest female in Tier 4 NASCAR history.
Of the 23 races she's running this year, only eight of those will be in the Magic Valley.
Newhouse said the controversy over putting an illegal additive in her gas tank last year, effectively lowering her overall 2012 rank, has nothing to do with her decision to make only eight Magic Valley appearances. Rather, she said, she's moving on to bigger and better things.
Her other races will be in Meridian and Salt Lake City with the Rocky Mountain Challenge Series, which her father, John Newhouse, won in 2007.
"To me it's my dad's series," Newhouse said. "I grew up watching him run the Rocky Mountain Series. He's really well-known in that series. Hopefully everything will come naturally like it did last year, and I'd really like to start the year off with some awesome finishes."
Newhouse basically grew up on the racetrack. She said there are pictures of her at 6 months old sleeping inside a tire during a race. Her earliest memories consist almost entirely of the sport.
Newhouse said she was driving a full-bodied racecar at 12 years old, but regulations kept her out of competition until she was 14. She said she's never had a problem going 130 mph.
"It's an adrenaline rush," Newhouse said. "Being full throttle, going into a corner, or going past someone, it's unlike any feeling you'll ever get. You're in a mode that most sports or anything will never get you to. It's a mode of so much focus and adrenaline that you have running through you, it's unreal. It's almost addicting."
Recognizing her talents, Brett Thompson, co-owner of Thompson Motorsports in Jerome, added Newhouse to his team last year.
"It's an inspiration to me that she's 16 and already goal-oriented," Thompson said. "She's everybody's friend. She's very level-headed. I don't think she's conceited. She's got natural ability. She's mature beyond her years and I think that's part of her success. She just needs fine-tuning from here."
This year Newhouse will be in a souped-up, 540-horsepower super late model that can reach speeds near 200 mph.
"We have a really nice piece of equipment underneath me which is totally capable of winning races," Newhouse said. "So you mix me and that and hopefully we'll have an awesome combination, go out, win a bunch of races and championship contend."
While Newhouse will be a rookie at the Rocky Mountain Challenge Series, she was undoubtedly a fan favorite when she debuted recently in Twin Falls. The Magic Valley Speedway has been known to be full of roaring fans chanting Newhouse's name.
"I remember the second or third race I won. I was in the pits for probably two hours and went through two stacks of 150 hero cards that I had signed," Newhouse said.
Fans aren't the only people inspired by the teenage sensation.
Since last season, Newhouse has become friends with Danica Patrick, the most successful female racer in history. Newhouse said she feels like she's following in Patrick's steps.
"She did open doors for females entering motor sports," Newhouse said. "You could say I'm following her path. I love going to races and seeing little girls come up and say, 'I want to be like you. You went there and kicked all the boys' butts!' I've heard that a million and a half times."
Despite thousands of fans, national media attention and friends in NASCAR, her greatest pride is inspiring others to follow their dreams.
"I like being a role model for not only girls but other kids my age," Newhouse said. "I get Facebook messages all the time from kids who ask me for advice, and I'm more than willing to answer their questions and give encouragement."
Just two years ago the name Newhouse was associated with Hannah's father, John. It didn't take long for that to change.
"She used to be known as her dad's daughter," Thompson said. "Now her dad is known as Hannah's dad."