Rebecca Machinga, a partner at WithumSmith+Brown, the accounting firm at 5 Vaughn Drive, describes herself as a cautious person, as befits her profession, where the fiduciary lives of her clients are in her hands. Yet Machinga, the mother of a 13-month-old baby girl, thrives on the adrenalin that comes from driving at 170 miles an hour.
The stock car driving accountant, who has torn up the track at the Pocono Raceway a number of times, is enough of an anomaly that CPA Magazine chose her to be the cover girl for its August/September issue. Her auburn hair artfully ruffled by the wind, the slim, blue-eyed Machinga, at ease in her red and blue racing overalls, looks like a cross between a country music superstar and an even prettier version of Danica Patrick, the Indy race car sensation.
"I don’t know what scared me more, the driving or the photo session," laughs Machinga. But she is pleased with the outcome, as is her father, who, unbeknownst to her, got in touch with the magazine’s editor to register his excitement about the story – and undoubtedly to request hundreds of copies to send to friends and relatives.
While her parents are proud to see Machinga prominently featured in her industry’s magazine, her leisure exploits, which include scuba diving and flying a jet fighter plane, do make them nervous. Her risk-taking is not a shared genetic trait – she came by it through marriage, and she says that it took her parents a while to accept it.
"My dad sold organs to churches," she says. "My mom was a stay-at-home mother, and now does centerpieces for parties, bar mitzvahs, and bat mitzvahs." One of her brothers is a metal fabricator and the other is in the construction business. She grew up in Cleveland, and spent every possible minute at her grandparents’ farm in Western New York, where she fought her brothers for turns at driving the tractor.
Machinga’s husband, Jarod, led her – albeit unwittingly – to stock car racing. "I bought him the Pocono Experience as a Christmas gift," she explains, "and then decided that I wanted to do it with him." For $500 or so, anyone with the nerve can get instruction and can then speed around the Pocono Raceway "at some serious speeds." (Visit www.877stockcar.com for more information.)
She didn’t like the high speed ride at first. "You go out with a professional driver, and that was scary," she says. "I was in a serious car accident when I was 16 – the car flipped – and I don’t like to let anyone else drive. I like to be in control."
Soon after the instructor stepped out of the car and she got her hands on the wheel, Machinga, in full control, was hooked on the high speed thrill of stock car racing. She doesn’t completely understand why. "It’s risky. It’s so not me," she says. What’s more, she got off to an inauspicious start.
After getting the flag coming out of the third turn on her first run, she realized that her car was slowing down despite the fact that her foot was pressed down hard on the accelerator. The other cars in her group were out of sight, and she had slowed to 70 miles an hour when she heard a fire truck and a tow truck racing toward her.
It had been intimidating enough suiting up in a room where every one of her 30 fellow drivers was male, but this – somehow breaking the car – was a humiliation that she knew she would never live down.
In the midst of apologizing profusely for ruining the car, Machinga learned that the breakdown was not her fault. "The car had run out of gas," she says.
Far from a failing, she learned from instructors watching her run that she was an excellent race car driver. Meanwhile, she recounts, "they were telling Jarod all the things he did wrong, like tailgating." She suspects that excelling at race car driving might be a female thing. She plans how she will handle turns, what she will do next. "I suspect that the men just think about going fast," she says.
After that first time, Machinga returned to the Pocono Raceway as a driver frequently until she was sidelined by her pregnancy and then by caring for her baby. But after the article in CPA Magazine appeared she got a call from the president of the Pocono Experience asking her "what’s next?"
"I was taken back by the question," she says. "I hadn’t really thought about it." But qualifying for Nextel Cup races had been mentioned in the conversation, and she is now at least turning the idea over in her head.
Risk taking has been part of Machinga’s life since she met Jarod Machinga during her first week at Trenton State, where they were both enrolled. "We met in the first week of school and were engaged in the last week," she says.
Jarod, an engineer who works full time at the V.A. hospital in East Orange and runs almost too many businesses to count on the side, has led the way from risk to risk. His vivacious, high-energy wife has followed along gleefully, while at the same time rising quickly in her own male-dominated profession, joining WithumSmith+Brown right out of college in 1992 and becoming a partner in 2005.
Even the pair’s engagement was exciting.
Jarod had long enjoyed scuba diving, and so, while he was studying in Japan, Machinga took classes and became certified as a scuba diver. The couple’s best friend suggested a scuba dive before graduation, but she almost missed it. "I told him `I can’t go. I’ve got presentations to prepare,’" she recounts. But the friend, who had already received instructions from Jarod to hide an engagement ring in a treasure chest, insisted. "We were engaged under the water," says Machinga.
Now married for more than a decade, and living on dry land in Hopewell, she finds that the action has not slowed down. "He’ll come home and say `I bought a house today,’ or, worse, `you bought a house today.’ My friends don’t know how I stand it. I used to be a nervous wreck."
Calmer now, Machinga, full-time accountant and mother of a little girl who is just learning how to walk, is also a partner in numerous businesses, many of them construction related. (Jarod’s family was in construction in Matawan when he was growing up.) "I’m more of a risk taker as I get older," she says. That’s a good thing, given her choice of a mate. Jarod, it seems, never passes up a business opportunity. "He bought a house in each of our first four visits to my brother in Colorado," Machinga gives as an example.
Jarod doesn’t worry if something doesn’t work out, says his wife. "We had a video store in Hopewell," she says. "When business wasn’t good, we opened a card and gift store. We named it Kyla’s, for our daughter." The store may work out, or not. "We’ll see," says Machinga, "but, anyway, it was something the town needed, and didn’t have."
The couple are planning to open a restaurant next spring. It has a name – Bell and Whistle – and a location, next to a church and around the corner from the firehouse in a dilapidated former veterinarian’s office in Hopewell. It has obtained all of the necessary permits, and has a chef and a manager. The cuisine is yet to be decided. "We’re experimenting now," says Machinga.
Among Jarod’s companies, for which Machinga does the books, are Jamac Electrical, Jamac Plumbing, Jamac Construction, and Jamac Irrigation, all located in Hopewell. "He’s certified in everything," says Machinga.
The couple own numerous rental properties, and are always on the lookout for more. "He looks for the worst house on the best block," says Machinga of her husband’s investment method. Does the current slow real estate market trouble her mate? "Oh no," she says. "He’s in buying mode now."
Meanwhile, Machinga, who says she needs only four to five hours of sleep a night, is working at blending motherhood with her career. She may not spend as many hours in the office as she did before Kyla was born, but she gets as much work done. "I’m learning to use the staff in the way they should be used," she says. Also, she often fires up her laptop after her daughter is asleep.
Machinga, eager to fit more stock car racing time into her schedule, says that she sees similarities between accounting and racing. "Both are male-dominated fields," she says, "at least at the top. In each you have to prove yourself. It’s show me what you can do."