Our Woman of the Week is Caitlin Wood, a 20 year old Aussie racer currently driving a Lamborghini Gallardo in the Blancpain GT Series in Europe. She is the first Australian woman to ever compete full time in a circuit racing series in Europe. Caitlin began racing when atseven years old in go-karts, and progressed into race-cars in Australian Formula Ford at the age of fifteen, and then a few selected races of Australian F4 at the end of 2015. In 2016 she made the leap to Europe to compete in the Reiter Young Stars Program within the European GT4 Championship with Reiter Engineering in their KTM XBOW GT4 and ultimately won the Reiter Young Stars program which promoted her into the Blancpain GT Series with Reiter this year.
Bridget Schuil: What was your first memory of motorsport?
Caitlin Wood: My first memory of motorsport was when I was very young, I used to go out to the go-kart track on weekends and watch my brother race and I used to think it was the coolest thing watching him so I was always annoying my dad "When's it my turn?". Waiting to turn 7 took a long time for me. (Laughs) Sevenis the legal age in Australia at which you can get a go-kart licence. So on my 7th birthday we went out to Newcastle Go-Kart Track and it has just progressed from there.
BS How many years did you go along to the karting track with your brother before you turned 7?
CW A long time really. Pretty much since I was born. There is quite an age gap between me and my brother. (He's 33 and I am 20.)
BS So motorsport was an intuitive career choice for you? Was there ever another option?
CW Ofcourse there has been other options, there is never any guarantee with motorsport. At first, it was a family hobby. Something we did on weekends for fun, but as I got older I realised it was something I was extremely passionate about and my dad gave me choices and made me give up other sports to make sure I was completely committed to motorsport and it was something that I was 100% sure I wanted to pursue. To make a professional living out of any sport is extremely difficult and I am still not at that point but I am more determined than ever to continue the hardwork and keep pushing to achieve my dreams.
BS Is that – finances and difficulty raising sponsorship – why you've decided to crowdfund your next season's campaign?
CW Yes, finding budgets is a big part of motorsport. Essentially, if you don't have the money to pay for the racing - you can't go racing. Motorsport is a very expensive sport and in today’s economy, it is extremely hard to make a long term sponsorship deal etc.
BS What do you say to the people who say it's unsustainable to crowdfund? Have you had much success with your campaign? Is it something that's dependent on how engaged of a following you have, and the nay-sayers are just not as good at crowd cultivation?
CW You have to try, don’t you! That’s what I say. I have not begun the crowdfunding part yet, I have just released my journey/story in what I am trying to achieve as I want everything on my website that the people buy to hopefully be live when I start the crowdfunding via Indiegogo. It definitely depends on your following and how involved your followers are, I am extremely lucky to have good support from my family and friends but yes I need my story to reach tens of thousands of people before the campaign would work to the extent we need it to.
(Click here for Caitlin's IndieGogo page.)
BS I hear you! When does your campaign go live, and what are you offering as rewards for your donors?
CW The full campaign will be live very soon, I can't give an exact date but I plan to have it up and running soon.For rewards, we have 4 different packages – Fan Club, Paddock Pals, Virtual Race Team and Co-Driver. Depending on which package people buy determines what they have access to.
But essentially I am trying to get fans to come off the sidelines and literally join me on my journey to Le Mans 2020. They will have access to onboards, live videos, debriefs, timing, my workouts, blogs, vlogs and so much more. We plan to make it as interactive as we can so people can talk with me about strategies and all the behind the scenes action at each race.I want to offer people the experience of not only a race but everything that goes on behind the scenes for a racing driver. Make them as involved as possible, not many people do this so it would be cool to have so many people join in, in any way possible.
BS Who's been the most supportive of your career?
CW This is a hard one! I would definitely have to say my family but if I had to pinpoint, it would have to be my Dad and my brother. My brother was my inspiration to start motorsport and was always extremely involved with me through coaching me, mechanics, engineering and pretty much just everything! So I am extremely grateful to be able to share this experience growing up with him and have his unconditional support. But ultimately my dad has been so supportive through my whole journey from when I was 7, to now when I am 20. He has really been by my side (even if he does live on the other side of the world) through all of the struggles and the highs. He has made a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to try and achieve my dreams, I wouldn’t be here without him – I owe him a lot!
BS What struggles have you faced, and how have you dealt with those struggles?
CW In any career choice you are going to face struggles, nothing worth having comes easy. These struggles for me have been financial more than anything but that is the same for most up and coming racing drivers out there, male or female. You just have to keep pushing and put in the hard work.
BS Have you experienced much sexist treatment, if so how have you dealt with it?
CW Being a woman in a male-dominated sport I guess can be intimidating more than anything, and sometimes that's how it can feel as majority of the time I am the only female competing in a series etc. But I have gotten used to it, and it is something that doesn't bother me at all. I have had a few moments where I have been told I don't belong here or crap like that but you just need to shrug it off and prove them wrong on track. When you put your helmets on you can't tell the difference between a male or a female, and I find majority of my competitors don't care either, I get the same amount of respect as anyone else and that’s something I really appreciate.
BS That’s a common response – ‘yes, I’ve experienced some sexism, but no I don’t do anything about it.’ There’s a ridiculously meaty research article by Ehren Pflugfelder that says the way we conceptualise women and men as racers is different, and they know your car/helmet livery so can still distinguish you. Does that factor into your thinking, or do you just ignore it and get on with racing?
CW I wouldn’t say I don’t do anything about it, yes I have grown up around sexism and yes I have experienced it but it doesn’t mean I don’t want it to stop for the next generation of girls coming through. I don’t want girls to be intimated by the sport so if I can do something about that, then I will. My mother is a very strong woman and has always taught me to stand up for myself so there have been situations where I have spoken my mind about what they have said but as a whole you can’t let it bother you because then it distracts you from racing. I have a job to do, and that is to race – whether I have boobs or not shouldn’t be a factor. My main focus is racing, and that’s how it should be.
BS Do you have any advice to give younger racers trying to have an international career?
CWThis is hard because I am also trying to achieve an international racing career, unfortunately I don’t think there is any magic words but ultimately you just need to work extremely hard and keep pushing. There is always a way, no matter how bleak it may seem – if you want it bad enough, there is always a way. Make sure you have a good support system around you whether that is through your race team, coaches, family or friends – it makes the world of difference when you know you have that support behind you. Stay passionate and most importantly have fun.
It was World Mental Health Awareness Day this week. And today is International Day of the Girl. And it was the anniversary of Maria De Villota’s passing. And it was American Coming Out Day. I’m sorry that I didn’t have spoons to make a big deal about any of it on social media, because work stress was/is giving me mental health symptoms.
Believe it or not, mental health is an issue in motorsport. The MSA currently has a ban preventing anyone with a mental illness from getting a racing license, and they’re not the only ones with that kind of attitude towards mental health. For a long time, the flying fraternity wouldn’t let anyone on antidepressants fly with passengers, in case they attempted suicide with people on board the plane.
This kind of policy is ableist. There are people who, through no fault of their own, have illnesses that make people afraid and distrustful of them. It’s like having a facial deformity that people find repulsive, except they can only see it when you’ve formed a bond with them and taken off the mask of being ‘okay.’ Having formed a bond before they see the truth under the façade makes it hurt more when they reject you.
This ableism is probably because we have very limited vocabularies for mental illness. Crazy. Mad. Demented. All mental illnesses lumped together under a handful of umbrella terms, dehumanised, and pushed to the margins of society where our diseases can’t infect the ‘mentally well.’
Mental illness affects marginalised groups more, not because the incidence is necessarily higher in those groups, but because it adds an intersecting layer of oppression on top of what they’re already dealing with. Also, they are more likely to go undiagnosed, because of stereotyping. Black people are just angry. Women are just emotional. Are you on your period…is that why you’re moody?
Studies have shown that women are more likely than men to have a physician ignore their symptoms and not provide a diagnosis. Doctors think women have lower pain tolerance, so are more likely to ignore the pain-related symptoms of congestive heart failure. Bipolar disorder often goes under the guise of PMT until the girl is old enough to be hospitalisably symptomatic. I spent years being told to ‘be less of a bitch’ while premenstrual, until I was twenty-five years old and someone finally noticed that it was a symptom in a larger pattern of behaviours. The population of the women’s prison in my town features a subset of about fifty percent of inmates who are in prison for killing their babies in a fit of postpartum psychosis, because doctors in Zimbabwe don’t give mental healthcare or preventative medications to new mothers. It’s systemic, and the result of unconscious biases.
In truth, there are the common illnesses that are treatable with non-invasive therapies like Vagus nerve-stimulating meditation, psychotherapy and hypnotherapy, antidepressants or antianxiety drugs, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, or limited-dose drugs like psilocin/psilocybin (the active ingredients in magic mushrooms) and MDMA (methyline-3-4-dioxymethamphetamine, aka molly or ecstasy). The last two drugs are controversial, but mainstream researchers like Johns Hopkins Medical School, Imperial College London, and the US Army are having success with their trials. (They are to be taken seriously and under medical supervision only! Dropping a few tabs of molly at a rave isn’t going to make a difference to long-term mental health.)
These illnesses affect huge swathes of the population – including the segment who work 60+ hours per week in motorsport – and are on the rise. Illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD fall into this category. It is important to remember that, while common, these illnesses can be fatal if left untreated for long periods of time. However, with diagnosis comes treatment, and most cases of these illnesses respond to the therapies listed above. For the ones that don’t, Jaak Panksepp and colleagues are working on a neural implant for drug-resistant depression. While at an elevated risk of suicide, these people are not generally reaching for a shotgun every five minutes, certainly not enough for the MSA to worry that they might kill themselves and others on track.
Chronic depression increases the risk of heart attack, as does chronic anxiety. Our bodies literally cannot handle being that sad/afraid for that long, and the ticker is the first thing to give out. The mind-body connection is poorly understood, but all the disorders listed in this post have physical symptoms and carry elevated risk of death from causes other than suicide.
Men are especially likely to die of depression or PTSD. There is a societal norm that states that boys don’t cry. Several men have spoken about how the only emotion they feel allowed to have is anger. When they feel fear or depression, they are taught to suppress those emotions. Men often don’t feel able to ask for help, because admitting to depression makes them seem weak.
I’ll lump my illness in with the discussion of several others, because they’re treated with the same drugs and therapies. Bipolar mood disorder (what I have), unipolar mood disorder (like bipolar, except without one end of the spectrum), epilepsy, and temporal lobe epilepsy are all treated with a small collection of antiseizure mood-stabilisers and regular talk therapy. Schizophrenia – which is sometimes under-diagnosed because of its similarity to bipolar disorder in the presentation of auditory hallucinations and psychotic symptoms – is very effectively treated with antipsychotics and talk therapy.
The suicide rate among patients of these disorders is markedly higher than the category listed above. Nobody knows the exact number, but bipolar and unipolar mood disorders have a fatality rate of around two thirds of sufferers. That is, two out of every three patients will eventually kill themselves in a moment of abject misery.
Temporal lobe epilepsy seems to be a response to environmental factors, whereas epilepsy that causes TC (previously called grand mal) seizures seems to be caused by a variety of factors, including repeated MTBI (minor traumatic brain injuries, also known as concussion). In places where medicine is a largely spiritual practice (including communities of white Christians, just in case you thought this was something only brown people did), temporal lobe epilepsy is often mistaken for demon possession and be left untreated other than regular exorcisms.
These illnesses – the epilepsies I’ve mentioned, as well as the bipolar/schizophrenia group – develop noticeable symptoms in late teenhood or early adulthood. There is plenty of time for someone to start karting, fall in love with the sport, and make progress through the ranks before becoming symptomatic. This makes the MSA’s ban and regulations like it in other countries very distressing for people with these illnesses. They have been known to hide their symptoms and detox from their meds for a few weeks before their license medicals, neither of which are healthy things to do in the long term.
The challenge of these chronic diseases is keeping people on medication. Medication has side-effects. The things we use to self-medicate, while less effective than the official drugs, produce more manageable side-effects. You can go ahead and add “I feel fine today, so I don’t need to take my pills,” to the list of challenges faced by doctors treating people with many of these illnesses. Non-observance of drug regimens is a problem to the extent that there is a research paper called “the best drug for bipolar disorder” that concludes the best drug is the one the patient is willing to take daily. Giving people a reason to stay on their meds is vital in the long-term success of these illnesses.
Letting mental illness patients do favourite activities or things that give them joy and allow them to enter flow is a very good way to motivate them to stay present. Our minds are easy places to get stuck – for neuronormative as well as neurodivergent people – and, without something keeping us in the present, disappearing into the thought realm is a great way to avoid reality. If a kid holds racing as a favourite thing, and develops a mental illness, having racing taken away from them for being ill is emotionally distressing, and can raise their risk of suicide.
Personality disorders are pertinent to our discussion, for two reasons. Firstly, Millennials are constantly being accused of being narcissists in the media. Narcissistic personality disorder is fairly rare and has very clear diagnostic criteria. Millennials are not pathological narcissists; we simply don’t want to work for people whose values don’t align with ours, and therefore seem self-serving when we quit to ‘find ourselves.’ There may also be some influence from what Simon Sinek calls ‘failed parenting strategies’ in this group of people due to dominant child-rearing philosophies in the eighties and nineties.
Secondly, sadistic personality disorder is positively correlated with trolling behaviour. If someone seems to be being mean to you online for the sake of being mean, they may not be able to help themselves. It may be a personality disorder shining through, but know that this illness affects less than 1% of the population. Psychopathy and Machiavellianism are in this group.
The four are collectively known as the Dark Tetrad of personality. All of them go untreated for the most part, because they make the people who have them unpleasant to be around. There’s often nobody left to ask for help when the patient realises they need it.
The final group I will address is ADD/ADHD (another one on the list of things I’m chronically ill with) and the autism spectrum, which are poorly understood. This group of illnesses seems to be caused by any one of several possible factors, and ranges in severity from mild social impairment – for example, Sheldon Cooper’s inability to detect sarcasm, or a person with ADHD blurting out something inappropriate to the context – to being completely unable to communicate verbally. Many cases are mild, and can evade detection by medical professionals for years. Symptoms for these disorders develop in infancy and early childhood, and some doctors tell the parents of these children that their offspring are ‘just being difficult’ or ‘just responding to your parenting style.’
Development workers say that girls in developing countries skip school because the menstruation facilities aren’t sufficient. The same trend of absenteeism is true of people with mental illness. The collective impact of these illnesses is only possible to estimate, but some figures suggest that the global economic benefit of destigmatising and treating depression would be in the order of magnitude of the GDP of a reasonably-sized European country.
A good starting point would be to stop shaming men for feeling emotions other than rage, and stop dismissing women as ‘emotional’ when they report mental illness symptoms. We need to accept that as social animals, we all have feelings. Only when we listen to negative emotions and get curious about their causes can we have a meaningful conversation about mental healthcare. We can’t do that as long as we’re gendering basic human emotions.
It's been two years since I started Sisterhood. That's an occasion worthy of a catch-up post. In those two years, I've lost friends over my politics, and made new ones in the process. My thoughts about social entrepreneurship and activism have evolved.
I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have people visit the site regularly, and read what I've written. I started out feeling like I was yelling into the void. That feeling still catches me, even though people now contact me to chat about what I've written and what they can do about it.
First up, some housekeeping:
- Sorry for the erraticness of the email functionality. We are switching to a different mail server when the website redesign goes live. To paraphrase Tim McGraw, free stuff is worth the price you pay!
- Sorry for the dearth of social media outputs, which have been particularly patchy this year. I was feeling tired and overwhelmed by the amount of work on my plate towards the end of last year, and since March, my nuclear family has begun the slow process of disintegration. Add to that the challenges of living in Zimbabwe in the year between having more trade sanctions put on us and an election that promises to be contentious and probably violent (given how everyone's behaving right now, google 'Zimbabwe police spikes' to see what I mean), and I just haven't had the spoons to make shiny posts for the socials. I have a plan to relocate, and am in discussions with freelancers to run the socials when the redesign goes live. They're Millennials and Gen Zs know how to GIF and make Insta stories. You'll like their work.
In the past two years, I have done some behind-the-scenes advocacy for people who felt their rights were being violated by their bosses/series organisers/governing bodies. Aside from that, the only real work I've done for Sisterhood has been a recruitment job in June/July 2016, and outing Danny Watts in Jan/Feb 2017. The rest of what I've done has been content creation, and one-on-one supporting/coaching of people who contacted me. The website hit rates have increased and remained steady, despite a decrease in blog traffic across the internet.
Now, onto the meaty stuff...
In reading about social entrepreneurship and business building, I've realised that I've built a very unresilient organisation. I assumed that my (patchy, unpredictable, and subject to the vagaries of the Zimbabwean economy) consultant's salary would be enough to cover everything I wanted to do. Well, newsflash, it wasn't, and due to not being paid since November, I've had to take microloans from my dad to keep the lights on. So we're having a restructure that will hopefully be holistic and resilient. (It's backed by empirical, peer-reviewed data and feedback from informed feminists who love motorsport, so it should be pretty decent.)
I have thus far resisted the membership model. I think monthly subscriptions of enough money to buy a meal at a restaurant are a barrier to minority involvement in motorsport, particularly for people in developing nations. In every WotW (and in this year's Pride series), I ask what the interviewee's biggest challenge is in motorsport, and the answer is universally 'money.' Most of my audience is Millennial and Gen Z, who are the most impoverished generations in living memory. I don't feel right about asking already cash-strapped people to pay a generous monthly fee for basic cover.
However, to uncouple the organisation from my personal earning potential, I need to ask for money to bring new people on board and scale up operations. So, we're going to do a 'pay what you can' donations system in the near future. This gives you membership to the community support group, and therefore the right to vote on what happens to donations (who we fund, how we structure our sponsorship packages, etc.) and the right to have us signal-boost your social media outputs. For people who want to participate, but have no money (or, like me, institutional restrictions on online spending/violations of our basic human right to the freedom to do legal and legitimate business without undue impediment). we're putting a 'get involved' tab on the website, and if you spend an hour a week volunteering for a positive, high-impact feminist cause local to you, you can submit your time sheets as credit to be a member of the group.
The free pep talks are being moved from the coaching section of the org to this group. There is a limit to the amount of empathic and supportive conversation I can give away in any given day while still getting work done, and the point of community is to share the load between all the villagers. I have preemptively added coaches to the group, so there will be adequate cover.
Human bonding can only get so far with online communication. There's something that happens to our brains when we can touch and smell each other that makes us bond more powerfully. Thus, members of the community group will have organisational support to create events local to them. Organisers will have creative freedom over the events, as long as they don't violate feminist principles (check in with the group in the planning stages).
Outraged by the renewed threat of all-girl* F1, we have decided to do something a bit different about the threat of gender-based apartheid in the sport. We are creating a fundraising platform that will enable people to do sporting events to raise money for cash-strapped racers who are members of marginalised population groups. This will initially be part of a study about the IKEA effect (a cognitive bias where we like things more when we had a hand in making them), subject to IRB approval from the university underwriting the study.
However, after the study is complete, the program will remain. Contributing to society increases life satisfaction. Doing nice things for others increases life satisfaction. Doing physical exercise and being outdoors increases life satisfaction. There is no down-side to participating in the experiment, other than the risk of a sprained ankle while training .
I am making (slow) progress on the paper about what LGBTQ+ racers can expect from the public when making their coming out announcements, inspired by my involvement in Danny Watts' coming out announcement. I am participating in two other papers, so expect a questionnaire about grid girls in the not-too-distant future (again, subject to IRB approval from my co-author's university). Motorsport is a very under-researched area, and I need to fill in the gaps in the data to make decently informed decisions about the org. If anyone would like to do a study about motorsport, the research group is being revived to stimulate that.
We are building a range of products to make a decent income and sponsor more people. Worry not, we will retain the free content on the blog, and expand it to include other media. The expansion of the free content will be from donations and collaborations, and will not be behind a paywall, not now, not ever. The goal of this will be to create an international 'everything you need to know about motorsport careers' guide for minorities in the sport in one handy spot, along with little shots of inspiration. We will also be hosting free events as organisational funds accumulate and we can book out venues and provide free food and drink.
The for-pay products will be split into three ranges - the low-cost (items that cost up to about $200, and can be distributed via the website; career and soft skills coaching; short, low-cost events), the premium range (multi-day events at interesting destinations, designed to be spas for the motorsporty feminist soul), and the corporate range (policy consulting based on our existing and growing data set, etc.).
The Sporting Code
Inspired by several people's stories to me, I have started writing a book about consent in motorsport. It's less boring than it sounds, I promise, and is aimed at giving people a shorthand for discussing boundaries. I will be testing this material in a series of upcoming webinars and email courses. Watch this space!
There are other plans in the works, so expect some announcements soon. (I learned my lesson with sharing nascent plans when someone who shall remain nameless jacked my org plan and web copy and threw the weight of a giant trust fund at it to out-perform me. The community group will function as the circle of trust for announcements in the planning stages, because we have more control over membership and sharing of info than broadcasting it on the website.) I've had a fantastic two years, and am really honoured to have an audience who read what I've written. Thank you so much for coming along on this journey with me!
*pejorative term used intentionally
Woman of the Week Nicole Drought was born and raised in Roscrea, Ireland. Her father was a keen rally driver throughout her childhood, and eventually moved to the Irish Touring Car Championship. Nicole joined alongside him on the ITCCstarting grid when she twenty. She spent two years in that championship before moving up to do selected rounds of the Global GT Lights series and was subsequently invited to Paul Ricard to test a Porsche GT3 with the Sean Edwards Foundation. Nicole is currently looking to join a British-based sports car championship for her 2018 campaign and has organised for a French test in a Mitjet later this year.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Nicole Drought: I was always into cars and motorsport when I was growing up but when I was about 11 ,my dad and I, as huge rally fans, took a trip to Kilkenny to have a look at a rally car, a Honda Civic. We took it for a test drive as soon as we arrived, with me in the passenger seat! Very exciting! After that I followed him to every rally to support him. That was probably my first memory of motorsport.
BS What do you love most about the sport?
ND I’d have to say the adrenaline rush. For years, I watched my dad compete and that, itself was a huge rush. I remember the morning of his rallies, standing in service with him, the smell of fuel, the sound of the engines and watching people running around frantically to get the last of the preparations done. That was so exciting for me. And when he’d leave for the first stage, I was almost nervous for him! When he’d pass me on a stage, I’d get such a rush! Then when I got the chance to actually drive a racing car, I found a whole new level of passion for the sport. The speed and rush I get from driving fast is like no other feeling, it’s amazing.
BS Who has been the most supportive of your career?
ND Oh, it’s hard to pick just one. My family and friends are so supportive of my racing, along with everyone in my home town. I never thought I’d get such support and I can’t believe the amount of people who really are behind me and want me to do well.
BS What has been your biggest struggle in your career thus far?
ND I think every racing driver will agree that funding is the biggest struggle in this sport.
BS That’s a common response to that question! Do you have any advice to give others in the same boat?
ND Yeah, start young! I started relatively late in motorsport andI never realised how important seat time is in a racing car until I started. Perhaps getting started in karting is the best advice I could give. In terms of sponsorship, it has to be seen as a commercial transaction, as opposed to the common perception of assistance. A sponsor should have a quantifiable return on their investment.
BS So what was it that tipped you over the edge from spectator to participant?
ND I grew up around cars and motorsport, so since I can remember, I always wanted to be a driver!
BS What have been some of the highlights of your career thus far?
ND My first ever racing weekend, in the Irish Touring Car Championship, I qualified second on the grid, which I couldn’t believe! Winning my first race, being nominated as the Irish Dunlop Young Racing Driver of the month September 2016, being invited to test a Porsche GT3 at the famous Paul Ricard and qualifying 2nd on my debut in the Global GT Lights Series in Anglesey!
BS What do you think can be done to encourage more women into the sport?
ND I think more awareness. For girls to know that this is a sport which they can be involved in and love also!
BS Have you ever experienced sexism in motorsport, and if so, how did/do you deal with it?
ND I didn’t think I was any different when I came to the track for the first time with my racing car. I grew up with this being my favourite sport. But I did notice that people did point out that I was going to be on the ITCC grid that year and that I was female! It didn’t bother me though, I was ready to put on my helmet and join the grid like every other person!
BS I recently re-read a paper by Pflugfelder (2009), and he said that because the narratives around women in motorsport are still sexist, you’re still marked as a woman because they know what your car looks like.
ND As I spend more time in this sport, I do notice that women are slightly singled out if they are on the grid, but I think it’s for a good reason. It’s important for women, especially young girls, to know that motorsport isn’t just for boys! I was lucky to grow up in a motorsport family but I would like to see more girls introduced to the sport. In recent times, there are many organisations being set up for awareness of women in motorsport and it is clear, especially in Ireland anyhow, that there is a greater presence of girls coming through in karting.
BS What advice would you give to young women wanting a career in racing?
ND I think you should just go for it! I wish, looking back that I had started out a little earlier. But I have done very well in a short space of time and I hope to continue that success and I hope, in some way I can be a role model to younger girls in the sport.
This edition of Feminism Fridays is an open letter to a fan who asked a question of Racer.com. The journalist replying the question dodged the meat of it, although the fan's question seemed genuine. Below is what I hope is a satisfactory answer to the question posed.
Dear Dan Gallagher from Brownsburg,
You wrote to Robin Miller at Racer.com, commenting on the race at Pocono, and asking “Is Pippa Mann missing something other than a budget? She's always gracious with the fans, and in limited opportunities seems to show an ability to avoid trouble and improve the car across the weekend. It's probably the number one question from my wife, who is a fringe fan.”
Hello to your wife too, since she’s probably reading this if it finds its way through the magic of cyberspace into your home. Hi, Dan’s wife!
I notice Miller dodged your question about Pippa Mann, and just commented on the race. Because he didn’t want to wade into messy topics like ‘sponsorship of women in motorsport,’ I will answer your question. I hope you find the information helpful when talking to other fans about the sport.
Let me be clear before we start that I do not represent Pippa, nor can I speak on her behalf. However, I did interview her once upon a time, and asked what her biggest struggle was in motorsport. Mann said her biggest professional challenge was budget. So, the short answer to your questions is that Pippa is probably only missing a budget from the holy trifecta of success in motorsport: talent, grit, and budget.
Pippa Mann is not the only woman racer who struggles for budget. I ask that question of every woman in the interview series that has now been running for almost two years. The standard answer from drivers is that finding finance is a challenge. I repeatedly ask the question because I am making a point to the industry, not because I don’t know the answer.
Male racers also complain about the difficulties in finding funding, if asked about the challenges facing them. The post-2008 global economy is a tough environment to find funding, and nobody has any doubts about that. However, given the number of men who successfully find enough budget to race, compared to the number of women, something more than raw talent is a consideration in the bargain.
We need look no further than the gender pay gap for female professional athletes. Across sports, women are paid less than men. Salaries are lower; prize pots are smaller. Motorsport is one of the few events where women have the opportunity to compete for the same prize pot as men. Even that may not be secure, with what Mann so eloquently dubbed “the handmaid’s series” (aka women’s F1) being tabled yet again. Instead of funding women to compete in existing championships, some people (who no doubt mean well) have decided to spend money buying cars and making a series to prevent women from accessing equal opportunities to men.
Finding sponsorship is a simple algorithm. The racer asks a company for money, and in exchange for their money, they promote their brand to their fans. This deal rests heavily on the continued good name of the athlete, and bad press shatters a respectable reputation.
So the question is this: is the media biased in their portrayal of women racing drivers? Jordan Matthews and Elizabeth Pike wrote about that question in their paper published in 2016. They analyzed approximately one hundred years of newspaper articles, comparing language used to describe men and women racing drivers. They found that writers marginalised and trivialized women drivers, as Miller did by refusing to discuss Mann on the basis of her talent and the legitimate challenges she faces as a woman.
Going back to the theoretical foundations of Matthews and Pike’s paper, in 2009 Ehren Pflugfelder wrote about the way in which society conceptualized women racers. He argued that the language used to describe women positioned them as less worthy of being racers than men. His point was that even though drivers are unrecognizable as gendered beings when fully dressed and in their cars, the commentators’ discussion around the women on the grid is often noticeably different because they are women outside of the car.
If all things were equal, I think we would have as many women as we do men on grids, or certainly the gender demographics would be more equal. If children were raised with equal opportunities, boys and girls would spend as much time karting and building up their 10,000 hours to achieve skilled status. If society believed that women and men were equal in talent and ability, sponsors and team bosses would have no problem “taking a gamble” on a woman driver. We know that those are not equal, simply because the numbers don’t match the general population.
Now, please note that I could make the same point about people of colour, people with disabilities, and LGBT+ people in racing. I am addressing sexism in this article because your question was about Pippa, but this largely unconscious bias to judge people as “less than” also takes the form of racism/xenophobia, ableism, heterosexism/homophobia, and other forms of prejudice. To be clear, I am not saying the people who have this bias are terrible sub-humans. We all have a few biases that blind us and make us pre-judge others, and sometimes those biases is so strong we even discriminate against ourselves.
The bottom line in all of this is that sponsors aren’t willing to risk their marketing budget on an athlete who is criticized every time they take to the track. Until we as the race-watching public challenge our own perceptions about the abilities of women as drivers and call in (like calling out, but said with love rather than the desire for vengeance) incidents of sexism when we spot it, the lot for women in motorsport will stay the same. Women in motorsport will struggle for budget until they are holistically portrayed in the sport as being equal competitors to their male colleagues. Only then will most big-budget sponsors jump aboard the equality bus.
Last year, I wrote a piece for Pride about why there are no gay racers in the higher echelons of motorsport. In January, Danny Watts found the article and emailed me, asking to come out on the blog, but it was eventually decided that we would create a content glitterbomb and do it in style (in Autosport and Daily Sports Car and Huff Post and Gay Times, among others). This plunged me into the world of queer gearheads, and there are now about twenty members in the Queer Gearheads group.
For this Pride, we decided to feature members who were out and willing to be visible for the younger LGBT+ folk in the audience who may have otherwise felt like motorsport wasn’t for them because there was no chance of meeting people like them in the sport/industry. We didn’t have any lesbian or trans folk – not for lack of trying – but we did have gay and bi folk, and tried our best to get some international spread (UK, USA, South Africa, and France).
The inclusion of Chris, our featured bisexual, was intentional for two reasons – bisexuals were instrumental in the creation of Pride as a protest march, and they’re often skipped over in discussion of LGBT+ issues. Bi erasure – the official term for leaving bisexuals out of the cultural narrative – is so strong in some circles that I’ve had an internet argument with a dude-bro who was convinced that the B in 'LGBT' stood for Bronies (men who’re into My Little Pony) not Bisexual.
I intentionally asked questions in the Pride interview series that would uncover issues within the community, and bring them into the realm of public discussion. This was not for clickbait fodder; this was because there is no other forum for discussing queer topics within motorsport, and therefore no way of including the LGBT+ or allied fanbase in the discourse. In the responses, there were a few themes, which I’ll expand on in the rest of this article.
Money, Money, Money
The strongest theme in the ‘issues we struggle with’ question was a lack of finance. Drivers and journalists alike have found it hard to find funding to get their careers going. While this is normal for journalists and drivers the world over, the problem seems to have been exacerbated for out queer people.
Being a polarizing public figure has its costs, and a lot of the more established US brands don’t want to lose customers from the Red-voting South by sponsoring a gay racer. British brands have no similar excuse, because over half the population supports same-sex marriage and most people from the UK responded positively to Watts’ coming out story when it hit the press. However, the reticence from sponsors and other entities continues. So if you’re reading this, you care about marginalised groups getting a chance in motorsport, and you have a company or brand of your own, please be in touch and we can put you in touch with some wonderful people who’re looking for financial support in exchange for brand promotion.
Being Taken Seriously
It would seem that the accusation levelled at fangirls (pejorative term used intentionally) of ‘You only support him because he’s pretty!’ is applied to gay men too. Anyone who claims that motorsport is a meritocracy need only look as far as female and LGBT+ journalists for proof to the contrary. Out queer people are lumped into the category of ‘too femme to like sports’ along with women.
Prof Michael Kimmel, a sociologist and distinguished professor of gender and masculinities, pointed out in his article about Jason Collins’ coming out that heterosexuality was a key part of the American concept of masculinity. It would seem that this belief extends to Europe and Africa as well. This idea that gay men are less masculine than straight men is out-dated and oppressive.
In Prof Kimmel’s email sig, ‘masculinities’ is pluralised. There are as many shades of ‘masculine’ as there are men. By way of example, some straight cis-men are total bosses at painting fingernails because their little girls wanted pretty nails, while some gay guys and trans men don’t know the first thing about women’s makeup techniques because they have no reason to care. The premise of Grayson Perry’s book ‘The Descent of Man’ is an invitation for men to question the norms of ‘masculinity’ handed down to us, and have fun with how you as an individual want to express your masculinity.
The perception that femininity is weakness – when in reality women, and gay and efeminate men need to work that much harder just to be seen as equal – is out-dated and needs to go. There are people who fit neatly into Pink or Blue, and that’s valid for them. There are also people who are shades of Purple, and that’s valid too. Being Pink or Blue or Purple doesn’t accurately predict whether someone will love a Pink, Blue, or Purple person. The shade of our gender expression, or who we love also don’t accurately predict strength or weakness, courage or cowardice. If anything, the ones who struggle more for legitimacy are stronger and more courageous, because they buck the trend.
A while back, a motorsport entity was worried that, if they made a point of inviting gay people, they’d have crowds of people in assless chaps scarring the children at the event. Every queer person I spoke to – both participating in the series, and others – about this snorted in derision at the thought that people would show up to a family event with their butt cheeks hanging out. The entity was fine with people showing up with Pride flags, but nudity was a concern. From the responses in the interview series, it’s generally understood by the LGBT+ community that kink wear is only appropriate outside the bedroom at Pride (or, one would assume, a play party, but we didn’t get into that). But even then, it makes some queer people uncomfortable, and the nudity is a major factor in their not attending Pride events.
It’s important to remember on this point that Pride started as a protest. It was a protest against the human rights abuses directed at the LGBT+ community, which continue to this day in many parts of the world, despite our ability to go to Pride in nothing but pink hotpants or assless chaps. It has become a party, and while there is a lot of progress to celebrate, there is still work to be done.
People at the first Pride in South Africa (in Johannesburg, in 1994) wore paper bags over their heads for fear of being fired or made homeless for their sexual identity. This was not unusual for early Pride functions, because of the oppression that faced the community in the eighties and nineties. The emaciated bodies of thousands of America gay men were left unclaimed in mortuaries during the height of the AIDS crisis, because their families refused to be associated with them. It was left to their friends, and sometimes big-hearted strangers, to make burial arrangements. Added to that, precious few clerics in the States would officiate the funerals of those gay AIDS victims, meaning that often Jewish gay men were buried by Christian preachers. (The theological literature doesn’t deal with other countries, but anecdotal evidence would suggest that some clerics continue to refuse to bury LGBT+ people.) The slogan, ‘We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it,’ that has been chanted at every Pride and LGBT+ protest I’ve ever been to started a battle cry, a call to rally together and be seen as fully self-actualised humans worthy of basic human dignity.
And this struggle to be seen as fully self-actualised humans worthy of basic human dignity is embodied in this incident with the motorsport entity. The LGBT+ community wasn’t invited to the party in case they acted just a bit too gay. They may be afraid of offending people by enforcing a ‘please be fully dressed’ request. But the assumption that the LGBT+ community will show up in assless chaps is discriminatory before we get to their response to that assumption. Not that they’re terrible people and we should spam them with hate; nobody needs that. But Thierry mentioned that something the straight community could do for us is to have open lines of communication between motorsport event organizers and queer people, which would have by-passed the whole situation in the first place.
What Straight People Can Do
If you’re reading this and you’re straight and not sure what to take from it, the good news is you’re most welcome as an ally. You don’t have to be queer to buy tickets to races in which LGBT+ people are competing. You don’t need to be gay to wear the merch you bought from their websites, or buy products from the companies who sponsor them. You don’t need to be LGBT+ to leverage your company’s marketing budget to sponsor a queer racer (Charlie Martin, a former Woman of the Week, needs £60,000 to race next year http://www.motorsportsisterhood.org/blog/woman-of-the-week-charlie-martin; Evan Darling needs about the same amount if not a bit more in US dollars, and is looking for first-time motorsport sponsors; you don’t need to look far to find someone who’ll take your money and make great videos about your company).
You can also call in homophobic comments when you hear/see them, regardless of whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between. If you’re one of the ones making the homophobic and transphobic jokes on your friends’ facebook walls, with love, please cease and desist because it’s actually pretty mean and makes queer people feel very unwelcome. I don’t call in every comment I see on social media. I pick my battles – only people I know, or people who my friends are struggling to find words to call in – because there are simply too many to call in all of them and the exhaustion is real y’all! But the point remains that it carries far more weight when a straight person says ‘hey, not cool,’ than when a queer person says it.
For straight people in positions of power in motorsport, remember that with great power comes great responsibility. You can choose to hire a talented queer driver for your team, or host a tie-in event that makes LGBT+ people feel actively included. If you’re worried about something like people showing up half-naked and scarring the children, chat to the people you’re working with about creative strategies around the problems you’ve foreseen. Slow progress is still progress, and baby steps made consistently will take us to a more equal world.
Equality is everyone’s job. If we approached every situation aware of people’s intersecting identities and privileges/disadvantages, we would be more willing to give the more disadvantaged members of our community a leg up. Not a segregated series special for LGBT+ people to be a freakshow side-project. Never segregation. Just the boost that is within your power as a wing-buddy/ally. Look for those seemingly insignificant opportunities to amplify signals for the queer people you know/know of; call your friends in on their discriminatory behaviour; be open to change when someone calls you in on behaviour that’s been bugging them. Feminism is very ordinary magic, and it’s often made up of an encouraging word given here, and a little bit of knowledge shared there. Everyone can do that.
In case you missed any, the interviews are linked here in order of publishing:
Matthys Strydom, G, South Africa
Evan Darling, G, USA
Chris Stevens, B, UK
Thierry Courtois, G, France
Thierry Courtois is a professional graphic designer working for some of the biggest brands in the world. For the past three years he has done various freelance work in both motorsport and football. He has worked on projects with racing teams including Mahindra Formula E. He has done design, branding and photography work for various media sites, and is an active member and currently working on a marketing/branding project for Arsenal's Gaygooners.
Bridget Schuil: What were your biggest struggles in motorsport before coming out?
Thierry Courtois: Well I was never involved in motorsport prior to coming out as I did that when I was 17. As a kid/teenager I always wanted to be involved in F1, first as a driver (ha that never happened) and then as a designer (I wasn't good enough at maths). For me, the fact that there were (and still are) no sportsmen/women who are out whilst they are in their sporting careers sent signals that you can't be gay and work in sport. You won't be taken seriously, you won't get on with team members because you can't get involved in 'banter' and that you wouldn't be able to share hotel rooms etc with colleagues.
So I gave up any notion of being involved in anyway. Instead of was classed as a "weird gay" because I was gay but really into sports and not camp etc. So I didn't fit in with the LGBT+ community and I didn't fit in with the straight community either.
BS What have been your biggest struggles since coming out?
TBC Being taken seriously is often an issue. I walk down a pitlane and I get looks and laughs from mechanics, etc. It gets to you a little bit. I don't see how being gay prevents me from being able to do a job well or having an interest in sport that goes beyond liking a player or driver.
I also felt that a particular driver acted differently towards me after I made a comment that clearly alluded to my sexuality and that took me by surprise.
BS Now you're publicly out, do you get a lot of online hate?
TBC I've not had anyone purposely direct homophobic related comments at me but I have witnessed a lot of homophobic comments around sport. I don't stand for it and I will call it out when I see it.
I've also actively called out a certain former-F1 driver for his constant use of homophobic terminology in his tweets and instagram posts - not that he takes a blind bit of notice as he continues to do it. I guess he's like football fans that think it's all just 'banter'. Well it may be banter to them but it isn't banter to someone who is LGBT+.
I have had hate thrown at me online and offline and whilst it hasn't been homophobic in content, it has felt that I was targeted because of it - for some reason they think I'm a weaker person because I'm gay. Well they REALLY don't understand how strong you are/have to be when you are LGBT+!
BS What would you say to people who said that Danny's coming out was 'not news'?
TBC I managed to open someones mind a little. They were saying some really inappropriate comments and disregarding the purpose of a sportsman coming out and I challenged them on it. I explained why it was important and relevant but without attacking them and thankfully they listened and took it on board and realised their comments were inappropriate.
BS There was an incident recently where an LGBT+ tie-in to a motorsport event was postponed due to concern by the organisers over 'inappropriate behaviour' at the event (eg. they were worried people would turn up in assless chaps). Does the LGBT+ community need to re-think its stance on the ethics of self-expression, or is this a stereotypical, and unfounded worry on behalf of the event organisers?
TBC Better communication with the community and fan groups can help organisers understand and anticipate the provisions required at events. Arsenal and the Gaygooners have a very good relationship with lots of open dialogue on both sides - motorsport and many other sports lack this.
BS Other sports have official LGBT+ organisations, for example Arsenal football club have a gay fans' club. When Danny Watts came out, there was talk of starting an official FIA organisation. Do you think, given the political orientation of motorsport governing bodies, that it would be better to have a queer-led queer org, or an official initiative run by well-meaning straight people?
TCB I am a member of the Gaygooners and do work with them at the moment. I think it is extremely important that any such organisation is run by members of the LGBT+ community. There is no reason why straight supporters can't be involved and there needs to be open dialogue with a body like the FIA and the teams and there is no reason why this can't be a straight representative. But when it comes to the promotion of LGBT+ rights and action against inequalities - it has to be directed and campaigned by the community itself.
What can motorsport entities do to be more supportive of the LGBT+ community?
For starters they need to recognise that there is a large number of fans from this community across all series and all levels - as well the drivers, team personnel etc. Motorsport lags way behind football in the UK and maybe it's a result of the international travelling circus as opposed to mainly domestic aspect of football. If football has a long way to go for LGBT+ inclusion in the stands and within the sport to allow a safe and welcoming environment, then motorsport is decades away.
As the number of LGBT+ supporters is still quite small, most fans, teams etc don't feel anything needs to be done and in many cases they actively disagree with any potential step forward (that is, the issue with grid girls, widespread normative sexism, and the homophobic terminology used).
BS What can individual fans and motorsport workers do to show their support for the LGBT+ community?
TBC Educate, promote, inspire and stay vocal. Football is listening thanks to the tireless long term work of folks like the Gaygooners - there is no reason why motorsport and other sports as a whole can't do the same.
This week’s Woman of the Week is Jess Shanahan, a motoring and motorsport journalist, and creator of The Racing Mentor (link here), a resource set up to help young racers find funding, with an associated e-course (link here). She started her career in a PR agency specialising in luxury interiors, moving over to motorsport PR work after forming a relationship with Rebecca Jackson. This led to doing PR and sponsorship work for Jackson, Team HARD and others. In 2016, she was team boss of Turn Eight Racing in the BRSCC Porsche Championship. This year, she has taken a step back from the racing, because demands on her time simply grew too great. Instead, she has prioritised creating The Racing Mentor and Sponsorship Bootcamp to empower young racers to do their own sponsor finding work. She also works on bringing new talent into other areas of motorsport.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Jess Shanahan: I came into motorsport quite late. It was in 2008, I was watching Formula 1 with my boyfriend and all his friends. I was trying to work out who I wanted to support – we had Ferrari fans there; we had a Red Bull fan; my boyfriend was a McLaren fan – and I didn’t want to support someone just because it was who my boyfriend supported.
I remember asking the question, ‘who’s the tallest?’ and the answer was Mark Webber. So I was a huge Mark Webber fan from that point onwards. I guess that’s my first real memory of motorsport, and that is how I got into the sport. I had been interested in cars before, but then I was interested in Mark Webber.
BS What do you love most about the sport?
JS I love the noise and the atmosphere. As much as I love watching racing on television, I would rather go to a club race every weekend and just absorb that kind of competitive family atmosphere with lots of noise and great smells, as well as the variety of cars as well. I really love that, so yeah, definitely the atmosphere.
BS Who do you think has been the most supportive of your career?
JS Probably Rebecca Jackson. She was my first ever motorsport client off the back of my PR experience. I’ve kind of grown with her as she’s gone from Porsche Championship and GT Cup to doing Le Mans, and then Mini Challenge this year. She’s been really supportive.
My family and close friends have also been great. I’ve made loads of friends through motorsport – both online and at events – so I’ve got a really nice circle of people on Facebook who’ve all been super supportive. I’d say I’ve been quite lucky, but Rebecca was my first client and the one who’s been with me the longest. We’ve been working together for so long and we’re definitely more friends than just employer and contractor.
BS In your career thus far, what would you say have been your biggest challenges?
JS I had to teach myself sales skills. I did sales not long after I left college, and I absolutely hated it. Then I went into PR, which was great. There was a little bit of selling involved, like when I’d ring a journalist, I’d have to sell my story and make sure they want it. I guess the skills are similar. I learned some skills there, but as soon as I then had to start working on sponsorship, it was a whole different kind of selling. It’s more a wheeler-dealer sales person kind of effort.
At the time, I was struggling with anxiety, I hated speaking on the phone, and all that. I kind of got used to it over the years, and found that the cold calling approach didn’t necessarily work. I had to literally go out there and make friends with people who could introduce me to other people, so I was going with a warmer approach. I recently completed a free course, which I’m offering to help people learn from those mistakes I made.
BS What have been your proudest moments and career highlights?
JS Watching Turn Eight Racing race to multiple victories in 2016 was amazing. I have one of Pip Hammond's Porsche trophies sitting happily in my office. It was also amazing to see Rebecca Jackson make her way from club racer to Le Mans and know I played a part in that. She's a phenomenal person and I'm proud to work with her.
As a journalist, I recently went to the launch of a new Abarth in Italy. While zooming around on a yacht after making multiple amazing contacts, I realised that it was the fulfillment of a goal I'd set myself five years ago when I quit my PR job. On a lake in Italy is definitely a time when you can think: Wow, I think I've made it.
BS So tell us about the origins of The Racing Mentor and Sponsorship Bootcamp. Where did those courses come from?
JS Racing Mentor came from a vision of teaching racing drivers to do something for themselves, rather than relying on someone like me to go out and find sponsorship for them. A course made most sense, and I was speaking to a lot of racing drivers about whether they’d prefer podcasts, long-form article, or videos and short articles. The answer came back that videos and shorter articles were their preferred learning format. Easily digestible information was better.
So I figured a course talking about all the mistakes I’d made when I was first starting made the most sense to me. I set up the Sponsorship Bootcamp email course first, followed by my Mistakes course, with the view that I’m going to do a more comprehensive course in the future based on the feedback I receive. It’s all outlined, it just needs to be written up and filmed. So yeah, it definitely came from that place of wanting to help people, but also needing to know how they learn. I think that was the most effective way.
BS Seth Godin bases his courses on Slack, so there’s no exclusive content, what people are paying for is input from and face time with an expert. Have you used a chat platform with your courses? Is that something that you’ve found that works?
JS At the moment, my course is set up with teachable.com. Within that, there is a comment system, but I’m not really using it for this course because the content is quite basic. The next course is ‘Ten Steps to Your Next Sponsor’. That’s actually an exclusive, because I’ve not told anyone about this yet. I’m going to utilise the comments system within the platform I’m building this course on, but depending on the level people choose when they pay for the course, they do get more input from me.
The higher levels get one-on-one time with me, be that a Skype call, like a proper hour or two of mentoring session, or a live chat session on a platform we both use. I want to keep people on the right track, and give them real-time input. I’m still kind of in the research stages of how it will all go together. I do really like Slack, but it’s not that popular because people don’t use it every day and therefore forget to check it. I’m hoping that if people pay for a course and it includes Slack, that they’ll use it because they’ve paid for it. I’m exploring options and I think maybe for me and the time-poor people I’m working with, keeping it within my course ecosystem would be better so people don’t have to stray too far.
BS And what’s your completion rate? The average for the internet is a 98% drop-out rate. How are your course customers thus far comparing to that?
JS With this ‘mistakes’ course, it’s very short and can be completed within twenty-five minutes or half an hour. At the end, there are email templates, and things in there as well. So I think a lot of people are going through the course to grab the freebies and move on. I think at the moment the completion rate is just under fifty percent. That’s with a very small pool of people who are already involved within my sales funnel. They’re already involved in the Racing Mentor Facebook group and what I’m doing, but it’s good to know the course is performing better than average.
The Sponsorship Bootcamp is an email course based around the basics of acquiring sponsorship. Because it’s automated, it’s got a 100% completion rate. There are tasks within the course that get people to pitch to me as Racing Mentor as though I were a business they wanted to seek sponsorship from. If they impress me, I am going to sponsor them, and I’ve already sponsored Nick Holmes as a result of his work in the course. So there is a lot of incentive for people to complete that, and I’d say maybe 30% of people have got to that stage. Obviously, there are more in the pipeline. I do hope they complete the course, because I love giving feedback.
I already know that a lot of people who’ve done that course have found sponsors from it, so I can see that my material is working. It gives me such pride to know that my content is helping racing drivers build cars, get on track, and find new sponsors.
BS Have you ever experienced sexism in motorsport? If so, how did you deal with it?
JS I haven’t through Racing Mentor, because my customer base so far has been people that I know. They’re people who are already within my circle. They’ve mostly been friends or friends of friends.
Working within motorsport, yes. I know that a lot of people have had some really, really bad stuff, which makes my experiences pale in comparison. But obviously, my experiences are still relevant, because they show that sexism is still alive and well.
The most recent example was when I was at Silverstone for a race, but I was there just to support a friend, rather than in any kind of work capacity. I was dressed essentially in my civilian clothes, rather than a team t-shirt or whatever. I looked pretty glamorous, because I thought, ‘Hey, how often do I go to a race track where I don’t have to be crawling around on the floor near a car?’ So I dressed quite nicely.
There happened to be a guy there that I knew from doing filming for my TV show Road Trip (link here). I hadn’t seen him for ages, and I basically spent the whole time talking to him. He’s a really talented camera man, but he’s not really into cars; he was also there to support our friend. So I was explaining some racing and car stuff to him, and we got speaking to a few other people in the paddock. One gentleman was talking about all these cars he’s worked with in the past. He kept showing pictures to my male friend, but then wouldn’t show them to me.
I thought, ‘I’m literally the only other person in this conversation who cares about cars!’ so I had to ask him specifically if I could see the pictures. It wasn’t until my friend pointed out that women get treated very differently in that kind of environment that I thought, ‘Oh wow, that’s actual full-on sexism!’ I just thought the guy was being rude, but looking back I’m pretty sure it was because I was a woman.
It wasn’t until just as we were leaving, the sexist guy’s wife was speaking to me, and I was telling her what I did for a living, all of the motorsport stuff I did. He was so interested after that! I just left. I wasn’t having any of that from him.
BS In that context – being subjected to sexist treatment by someone you can’t seek recourse against without negatively affecting your career, like a boss or someone in a position of power over you – how do you deal with that? Did you do any self care? How did you rebound and stay polite even though he was treating you unfairly?
JS It’s difficult, really, especially when, let’s say it’s a boss or someone like that, there’s an element of ‘I need to be nice to this person because they pay me.’ While I don’t think anyone should stand for sexism, I think we should save our energy for the fights that matter. I was able to just brush him off, because I’ll likely never see him again.
But I think when you’re in an environment where you know that person, if you can tell they’re doing it out of habit and societal norms rather than being malicious – it’s not overt ‘I don’t think you’re good at this because you’re a woman’ sexism, but more the kind that’s ingrained into everyone – you can open a dialogue with that person. Say ‘this made me feel uncomfortable.’ Ask them not to do the thing that upsets you, and offer concrete suggestions of something less oppressive for them to do instead.
It’s easy to get caught up in our heads, thinking ‘I’m never going to be good enough; they don’t think I’m as good as a man at this,’ but most of the time you can open a dialogue if you’re calm and make it known you don’t think they actually meant it. I think a lot of people – men especially – get really angry if you say anything that implies that they were sexist, because they don’t think they are.
The problem is that they might not be overtly sexist, but everyone is a bit sexist because that’s how most of us have been brought up. It’s in the media; it’s everywhere in motorsport; you can’t really get away from it. That’s what’s sad, and I think that’s why people should speak up about it if they feel they can. But I’m aware that not everyone can do that when someone’s paying their bills, or has a tendency to get aggressive, or something like that.
For me, I don’t want to say that I’m used to it, but I’m quite thick-skinned. I was able to laugh about him with friends and family when I got home. I was able to move on, because he wasn’t a huge part of my life.
BS What advice would you give to girls and young women who want a career like yours?
JS I’d say get out there and start learning the skills you need to do this kind of thing. If it’s motorsport PR, start making friends with racing drivers on social media. Start reading newspapers, magazines, and websites where their press releases and achievements are placed. Maybe even ask for work experience with someone who’s already doing motorsport PR. I think it’s really important that people get a feel for what this is about before jumping into it.
Most of the time, you’re not going to be able to just find a job doing this. It’s more likely that you’re either going to have to do tonnes of work experience and then kind of funnel yourself through from an assistant or admin role, or you’re going to have to do what I do and go the self-employed route. A lot of people I know who are young and looking for work experience or a part-time job are looking in motorsport and motorsport only. That’s great if you can find a job, but most of the time they want really experienced people. My first PR job was in luxury interiors, which is so far from motorsport it’s unreal. But it gave me the skills to know what I needed to do to sell a story to journalists, and write a press release, and so on.
Some other advice, I think writing about motorsport is a good way to get into any aspect of the sport, because it throws you right in at the deep end and gets you talking to drivers and people in that sphere. Start a blog, or start pitching ideas and interviews to websites whose content you like and respect. You might need to do a little bit of work for free at the start. I feel a bit strange suggesting people work for free because I don’t think anyone should; I think everyone’s work has worth. But when you’re just starting out, it’s important to get your name and your writing out there, which is why a blog tends to be better.
At least with a blog, you’re writing for yourself for free, and you have more freedom to monetise that with sponsored posts or affiliate marketing. But if you do want to build a bit of a portfolio, look for websites that will take on guest content. I run a motoring and automotive website called turneight.co.uk, and I accept guest content. I pay a token fee for beginner writers, and obviously work up as the relationship progresses and the writer matures. I understand the need to get your work out there, but I don’t want people to write for me for free. It’s not a huge amount of money, but at least people aren’t writing for free because I don’t want that. I tell people off for not paying writers when they can afford to, it's not right. Exposure doesn't pay the bills.
I run two or three blogs that are quite well-read, and when I’m posting on them regularly I earn about six hundred pounds a month. That’s just from sponsored posts and people paying to place content on my website. A lot of people look at affiliate marketing and that kind of stuff for monetising their blogs, but I think guest posts on paying blogs and sponsored content and collaborating with brands can be a lot more valuable, if a little bit more hard work.
Jess has made several resources available to our readers. We'd like to encourage you to take advantage of these great tools. Your career will thank you!
- Join Sponsorship Bootcamp (an email course to help guide the sponsor search) here
- Read Jess's DriveTribe article about becoming a motorsport journalist here
Chris Stevens started a blog called Grand Prix Review at the age of fourteen, under the guidance of a political journalist who was a friend of the family. He cut his teeth writing race reports about Formula One, which got him noticed within the F1 Twitter crowd. This led to him being noticed by independent motorsport websites, and he began writing about F1 for Inside Line Media. While at Inside Line, he started podcasting and covering Formula E. He is now writing for Formula Spy, and podcasts on Downforce Radio, doing the Missed Apex (F1), and eRadio (Formula E) shows, and hosting Lean Angle (motorbike racing). He is also in the Autosport Academy.
Bridget Schuil: At what point in your career did you come out to friends and family, and are you officially ‘out’ in motorsport?
Chris Stevens: I sort of came out when I was seventeen to a very small group of friends, which very quickly became the whole school. That’s school for you! I was in the sixth form at the time. I didn’t come out to my family for another couple of years.
I was sat in my room one day, and it was kind of eating away at me. So I stormed downstairs – my mum was watching television – and I said, ‘Mum, I’m bisexual.’ And she said, ‘Okay,’ and I left the room. That’s about as good as it gets regarding parental reactions, as far as I’m concerned. I phoned my sister the same night to come out to her, and she came out to me as well. So it went doubly well, I think.
In motorsport, I’m not necessarily out. I think there are people who work in motorsport who are aware that I’m bi. I haven’t, like, announced it; I’m not advertising it, but I’m not hiding it either. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t define me. It doesn’t really need to have a place in my career, but at the same time – and I think this is a harsh truth of the world we still live in – I’m only twenty years old, and being very publicly out could come back to bite me. It can burn a few bridges.
I’m not saying I’ve had that direct experience in motorsport, because I haven’t and I’m very fortunate to not have come across that. Everyone’s been very lovely. But it’s not something I would want to take the risk on. So I’m not walking around shouting about it, but I’m not hiding it either.
BS So what have been your biggest struggles in your motorsport career?
CS The biggest thing has been finance. 100% finances! When I first started out, I was eighteen years old. I went to Formula E pre-season testing (for season two) about a week after I picked up my A Level results. I was working for a website that didn’t earn any money, so I couldn’t be paid for it. Everything that I did for journalism was funded by a part-time job that I have, and I’m still using that to fund my career, essentially.
It was that way for about eighteen months before I joined the Autosport Academy this January. They pay for the stuff I do for them – the work that goes in the mags, when I go to the 750 Motor Club races, which I’m the correspondent for this year. They’ll pay me for that. I’ve picked up a freelance job in PR that pays me, as well. But all the international stuff – my work for Formula Spy – I’m not being paid for.
So it has been a bit of a struggle. If I can get to the point where I can just do journalism and get paid to concentrate on motorsport, that’ll be a big moment in my career. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting there.
BS Have you experienced discrimination, or overheard homophobic comments and jokes? Conversely, are you ‘out’ enough for people to thank you for being visible?
CS I haven’t had so much experience of that in motorsport, and I’ve certainly never had any online hate. I’m really grateful for that, because there are a lot of people who do get that, and it’s really unfortunate. I’ve had some discrimination just in general, around town, but nothing overly dramatic. I don’t want to make it seem like I’ve got it bad, because really it’s been an odd comment here and there, which doesn’t upset me at all.
When Danny Watts came out, I did write a big thing about it on my Facebook and Twitter, because obviously there were people who didn’t quite see the point in him coming out, why the story was picked up by Autosport in the first place. I wrote a big thing about it – ‘Well, here’s the reason; that’s why he’s done it!’ – and I got a lot of positivity off of that. But in general day-to-day interactions, I’m not enough of a public LGBT+ figure to receive either good or bad comments from the wider community.
BS I’m glad you haven’t experienced the hate, but the gratitude stories I’ve heard have been really heart-warming. I hope as your career progresses you get to experience some of the community’s positive intention.
CS I hope so as well! I’d love to…even if I can influence one person, to help them achieve their goals, that’d be great. I’d like to think I’m not just being an influence to LGBT+ people. I hope I’m being an influence to other young people, sort of fifteen, sixteen years old, who think they can’t get into motorsport journalism because everyone in the Formula 1 paddock is forty or fifty years old. I mean, I’ve done that. I was nineteen when I first went to Barcelona for pre-season testing, and by far the youngest person there. So I hope I’m not just being an influence in one way, but in lots of different aspects. I hope that I can inspire people to think that they can achieve more.
BS So what do you say to people who said that Danny’s coming out story wasn’t news?
CS I think people who said it wasn’t news were looking at it from a very literal point of view. They’re saying, ‘What does it matter? It doesn’t make any difference to his driving,’ which is absolutely 100% correct. They’re not wrong on that.
But the reason it’s so important for LGBT+ people to get media exposure is for young people who are too afraid to be who they are. And this is something that Danny said – he worked in the high adrenaline, testosterone-filled, high octane world of motorsport. It is about as stereotypically masculine as it gets. This is a community that, really, is still very closed off to women. Advances are being made in that regard, but ninety-eight percent of people visible in motorsport are still men. I think even fewer people are openly LGBT+.
So if you’re a young queer person who wants a career in motorsport, there’s your new hero, your new icon. It’s a sign that there’s a path, that they can do this thing. It’s a sign that they’re safe and can be who they are no matter what they want to do as a career.
BS Would you still say that even in the context of some people thinking that Danny was trending because he’d had a fatal accident?
CS I think it says a lot more about the people reading it than it does about the people publishing it. That’s quite a leap to make, isn’t it? ‘Oh, someone’s trending; they must have died.’ That is quite the leap.
I know Danny isn’t someone who gets regular media coverage. LMP2 isn’t the most talked-about category, especially by the big generalist publications like Autosport. Most coverage focuses on the bigger picture. Not many people read about LMP2.
BS (Speaking as a long-standing Bruno Senna fan…) Mainstream coverage of WEC pretty much only focuses on the sharp end of LMP1.
CS Exactly. Thing is, the statistics speak for themselves, you know. Those guys go faster, so they get more coverage. LMP2 isn’t regularly in the news, but it is quite a leap to see someone’s name trending and assume the worst.
BS Especially since Twitter now puts those handy little subtitles under the trends these days...
CS Yeah, exactly. There's no reason to jump to conclusions and overreact.
BS There was an incident recently where a motorsport-LGBT+ tie-in was planned for an event, but the motorsport organisers postponed it because they were concerned that people would show up in assless chaps like they do at Pride parades. Do you think that’s an unfounded worry and a bit oppressive, or do we as the LGBT+ community need to shape up a bit?
CS I don’t think we need to shape up at all, so long as people aren’t being completely inappropriate at what is a family event. You know, Pride is…is…is Pride. It’s about being who you are and expressing yourself in the most wonderful and dynamic ways and I absolutely love that. But you wouldn’t go to a family event dressed in your Pride clothes, because that’s just wildly inappropriate. It’s got nothing to do with people being queer; it’s down to the way they dress as humans. Assless chaps are an inappropriate thing to be wearing.
That said, I do think that the viewpoint expressed by those event organisers is based on a media-created, stereotypical image of LGBT+ people. I think motorsport people should have the faith that LGBT+ people would not turn up in that kind of dress.
BS When Danny came out, there was talk about starting an official FIA organisation – in the same vein as initiatives like Arsenal FC’s Gay Gooners fan club – to represent LGBT+ interests in motorsport. Given the political orientation of motorsport governing bodies and their silence on his coming out, do you think it would be better to have an official initiative – that will probably be run by straight people – or a group organically formed and run by queer people?
CS I don’t want an LGBT+ fan group. That’s just separating us from the herd. I can see the benefit of an official organisation, because they can represent interests at a policy level. I’m maybe sceptical. I’m not sure what such an entity can bring to the table if they’re all straight.
Even just a space where LGBT+ people can come together and get things off their chest that have been bugging them, or talk about any experiences that they’ve had, then I think that’s a good thing. But in terms of the bigger picture, I don’t think such an organisation would have a massive impact in the way the world works.
BS It would have little impact even if it was run by queer people?
CS It would definitely help. But it depends what the LGBT+ community wants out of motorsport. I can’t speak for all LGBT+ people, of course, but if your average LGBT+ fan just wants to go to an event and enjoy it, then there’s nothing stopping them. I’ve never come across any issues with gay-bashing fans. I can definitely see the appeal in getting queer people together as a support system to bring up issues. But other than simply raising awareness of LGBT+ people in motorsport and making it less of an ‘odd’ scenario, I don’t think we have too many issues, to be honest.
BS What do you think motorsport entities – teams, series organisers, governing bodies – can do to be more supportive of the LGBT+ community?
CS Well, what was really great to see in the V8 supercars was there was the rainbow car, wasn’t there? it was great to see? I think more stuff like that. Find some LGBT+ sponsors – companies owned and run by queer people, brands that are popular in the LGBT+ community like Netflix, brands that have been vocally supportive of LGBT+ issues like P&G and Adidas. Things we can identify with. I think that’s very important.
What I don’t want to see is an LGBT+ dedicated fan group, because I think that’s separating people unnecessarily. I want to be able to talk to any motorsport fan. I don’t feel like they need to be an LGBT+ fan.
Make LGBT+ people feel safe, comfortable, and welcome – not making homophobic jokes and slurs at events or on social media, use queer-friendly branding and sponsorship – and they’ll find their way into motorsport on their own. You know, it needs to become less of a taboo. I think the media has a big part in that as well. I’m not just talking about in motorsport, things like Danny Watts getting news coverage for coming out. I’m talking about the media in general as well, because the images of LGBT+ people that are shown on television and movies at the moment…it’s getting better, but it’s not brilliant.
(I had a rant about Netflix cancelling Sense8 here, since that’s the most accurate and positive portrayal of queer and trans characters I’ve seen on TV thus far. Chris has never watched Sense8, and is clearly missing out on a key piece of LGBT+ pop culture. Netflix need to renew Sense8. Write to Netflix and tell them this, if you care about positive portrayals of LGBT+ characters in the media.)
BS What can individuals – fans, people who work in motorsport – do to be more supportive of LGBT+ community in motorsport?
CS I think just be kind people. There’s not really a lot to making LGBT+ people feel comfortable in the world we live in, but it makes such a massive difference when people make the effort. Doesn’t it? I know that homophobic language can be thrown around very casually. If people would nip that in the bud, it’d be a really great start. And just not see our being queer as such a big deal.
In terms of the big picture, we have a lot of progress still to make, but for the individual, my sexuality does not define me. People shouldn’t define me by it either. But in general, just keep being great, awesome, amazing people to all of your friends and the people you meet, regardless of whether they’re LGBT+ or not.
Evan Darling always loved motorsport, but came to racing as a career by accident. After moving out of his parents’ house when he came out (he has since reconciled with them), he became an auto mechanic to support himself. Soon after he started working as a mechanic, he built a club racing car – a Datsun 240Z – and raced it on and off in the nineties. He discovered he was actually good at racing, and got more serious as a result of doing well. He started winning more and more races, until he won a championship, and decided to race professionally.
He started racing in the GrandAm and World Challenge series in 2007, and got good results. He also publicly came out in 2007 in an attempt to raise awareness and support for the Trevor Project, an LGBT+ focussed anti-bullying campaign, among other queer philanthropic causes. The combination of being a polarising figure in a traditionally conservative sport, and the crash of the US economy in 2008 shrank his sponsorship pool. This led him to instructing as a means of earning a living while trying to raise enough sponsorship to continue racing professionally.
Bridget Schuil: What were your biggest struggles in motorsport before publicly coming out?
Evan Darling: Before coming out, my struggles were that pretty much everyone who wasn’t born into a giant pile of money has a hard time racing. Finding money to support my addiction without having the resources to do it on a level that I really wanted to was probably the biggest. I mean, I had a partner all the way through the nineties, when I got into this sport. He would come to races with me, and I never really hid it, but I never really talked about it. I never actually came out, but all the people who interacted with me knew the person I was with was my life partner. In the racing world, it really didn’t seem to be much of an issue.
When I went pro, it was a different story. Even today, as a peer or an instructor or paid driver at a club event, I get scrutinised a lot harder by other people. I think that’s because I’ve kind of earned my way up to a certain point, and so people get jealous. Petty people are really stupid to discriminate because someone’s earned something.
BS What have been your biggest struggles since coming out?
ED Acquiring and maintaining enough sponsorship to compete on the pro level.
And my other biggest struggle is what we’re doing right now – technology! (We were interviewing via Skype.) You know, communicating and technology. It’s not using the devices, the operating of all these new apps and programs that I struggle with; it’s being able to keep up with them all. There’s just so many forms of communication. It’s not just email any more. It’s different messaging, different ways to share data. It’s really getting kind of mind-boggling for me. I’m trying to keep up with it and stay with the times and utilise all these channels to get sponsorship, but it’s really difficult.
BS So do you get a lot of online hate?
ED I have gotten quite a bit of it. It comes and goes. Whenever I try to do a publicity campaign, or I try to raise funds and put it on my Facebook fan page, I get inundated with really, really awful small-minded comments. I try to delete it, and put a positive spin on everything.
Like, this past week, I was pretty much off the grid because I was doing the AIDS/Life Cycle ride. It’s seven days; we went five hundred and forty-five miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and raised fifteen million dollars. It was a real positive, fun thing. We stayed in these little camp grounds. It’s pretty amazing. If you look at my Facebook feed, you can see pictures. My business partner Brian Darling – no relation, other than a common surname – and I raised a significant amount of money for the cause, and I went and rode and did the whole event. It was a pretty life-changing experience.
BS So tell us a bit more about Life Cycle.
ED This is the twenty-fourth year Life Cycle has been running. It started out as a little event to raise funds and awareness for AIDS and HIV. Now, it’s the biggest annual fundraising event – I’m pretty sure it’s the biggest – for HIV/AIDS in the world. It happens every year. It supports the San Fransisco and Los Angeles LGBT Centres. It helps people within the community get the medications and healthcare they need. Especially in today’s times in this country, people with HIV and AIDS are on edge because of the things that are happening with health insurance.
I mean, there were a lot of people that were displaced from their families and homes; they don’t have anywhere to turn; they weren’t able to get the education they may have wanted to get, or pursue the potential they could have achieved. They can’t afford to have all this wonderful health insurance that costs eight hundred or a thousand dollars a month. If you’re infected or have a terminal illness or a pre-existing condition, your insurance can be two or three thousand dollars a month, which is simply unaffordable for someone who’s just trying to survive. It’s kind of a tough deal.
This whole ride brings awareness and much-needed money to those causes. And it is an absolute tonne of fun. I mean, there’s themes, everybody’s enthusiastic, and it’s three thousand people. There’s six hundred and fifty roadies – people who support the whole circus that goes from town to town – while we get on our bikes and ride anywhere from sixty-five to a hundred and ten miles a day. It’s pretty epic. So my back hurts, and my legs hurt right now. I have a pretty stiff racing bike, and it really took its toll on me. I just finished a little nap, and I’m going to go sleep like a baby tonight!
BS Do young queer kids contact you to express gratitude for your being out and visible?
ED Oh, I’ve got a lot of wonderful friends on Facebook – on my fan page and my personal page – and I get people thanking me all the time. Strangely, I get a lot of straight people coming up to me. I’ve had a few incredible experiences where I was at a race and someone came up to me and actually thanked me for coming out. I’ve looked at them and thought, ‘You’re a sixty-something year-old straight guy, what’s the deal here?’ Then I find out that their kid had come out, and they’re trying to find common ground to talk. The father is a racing enthusiast – and the kid may have no interest in race cars – but at least now he’s got something he can talk to his kid about. Like, ‘Oh, there’s a gay racer.’
My original charity that I was trying to help was called the Trevor Project. It’s a teen LGBT+ suicide prevention website and resource. It’s very important. You talk about statistics, and how many kids out there are committing suicide. It happens more often than people really want to understand. You really can’t count how many of these kids are committing suicide because they are LGBT+. They can’t help it, and they can’t come to terms with it, so they make this terrible thing happen, and we lose them. And that’s one more life we could have somehow saved, just through being happy, comfortable, and ourselves. My goal has always been to say who you love should not determine who you can and cannot be. That’s my motto, and it encapsulates everything I represent.
BS Have you used being out and queer as a USP to differentiate yourself in your sponsorship search, and has it helped or hindered your career, or made no difference?
ED On the sponsorship side, I think it’s hindered, for the most part, because it shrunk my base. The way I see it now in retrospect, I can understand. Even if it’s a really LGBT-friendly company already in sponsoring race cars, they’re going to be very reluctant to sponsor a gay person, because they’re just going to lose market share from the existing conservative fans. Yes, they’d gain fans for showing support, but it’s a risky thing to do for a very large corporation.
Where I thought it would help me – and I’m still hoping it will – is that I can find a company that has the foresight to do something like this that isn’t already a racing sponsor. If they want to get into this industry, they’re not going to lose anyone; they’re going to gain people for their support. So I’m trying to target the fashion and jewellery industry, and a few others that you don’t really see on the sides of race cars. So I’m trying to push in that direction and see where that goes. Hopefully someone’s brave enough to slap their brand on me, and let me wave the flag for them, so to speak.
BS What would you say to people who said that Danny Watts’ coming out was ‘not news’?
ED Well, it is news. A lot of people fault a lot of sportspeople for coming out after the fact – when people retire, and then they come out – and that happens a lot in this country.
BS That was a theme in the data I collected on the response to Danny’s coming out.
ED Well, yeah, it’s true, and it’s what’s on people’s minds, so it does come to the front as one of the comments that people come up with. You’ve got to look at it from his perspective as well. He was married, and he came out later in life, and he had his realisations later in life. So he was already embedded in his career. Coming out is pretty profound. It could end his marriage and his career, all in one shot. So I’m sure he had to keep it pretty quiet, or risk damaging everything he’s all about.
From my perspective, I came out at the beginning of my professional career, hoping that it could carry me a little bit. There are a lot of football, baseball, and basketball players who come out, but they generally come out at the end of their careers – in the twilight of their careers or after they’ve already retired. So I’m trying to blaze a new path, and give people something to watch, so they can say ‘Hey look, the gay guy’s on TV racing a car! Let’s see what he does.’ You know, even if it’s just that, I don’t care. If it gets people to turn the TV on and watch, for the series – GrandAm and World Challenge and IMSA, all the series that I really strive to be part of – I think they would benefit from that. Even if people aren’t understanding what LGBT+ people are, I think this would give me a chance to show people that we’re just like everyone else. I can win a race. It doesn’t matter that I am who I am.
BS There was an incident recently where a planned LGBT+/motorsport event tie-in was postponed because the motorsport group organising the event were concerned that people would show up in clothes that were inappropriate for a family atmosphere. Do you think that the fear of men showing up in assless chaps is an unfair stereotype of LGBT+ people, or do we need to do something different in our public image?
ED I think there really is a middle-ground balance for all that. I mean, yeah, if you go to a Pride parade, it can get a little racy. Especially in some of the bigger cities, it can get a little out of control. Just like any community, there’s a side to it that people see, and there’s a side to it that people judge. If someone goes to a queer sporting event – like a gay run, or the Life Cycle – there’s going to be some campy style in there. That’s perfectly fine; it’s personal expression. We’re human; we need to do that.
At Pride events, it’s kind of expected that people dress in crazy, outlandish outfits. That’s part of our culture, really, and that’s something that needs to be accepted. If you don’t like it, then don’t go to it. But I don’t think a big ol’ guy in assless chaps should be sticking his rear end in a nine year-old girl’s face at the side of the road during a parade. You know, don’t bring your child to a Pride parade, but don’t bring your assless chaps to a St Patrick’s Day parade. That’s sort of the balance that needs to be found. Everybody needs to respect each other, and then we can all get along. If we don’t respect each other, we won’t get along.
Just look at the US. It’s beginning to be a disaster in some areas. It’s crazy. It’s more divided than ever. I’m hoping something happens, something changes. So that’s my perspective on that. That’s the ‘assless chaps’ speech.
BS Other sports have official LGBT+ organisations – for example, Arsenal FC’s Gay Gooners Fan Club. When Danny came out, there was talk of starting an official FIA organisation. Given the political orientation of motorsport governing bodies, do you think it would be better to have an organically-formed queer-led organisation, or an official initiative run by well-meaning but probably straight people?
ED I think there should be no difference between straight and gay, as far as the racing organisations are concerned. We have some ‘racing for diversity’ programs and stuff here, but I think within big organisations like the FIA, if we had LGBT+ organisations formed through those, the initiatives would probably fizzle out, because it needs to be run by someone that puts it together as an LGBT+ person, or a fan, or a person who understands the problems. If, say a person from the racing community that comes out and they go to the FIA or whoever, and they want to start as part of the FIA, that would be a great thing. I think that would work.
But just a bunch of straight people saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to have a diversity program. It’ll work. We’ll just say that everyone’s accepted and everybody can join up here,’ I think that would just fizzle out and disappear. That would de-emphasise who we really are. I think a fan-led thing is more acceptable, and having an equal receptacle in the FIA to accept these groups and organisations as any organisation is where it needs to be. You need people on both sides.
BS What can motorsport entities – teams, series, and governing bodies – do to be more supportive of the LGBT+ community?
ED They can give me a drive! (Laughs.) The organisations themselves…I think maybe get a little bit more gender equal, a little less with the grid girls and trophy girls. I don’t know if you follow cycling at all, but the European and Australian circuits are quite funny because they have pro racing for women and men. There’s hundreds of years of heritage on this. So the pro guys come in, and they always have really pretty trophy girls kissing the winner on both cheeks at the same time. And there’s some really funny characters who’ve poked fun at the whole tradition and got himself in quite a pickle a few times.
But if you look at how it’s been handled there, you can see how it’s weird. They tried to have paddock boys for the women’s race, and had guys wearing these little speedos, trying to kiss the girls, and the women are like ‘Why is this strange man trying to kiss me?’ type thing. It was really awkward, and it’s assuming that everyone is straight and want random people of the opposite gender to kiss them. I suppose if we wanted to make it really awkward, we could put a guy on one side and a girl on the other and see what happens. It would be really awkward on TV, and kind of highlight how weird the tradition is. That stuff needs to go away.
In advertising, you’re always going to have the hot guys and the pretty girls and stuff, because it sells. I fully understand that, but in celebration and official business, I think it should probably get put in a drawer and closed and left there. (Laughs.)
BS What can individual straight fans and motorsport workers do to show their support for the LGBT+ community?
ED They can support their local gay racer, or LGBT+ person that’s in racing in some form. You might not know who they are, so welcome everyone to the motorsport community with open arms. I mean, in this country, it really kinda starts on the racial side. We have a lot of racial issues in this country. There’s a line, and we’re way in the back. The white guy hates the black guy, and then they finally accept the black guy, and the black guy and the white guy hate the gay guy.
How does this all work? How can we get everyone together? Maybe we can start a hashtag or something that gets everyone together, for each person to individually and publicly commit to accepting people for who they are, and not who they love. That would be the first great step, to have general people say ‘It doesn’t matter to me. We love you regardless. We like to watch racing, not watching a drama unfold from your personal life.’
I just want to be a race car driver. That’s where I’m happy. I get in the car; I strap in; I race. I do well, and that’s what makes me happy. When you’re racing in a car, going around a track, everything is covered. You don’t know who’s in that car. it could be a three-headed alien being, operating the car from outer space. You don’t know. It doesn’t matter who you are; you’re just racing a car.
That’s the beauty of motorsport is it doesn’t matter who you are if you can drive. If you’re good at wheeling a car, you’re good at wheeling a car. That’s what counts. Once the helmet goes on, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight; you’re a racer. If people understand that – that we’re here for the sport, and we’re here for the fans. If our personal life becomes an interesting part of that, that’s fine too. If people do a search and look up their favourite driver or rider or whatever, and follow us. If they’re not interested in that and they don’t want to see it, they don’t have to look at it. I just want to be accepted as a driver