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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Endress Finds Niche After Compiling Long List of Jobs

September 30, 2000|DARIN ESPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a sports resume that includes work as an exercise rider at thoroughbred race tracks, movie stunt work, professional wrestling, skiing, running, bicycling, river rafting, motorcycling and power boat racing, racing driver Belinda Endress of Newbury Park is proof that being a born-again Christian does not translate into being boring.

Endress, 38, is in her second season of competition in the Women's Global GT series, developed by Indianapolis 500 and road-racing veteran Lyn St. James and sports-car racing entrepreneur Don Panoz to identify and showcase women racers.

On Sunday, Endress will team with 1999 WGGTS champion Cindi Lux of Aloha, Ore., and four-time Olympic skier Divina Galica of England to drive a Porsche 911 GT3 R in the Petit Le Mans 1,000-mile endurance race at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga. The field includes actor and sports car champion Paul Newman.

"The competition's going to be fierce in it, but someone's got to win it and it might as well be me," said Endress, who began her career in autocross in 1994 by winning the Sports Car Club of America Solo II Regional California Sports Car Club F Stock Ladies Championship. "I'm really looking forward to it because it's the opportunity of a lifetime and it won't be my last."

Endress finished eighth in the WGGTS points standings in 1999, and is still seeking her first victory. She came close on Sept. 9 at Portland International Raceway, where she qualified first and was in second place and about to make a move when her car's fan belt broke on the final lap.

Endress was introduced to racing by Glen Danesing of Monrovia, who met her at an SCCA event in Irvine. She won the SCCA Solo Nationals in 1995 and began competing in SCCA regional road events in 1997.

Endress said she learned about the WGGTS in a magazine.

"I read the story and knew it was meant to be," Endress said. "When I called, they said, 'We might have a couple of openings, but you sound like a real flake. Maybe we'll call you,' " Endress said. "The first time I set foot at Road Atlanta, I stood over turn 12 looking at it and I knew this is what I knew I was doing the rest of my life, that this is where I belong. The only thing I can compare it to is when I became a Christian, I knew that was something I'd be doing for life."

Endress' path took several turns over the years.

She discovered running and faith as a teenager following her parents' divorce. Her mother and father lived six miles apart and she would run the entire distance when going from one house to the other.

"I get too bored walking," Endress said.

Endress competed in cross-country and track at Newport Harbor and El Toro highs.

Endress first attended church at 13 and started modeling and working as an exercise rider at 14.

"Horses just stir your spirit," Endress said. "They'll run forever, and cars do the same thing for me, they stir my spirit."

She stayed in horse racing until 1984, working for several trainers.

"I got off of the racetrack because I didn't like what they were doing with the horses and I had to be true to myself," Endress said. "In the '80s, the drug situation got real bad with the horses and the jockeys. I remember taking one horse back to the farm and it actually went through withdrawals."

Endress took acting classes at College of the Canyons, Saddleback College and UC Irvine, and started landing bit parts.

That led to stunt work and she met legendary wrestler Gene LeBell.

"[Wrestling's] a great sport, a lot of fun and great entertainment," Endress said. "Kids either throw [soda cans] at you or blow kisses at you. I call it a combination of ballet and football."

Endress joined the Ladies Professional Wrestling Assn., performing as "Tornado Red." She posed nude for Playboy in a feature on female wrestlers.

"The magazine is so tastefully done that I don't have a problem with it," Endress said. "I thought it would be good for my [wrestling] career.

"Would I do it now? I don't know. Where I am now [with my faith], I have a responsibility, and I don't want other people to stumble."

Endress is still involved with wrestling, owning a wrestling school and a video production company that specializes in all ring sports.

And she's still involved in modeling through her primary sponsor, Xtreme Island Designs of Hawaii, showing off the company's apparel on runways and during personal appearances.

Although her two co-drivers have more experience, Endress is confident the team will make a good showing.

"I don't have the driving experience that the other two drivers do, but God's given me a lot of wisdom and a lot of street sense, so we're going to do real well," Endress said.

Sexism has not been a problem for Endress.

"The car doesn't know the difference between a male or a female," Endress said. "A lot of series have gotten past the woman thing. Basically, it's about how you handle the race car. If you're an idiot, they want you off."

Endress said she always has considered herself a warrior and that her hobby is being successful.

"I'm a very competitive person," Endress said. "I want to do my best at whatever I do. We've come a long way in a year-and-a-half, because of the discipline and because of God, who gave me the discipline."

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