When I congratulated 55-year-old Janine Shoffner on her Nürburgring Endurance Series championship in the SP9 AM class, she held up a finger and smiled. She amended, “It’s implausible that anyone can beat us now, but we can’t say that we’ve won it because they haven’t given us the big cup yet.” So: pretty much a win.
Shoffner has only been competing for about the last nine years, and she jokingly refers to herself as a “gentleman driver,” someone who came into the sport late in life and now competes just for fun.
“I’ve never really had an agenda with my life. It’s just happened. I’ve seen stuff that I like and think, ‘Oh that’s cool, I’ll do that,’” Shoffner told me. “My life molds itself around that.”
Born in the United Kingdom, she studied film and photography at the University of Westminster, but if there was one thing Shoffner knew she wanted in life, it was adrenaline. It was a thrill. A boyfriend of her older sister had a motorcycle, which made a massive impression on a 10-year-old Shoffner. Shoffner’s sister and boyfriend taught her how to ride a motorcycle, and she recalls a very specific moment that changed the trajectory of her life.
There was one incident where I was going around on the bike, and I could change gears and I could do all that kind of stuff and my sister says, ‘Janine you want to go down this hill here and then jump over this thing at the end.’ I remember looking down there, and half of my brain was like ‘do not do that, that is a really bad idea.’ And the other half of my brain is saying, ‘well that’s really cool. My sister thinks it’s a good idea and everyone else will think you’re pretty cool.’
“At that point I could have probably tipped either way, but I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going.’”
From that point forward, Shoffner was on the hunt for the next thing that would make her heart race. She worked as a motorcycle dispatch rider in London, raced motorcycles, rode horses, took up snowboarding, and did just about everything her much more mild-mannered parents thought would most certainly not make a viable career.
Then Shoffner went skydiving, and she had found her calling. She then combined her love of photography and film with her newfound love of skydiving, where she became one of the first people to actually strap a camera to her head during dives on a regular basis.
“I worked for teams, I worked for individuals, and I started getting pretty creative,” Shoffner said. “I started getting covers, centers, back pages in all the skydiving publications and it was back in the day when I was shooting film, 2000, 2001. At one point I had all the covers of all the skydiving magazines.
“It was the first time someone had done that and it gave the impression that you were in the skydive. It was a new angle, it was my niche. I’ve had thousands of skydives in the end. I would do 10, 15 jumps a day.”
It wasn’t until Shoffner had gotten married that she turned to cars. Her husband, John, bought a Ford GT and a Porsche GT3-RS — cars that could really only see their true potential on the track. So, that’s where they took them. The Shoffners headed out to the Nürburgring with some photographer friends, and when they arrived, they met the Queen of the ‘Ring herself, Sabine Schmitz.
“She took me on a lap of the ring in her car. We got on like a house on fire. I did a couple of laps in a street car and she said, ‘Come back, I’ll teach you how to drive the ‘Ring.’
“I remember I rented from one of the car suppliers, RSR Nürburg. I rented a Lotus 240 from them, which is a great car, it’s awesome,... not too crazy quick on the straights or whatever but, heel-toe, rev match, it’s a fun little car. And Sabine, she sat next to me, we did some laps and she said, ‘I never sit next to anyone.’ I said, ‘Well you don’t have to sit next to me, you can watch the day during the video.’She said, ‘No, no we go together, it’ll be fun.’
“And we did a bunch of laps that day. It started raining and we just stayed out and we swapped places, she did some laps in it too and the I swapped back, and I remember I spun at Adenauer Forst, and usually when you spin at Adenauer Forst it’s game over, something’s bent, but some way I managed to save it and get turned around going the right way and dropped it into gear and carried on. She just couldn’t stop laughing. She was like, ‘That was incredible, let’s go back and do it again. I looked at the rear mirror and I see the barrier, I thought we are dead now, but no, you save it, good!’”
Shoffner and her husband had such a great time tracking the car that they moved up a level. They formed their own team, J2 Racing, and started entering sportscar events. The team is a collective of drivers more than anything else. As Shoffner puts it, “We don’t own a wrench, or a spanner, or a car lift, or anything.” There’s John and Janine, but there are also incredibly talented, professional racers like Moritz Kranz (who has been Janine’s co-driver this year), Markus Palttala, and Maxime Soulet.
For her own part, Shoffner found her stride in racing almost immediately; she’s scored seven wins, five of which came this season to secure her early championship. She’s taken 19 podiums and five pole positions — all within the 39 races she has contested.
This year, Shoffner has been racing a Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the Nürburgring Langstrecken Serie, which was formerly known as VLN. And she has no intentions of slowing down any time in the near future.
“I want to do one of the races, the four hour races, completely on my own,” she said when I asked her of her goals. “This has never been done before in a GT3 car, no-one’s attempted it and it’s one of the few FIA races where they allow over two hour driving time. I would like to win the six hour race which is the next race coming up.
“Apart from that, as for next season, I just don’t know. I would love to place in a GT3 car in a Pro-Am in the 24 hour race, although we did that last year. Maybe next year I break away from the Nürburgring. Maybe I’ll do a different series.”
From what I’ve learned about Janine Shoffner, keeping her options open for the future just makes sense.