Exciting news! We’re delighted to announce a partnership with GridPasses to sponsor a young freelance journalist’s travel to a race later in the year.
For the last two years, we’ve been running a column in which we asked women in motorsport what their biggest challenge was. The answer – bar none, regardless of which field within motorsport they worked in – was finances. The recent pay-gap data (which I discuss here, and Sidepodcast discusses here and here) sheds light on the severity of the situation.
GridPasses have always agreed with us that finances were a pain point in motorsport, and they have donated money to issue a grant to followers of this site. The recipient of the grant will be asked to
GridPasses specialises in motorsport business stories and branding - the real engine behind motorsports. They also host a regular invite-only Motorsport Business Roundtables at which Business Strategists, Motorsport Marketers and Business Development Managers discuss latest trends in the business. (The latest edition of the Roundtable column is here) They have also been involved in several charity fundraising drives including Zoom Auction, Laureus Sports for Good and Red Bull Spine Injuries charity “Wings for Life”.
GridPasses said, “Having been involved in motorsports for several years, we are pleased to be able to support upcoming talent with Motorsport Sisterhood - especially those currently under-represented. We hope this will be the first of many grants awarded and we hope to kickstart motorsport careers for many young women.”
Brij Schuil, CEO of Motorsport Sisterhood said, “We am thrilled to partner with GridPasses in issuing this grant. Funding young talent, especially talent from marginalised groups, has always been a goal of this organisation. I am deeply grateful to GridPasses for this donation initiative. Journalists are, on average, among the lowest-paid members of the motorsport community, and therefore this partnership fills an under-served niche in the tribe.”
Up to a maximum of 300 Euros
If you have any queries or if you wish to apply, send an email and requested information to email@example.com with subject line: “Application for 2018 GridPasses Travel Grant”
Deadline for applying for the travel grant is Thursday 28th June 2018, 22:00hrs GMT. Motorsport events for which the travel grant is used, are to be attended and reported by 31st December 2018; 23.59hrs GMT.
I have several apologies to make, so I’m going to put them all in one post. Let me start off by saying that I acknowledge that it’s my fault. Not in a nihilistic sort of a way, but in the sort of way that, ultimately, my choices were my own and I’m therefore responsible for them. Making excuses about circumstances does nothing other than make me feel like I’ve strengthened my position, and therefore undermine how you see me. Determinism, while useful as an ethical thought experiment, doesn’t leave enough room for accountability.
Firstly, I’m sorry for my sporadic posting. I didn’t figure out how to make org plans and editorial calendars when I first started this site, and after a while it seemed a bit redundant to do that kind of planning work. However, popular wisdom holds that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I guess I kinda planned to fail.
Because of that mistake, I didn’t have a brand identity. I didn’t have an underlying structure to fall back on when the person who plagiarised my org idea and original web copy did that. I forgot that I was supposed to be serving my reader – you – and allowed myself to be sucked into the abyss of resentment and disenfranchisement. That built up the pressure in the Aquifer of Rage until pretty much everyone within striking distance was a target.
Quick side note: I have bipolar mood disorder. One of the symptoms of BMD is that I have an aquifer of irrational rage in my unconscious that can erupt at any moment. It’s a bit like Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, except less chronologically predictable. As with normal aquifers, it’s possible to pump water into it from the surface. Instead of having it out with someone when I start getting irritated by them, my habit is to just pump those feelings down into the Aquifer of Rage. Instead of publishing screenshots of her website and mine to give evidence of the theft, I changed my web copy and stewed about her wrongdoing. It’s taken me several decades of being symptomatic of this illness to get to the point of regular meditation for a prolonged period, and therefore being able to recognise when I’m erupting and withdraw to re-find the centre.
I’m sorry I lost sight of the overarching goal of serving my reader. I’m sorry I let my resentment blow me off course. I’m sorry I moved out of compassion and service, and therefore away from my values. I was wrong. Several creativity podcasts I’ve been listening to recently have talked about the primacy of service. In my re-structure, I’ve made serving the reader one of the priorities of this org.
If you’re one of the people I’ve taken that rage out on, I’m really sorry that I hurt your feelings. Doing what Brené Brown calls “displacing unpleasant emotions” is a destructive and, if we’re honest, immature way of dealing with feelings. I’m sorry I did that to you. If you would like a personalised apology, please contact one of the Sisterhood social media accounts’ inbox, and explain how I hurt you. I’ll reply and take responsibility for my actions. If you feel like I need to make restitution to you, please include suggestions of what would make you feel vindicated.
Some of the spewing of my rage was directed towards men who were giving me PR tips to improve feminism. In a way, I’m sorry I’m not sorry. This form of mansplaining has grated the carrots of feminists around the world since the movement began, and the criticisms (certainly the ones directed at me) often take the form of tone policing and gaslighting, and betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is trying to achieve. On the other hand, I am sorry. Titan TV writer, Shonda Rimes, has a practice, when the men in charge of the studio give her silly notes on her scripts (eg. “Can’t Christina and Meredith just hug each other?”), of just saying, “mm-hmm?” and letting the silence hang until they explain what they mean in a way that she can adjust for in the script. I should have done that instead of blowing up at y’all. I’m really sorry.
To Sebastian Vettel, Joe Saward, and Max Verstappen (hopefully I’ve pinged all y’all’s Google Alerts by printing your full names), I’m sorry for serving you each a slice of revenge pie. I was wrong to shame you publicly for comments that you made from a place of unconscious bias rather than active malice. At least, I think, looking back, that your comments are biased rather than intentionally abusive. I set a bad example to my readers.
I’m sorry for name-calling and pathologising. Even if it wasn’t directed at you personally, I’m sorry. Judgement is an unpleasant thing to be around, and I’m sorry I’ve been that person. After reading up on the motivations of internet trolls, I became confident that anyone who was a jerk on social media scored high on one of the Dark Triad personality traits. Researcher/storyteller, Brené Brown, talks at length in her work about how judgement undermines trust. Peacemaker, Marshall Rosenberg, talks at length about how judgement gets in the way of peacemaking.
I’m sorry I walked away from my authenticity. I became so convinced of my rightness that I lost sight of my moral responsibilities. The Bible (my sacred text of tradition and choice) says things like “in your anger, do not sin” and “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.” The amount of resentment I pumped into my well of emotion (and was therefore tapping in my writing) was the opposite of humility, mercy, justice, and not sinning.
In light of the mistakes I’ve made that necessitated the last five paragraphs of apology, I’m re-directing my editorial policy to aim for compassion. I can’t guarantee I’ll hit compassion every time. I’m pretty sure only people like Oprah and the Dalai Lama achieve that consistently. However, if the social media analysis projects have taught me anything, it’s that we as a society need to let go of our need to be right and operate from compassion. Megan Phelps Roper, who left Westboro Baptist Church, talks about how she was raised to believe that rightness justifies rudeness. I think, if Twitter’s current vibe is any indication, that most of us were raised to think that.
A side-effect of my lack of a post-plagiarism org plan has been that all my ideas for money making were scrambled. I had ideas for events, services, and products, which were all swiped in the plagiarism, meaning that, if I did them, I’d look like the copy-cat. Internet marketing guru, Gary Vaynerchuk, says that there’s no prize for originality in entrepreneurship. Author of “High Performance Habits,” Brendon Burchard, says that creativity and originality aren’t strongly correlated with sustained high performance. All due respect to them, creativity is a value of mine, and I don’t feel good about myself when I churn out mediocre, derivative junk. It may not strongly predict my success, but, for better or worse, it’s part of my identity.
It’s taken me disproportionately long to get out of my head and create something of value for you, dear reader. Because of that, I’ve been ineffective, because I’ve had no money in the org with which to do things. I’m currently behind on payments to several people including, and I need to apologise for that. I’m really sorry I let my mental blocks get in the way of being an effective org. The lack of organisational finance has absolutely not been serving you, my reader.
I’ve made a book. It’ll be on pre-order from 19th April, 2018. It’s about consent, and my chosen subject matter is a huge part of why I need to make this series of apologies. In the process of writing it, I’ve realised how many mistakes I’ve been making in terms of being aligned with my values (and how long I've been misaligned with my values! Wow!), and therefore how much undoing I need to do. I’ve built some free products into the marketing plan, so if you’re short on funds you’ll still have access to the information. But the book (and associated offerings) is to make a fund big enough to effectively serve my readership. To build that fund with a clear conscience, I need to stay in my integrity. To be in my integrity, I need to make amends for past wrongdoing. If you'll give me a second chance, I would like to make good on it.
Je suis désolé, mes chéries.
Our Woman of the Week is Ruth Nugent, a twenty-three year-old marshal turned driver from County Meath in Ireland. She started marshalling alongside her dad at the age of twelve, after catching the motorsport bug from him. She is driving in the Fiesta ZETEC Championship in 2018 as the realisation of a life-long dream to race. We caught up with her ahead of the season.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Ruth Nugent: My first memory of any sort of motorsport would be motocross. We lived very near a motocross track and my dad owned a trials bike up until I was about four years old. He was always down there or down at the beach. I remember sneaking into his shed and climbing on shelves, just to try sit on the bike for a magical minute! He was motorsport mad and I was lucky enough he shared this interest with me.
BS And your favourite?
RN My favourite memory though was my first time marshalling in Mondello Park with him. It was a rallycross event and we were marshalling a corner as well as being on tow-in duty. I was completely mesmerized by everything happening around me! It was my first memory of ever feeling an adrenaline rush just watching a sport. I especially enjoyed getting to help rescue a broken down or crashed rallycross car. It was like meeting a celebrity on the red carpet for me! I felt so privileged to be a marshal, to get this sort of opportunity.
BS What motivated you to start marshalling? And what inspired the move over to racing?
RN My dad asked me to go with him one weekend, and that was that. I was sold. Some people don’t understand why we’d volunteer to stand out in all sorts of weather for hours at a time, risk getting ourselves involved in an accident, or willingly attend a crash or fire. There’s one real reason why, and that’s our love for motorsport in its entirety. I’ve had drivers ask me why in the world we would work a whole weekend out on track for free. The truth is it’s because we don’t have either the money or the courage to race, mostly because we don’t have the money. But we absolutely adore the buzz of being right in the middle of the action and being able to help out.
Moving over to racing was something I’ve wanted to do since the first day I marshaled, but the harsh truth as we all know is that it was just too expensive to even consider. After I finished college and got myself a good job, I decided to do it. I’ll give it a go now while I’ve got the chance.
BS How did you get from where you started to where you are now?
RN Everything I learned from then to now came through other people. I wasn’t afraid to ask questions, even the ones people might’ve thought were a bit obvious, because that’s how I learned everything that got me to where I am now. I hadn’t a notion on how to get into racing. Things like who to go to, and how much everything cost aren’t open topics of conversation, so I learned how to do it through networking and building friendships around the paddock. Some of our marshals marshal when they’re not racing, and were more than happy to answer questions and give me tips. Once I got figures, I worked out what’s affordable and what’s not, and went from there. My big tip is networking, and getting to know people in the motorsport family near you. I’ve been lucky to meet people spotting me from the control tower or the stands to give me tips on how to approach a corner differently for a better lap time. Or people who can give me the best advice with regards to seeking sponsorship. Or even people who don’t know me, but have offered me valuable advice, skills, and even mechanical tips.
BS Who would you say has been the most supportive of your motorsport career?
RN My dad is getting a huge shout-out here. I’d have to say him first. He’s spent his whole life involved in some sort of motorsport, and he always dreamed of racing, it just wasn’t something he could afford. So when I decided to give it a shot, he was super supportive and excited and couldn’t wait to help out and get involved.
My boyfriend has absolutely no interest in motorsport, but has been incredibly supportive and helpful. He’s excited. I think secretly he loves telling people that his girlfriend is going to be a racing driver!
I can’t not mention my marshal family. They were so unbelievably proud that I was going to go out and give it a shot. They’re excited to support me, and they’ll be marshalling at nearly all the rounds of my championship this season. It’ll be great to have familiar faces at each corner.
BS Where there any marshals (other than your dad, obviously) or racers you look/ed to as role models?
RN We have a few marshals who race in the Masters Superbike Championship here in Ireland, and I’ve always admired their dedication to the sport. Whatever events they weren’t racing at, they were out on the banks marshalling. That’s exactly what I plan to do this year. I’d miss marshalling too much if I didn’t do it for a whole year.
She’s going to kill me for mentioning her, but Nicole Drought (former ITCC champion and currently competing in Strykers) was someone who I always knew of. It was genuinely inspiring to watch her achieve so much so quickly in motorsport. We met by accident in the Mondello paddock once, and since then we’ve been two peas in a pod. She’s given me a lot of insight into what to expect as a newbie, and also as a woman in the sport. She’s even recruited me as her navigator for some ALMC endurance trials this year. We competed in our first round last month, and came first in class. It was definitely more down to her driving than my navigating! You can put her in any car and she’ll drive it past its limits. She’s been a huge help and role model.
BS Onto the habits section, can we talk about your workouts? Have you upped your intensity since deciding to start racing?
RN I knew from my first track day that I needed to increase my upper body strength, so it’s been something I’ve had to incorporate into my everyday training. I’ve also tried to increase core strength, and change my lower body workout. I feel like my hips would benefit the most from more strength, as they’re something that ached the most after being in the car for a day. I have Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia, and they’re both illnesses that can suck the energy from me before I’ve even begun. I’ve been trying to keep on top of all my symptoms and how best to manage them. I’ve never let them stop me before, so I’m certainly not going to stop now. But they will add a little challenge to the training and race days!
BS How do you manage those? Are you worried about medication for your illnesses affecting your driving?
RN I’m not on medication at the moment. I try to avoid it whenever I can because the side effects can be nasty. I kept a food diary for a while, and that helped eliminate a lot of trigger foods. However, I’m still finding out the hard way what foods don’t agree with me. In the last year, I found that once I listened to my body and what it needs, I could usually avoid doctor’s visits. I found going mainly vegetarian helped a lot too.
BS Do you have a meditation routine or spiritual practice as part of your self-care ritual? Do you find it helps your mental balance?
RN Illnesses like these have brought major anxiety into my life, so I had to develop my own self-awareness and ways of dealing with it by myself. Mindfulness is something I’m using to manage that. It helps me accept a lot more on bad days and keeps the balance that I work hard to maintain.
BS Do you do any kinds of self-care for your headspace, like journalling? I find Morning Pages and bullet journalling help me stay on top of my symptoms.
RN Yeah, I’m old school. I’ve kept personal diaries since I was seven years old, and they’re where I can put down my thoughts to try understand them better. It’s also good for me to read back over them, and give myself credit for getting past what’s bothered me then.
I’ve written a few pieces for people like the Irish Society of Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. That was hard in the beginning, but fantastic for my own mind. It was especially good when other patients contacted me to let me know that my work had helped them feel validated in their struggles.
(One of my favourite sociology researchers, Brené Brown, says lessons move from the head to the heart through the hands. I’m glad the coping strategy that emerged from her data on wholehearted people has helped you too!)
BS Onto the challenges section, have you had a hard time finding funding, or has the sponsor search been easy for you? What are some things you found that helped?
RN I knew seeking sponsorship would be hard, so I had a fair idea before starting out. Because I work for the Mondello Park Track Team, Mondello have agreed to help me out. We’ve agreed to work together to make vlogs (episode 1 above) following my transition from a marshal to a driver. We’re hoping to inspire more people to take an interest in the sport, bring more marshals in, and hopefully get more girls and women interested in a sport that has traditionally been made up of mostly men.
The rest of my sponsors are more there fore support than financial help, which I totally expected seeing as I’m only starting out as a racer this year. It’s hard to get a reply out of some people regarding sponsorship, and you’ve got to be careful what approach you choose to take too. I found if you find a company that can relate to something about you, you can give them a reason to support you. For example, my local tyre fitment and crash recovery centre agreed to support me this year as I could relate to them from working as a marshal and on the fast intervention/tow-in vehicle on track. I took the road safety and crash recovery perspective when approaching them for sponsorship.
I knew I wouldn’t receive huge financial support from anyone this year as I’m new to racing and have something to prove first. Therefore, it’s purely up to little ol’ me to pay for myself this year! I’m working hard, saving as much as possible so I can try get a full season in. the society for Crohn’s disease were also delighted to be on board to raise awareness of the disease in a way that’s very different to most of the media coverage.
BS Do you feel like you’ve been treated differently at the track because you’re a woman?
RN Over the years, yes. As I got older, I began to open up and socialise around the paddock, and I met more marshals, officials, and drivers. Most men were friendly, but there were the odd few that dropped comments here or there that soon made me realise I stood out more than I thought.
I’ve said this before in an interview, but one of the most common comments I got from when I was about fifteen was, “What are you doing marshalling when someone like you could be a grid girl out there?” [Sarcastically…] Yes, because I’m a woman, all I’m good for is standing out there with fewer clothes on holding an umbrella over a man? Not a chance! I would never say it’s all men, because it’s not. But it’s shameful how many still believe women aren’t made for driving, or genuinely don’t believe we have an equal part to play in this sport.
BS So your opinion on F1’s recent decision about grid girls?
RN I can see it from both sides. The women who worked as grid girls enjoyed it. That job was part of their employment, so I can empathise with the loss of a job. But I feel the bigger picture is women in motorsport. Women who live and breathe motorsport who have been fighting for years to be seen and treated as an equal, rather than being sexualised. Women who’ve stuck it out in a male-dominated sport because they love competing.
Grid girls have been a marketing and promotional tradition for years, but I feel that they didn’t really serve a purpose in the sport. I feel the proposition of bringing in grid kids is fantastic, as this will encourage kids to get the once-in-a-lifetime chance of being in the pit lane with their role model drivers. Getting involved young is how almost every racer in the top series made their start.
BS Do you feel like your illnesses have affected the way people treat you?
RN No, not really. I’m quite open about it because it’s a part of my life and it’s going to affect me whether I like it or not. I just take it on board. I guess because I’ve taken that approach with it, people I’ve told have sort of adopted it too. Our chief marshals will always listen to me if I request to be posted on a corner where I can access a toilet quickly if needed, or if I want to work on tow-ins so I can be seated and in a warm place for the day but carry on working. Similarly, our ambulance team have been hugely helpful and understanding on days when I needed help with something.
BS I’m really glad they’ve been accommodating! It’s heartening to hear. Have you worked outside Ireland enough for a question about xenophobia to be relevant here in the context of how much hate has erupted since the Brexit vote?
RN I’ve never worked outside of Ireland, so I wouldn’t say so! Give me a few more years under my belt and I’ll see what I can conjure up!
BS Do you think motorsport has a culture of consent, or is there some more work we can do?
RN What do you mean by a culture of consent?
BS A culture of asking for and respecting consent (consent as in, informed, enthusiastic, and sober permission that is continuous throughout the interaction, whether or not that interaction is romantic or sexual in nature).
RN Aha, so like men coming up to me, not asking me who I am and just shoving unhelpful or inaccurate “advice” down my throat and then walking away? No consent there!
BS Yeah, something like that. So, that’s a “motorsport could do some work” vote?
RN Yeah, we could definitely do with a bit more work there!
BS Do you feel pressure to be heterosexy (from Griffin, 1995, who talked about how women athletes are expected to be pretty in a way that straight men find sexy)? (I love that word, and am trying to make it more common.)
RN Well, I could see why I might feel pressured to be heterosexy, but I’m not that type of person. And yeah, it’s such a valid word for that topic!
BS I guess your sponsor strategy is more focused on competence than heterosexiness, given that your partners are mostly automotive and motorsport service/product providers.
RN Yeah, I carefully planned that, and so far so good. Seriously, though, I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve used my experience and the contacts I’ve made over the years the best I can to do this season.
BS What do you think motorsport can do to be more environmentally sustainable? Should we be working on tyre solutions, alternative energy, and those aspects, or is it enough to offset our carbon footprints with tree planting?
RN I work for the electricity supply board here in Ireland, and I’m always reading about how our company is trying to incorporate more sustainable strategies. They’re trying to adopt new ways of becoming a more eco=friendly company, and are really starting to focus on renewable energy. This often makes me think about how we could do the same in motorsport. Most classic petrolheads stick their noses up at the implementation of Formula E, but I personally think it’s fantastic. If we’re being realistic, electric or even hybrid cars can make a huge difference to the environment and how people perceive motorsport. Although hybrids may not be the most fancy and impressive cars, they output exceptionally low CO2 emissions, and give a level of fuel efficiency never seen before in the sport. If it was put forward and supported more, we might start to see more sustainable forms of motorsport, and not just in top-tier series like F1 and Formula E.
BS Do you think motorsport needs a new business model now that the recession and social media have changed how we do advertising, branding, and marketing?
RN Yes, absolutely. Social media especially has changed pretty much everything when it comes to advertising and marketing. Only the most popular and well-funded forms of motorsport have caught up with the changing times. Small, local forms of national motorsport struggle to keep up, and get people interested in their events and even the sport itself. If a new business model was to be implemented, national forms of motorsport need to adopt the new strategies too. After all, all the big names in motorsport started in the small, less popular series and clubs.
BS Last question: do you have any advice for youngsters interested in getting involved in the sport?
RN Yes. If you get the opportunity to do it, start young. Start out in karting. So many drivers have said this to me, and I agree with them. It’s the best way to start off and see if you’re made for this sport. Also, if you end up adoring it, get a part-time job while in school, because you’re going to want to start saving!
Jokes aside, it’s not impossible. The best advice I can give is to network. Go to events and meet new people, because you’ll never know what opportunities arise!
Follow Ruth on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Follow Mondello Park’s YouTube channel to follow her season vlog.
In January of 2017, I got an email via the website contact form from a racing driver named Danny Watts. At first, I thought he was joking about being gay and wanting to come out. The gossip I’d heard about him and his womanising habits cast doubt on that, until I realised that going to the opposite extreme was a good cover for being gay in a sport where hegemonic masculinity* rules. We agreed that I’d coordinate a press storm to get the story out there, and in return I’d have access to his social media data. Danny’s story broke on 20th February, in a handful of media outlets, including Autosport, Daily Sports Car and Gay Times.
* Hegemonic masculinity: an idealised norm for manhood that we’ve accepted as self-evident and police in the men in our lives (we also enforce hegemonic femininity, but another story, another time). This ideal man is strong, fearless (actually, emotionless, except for happy, fine, and angry), successful, confidently (hetero)sexual, etc. He’s also usually white, usually rich, and usually a dyed-in-the-wool capitalist. Think pretty much any character played by a Hemsworth, with the notable exception being Chris’ role in Ghostbusters, in which he was the comic foil to the women principals.
I caught up with Danny on the anniversary of his coming out story breaking to find out how his life had changed in the past year. I wanted to know if being out was as freeing as he’d thought it would be.
BS What were you expecting from coming out?
DW I was fully prepared for some abuse and haters, but actually everyone was very cool indeed! I didn’t want to drip feed my situation and wanted to get it all out there in one big hit so I wasn’t asked the same questions over and over at race tracks when coaching. It’s not really a story, and nobody cares, which is great. I can get on with what I enjoy the most, which is mentoring and coaching.
BS You don’t think it was a bit disproportionate that people were using all caps and multiple emotional punctuation marks when they said “who cares?!” and “this isn’t news!” In your mind, is people making the story a non-issue a way to minimise the discussion of LGBT people in motorsport?
DW Fuck, that’s a hard question!
BS I know, I’ve been pondering and reading around it since I started scraping Twitter’s response to your story, and reading around it for a year, and I still don’t have an answer.
DW I suppose Winter Olympics is a good example. There are quite a few openly gay and lesbian people, and the audience has no issue whatsoever. I ghess times have changed and it’s much more acceptable to be LGBT these days without anyone batting an eyelid.
BS do you think your stress levels are lower, higher, or no different now than before you came out? Did it help you to relax, knowing that everyone knew and you wouldn’t be blindsided by being outed accidentally?
DW It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I was scared to death when the announcement was done. Just the worry and thoughts of what people would think about me. Since coming out of the closet I have had lots of messages from people in and out of motorsport, and it’s nice to know that there are other queer sportspeople. Most of the other gay athletes in motorsport choose to stay behind closed doors. I don’t think my stress levels have changed much. I’m the same. I still do the same job and coach for drivers all over.
BS Do you think people have treated you differently now than before you came out?
DW I haven’t noticed a change in the way people treat me. Most have been great and nothing’s changed. A few have been a bit awkward, but you expect that to some extent.
BS What do you think governing bodies (series organisers, etc.) can do to make their areas of motorsport more friendly to queer folk?
DW I’m not sure. For them, being straight is normal, so they don’t really understand what we go through. I don’t think they really think much about us, to be honest. They’ve got other stuff going on.
BS Do you think there’s hope that the sport will be more open in the future?
DW I always live in hope that all sports become more accepting and open, including motorsport. Rainbow Laces and Stonewall are pioneers, as well as the EGLSF. If you look at football as an example, it’s no longer allowed to shout homophobic stuff at matches, but, as always, there’s more we can do.
BS What steps do you see other sports taking that could benefit us?
DW Being more open, approachable, and supportive, really. I hid who I was for many years, and there are lots of other sportspeople in the same situation who are hiding their real selves. Having a person or a group to talk to will help others coming out.
BS Overall, do you think coming out has changed your life? If so, how?
DW Coming out hasn’t really changed anything. My professional life is the same in terms of coaching and mentoring drivers. I’ve met some great people in the LGBT activism sector, who have been into the scene a lot longer than me. It’s been good to mix with them as racing has taken up so much of my time.
Here's a little-known PSA from Evan Darling, who came out early on in his racing career, talking about his work on and off the track.
Our woman of the Week is Jamie Moreno, a racer from Utah. She was raised as a petrolhead, and made her start in motorsport in 2010, after she had graduated from university. Jamie started in autocross, on the advice of a friend. She later moved to track competition, competing in the Global Time Attack series in 2017, and earning three podium finishes. Jamie and her photographer husband fell in love with the racing lifestyle, and now live on the road most of the year.
Bridget Schuil: What was your first memory of motorsport?
Jamie Moreno: I don’t have a specific one. My family is not a racing family, but my dad always loved supercars. He’d take me to car shows, and bought me hot wheel cars. I loved all that kind of stuff when I was little. I always loved fast cars.
BS What motivated you into the sport?
JM Actually, it was my car. I wanted to buy a fast car, but after college I couldn’t afford much. I was looking at the Subaru WRXs and STIs, and I knew the WRXs were known for rallying and off-road stuff and I thought that was really cool. Then I was talking to one of my friends, and he was like, “Oh, you don’t want to do stage rallying in your brand new car. I just ripped off both my bumpers. You should try autocross.” I didn’t want to ruin my brand new car, so I tried autocross, and it was pretty easy on the car. So yeah, that’s where I started, with autocross.
BS How did you get from there to where you are now?
JM I wanted to go faster. I’m addicted to speed. Autocross is pretty cool, it’s very technical, and gave me a lot of good skills. But the autocross course was right next to Miller Motorsports Park in Utah – well, that’s what it was called back then – and so I could see people on track from the parking lot. I wondered what they were doing, and thought it looked like a lot of fun. I figured out there was a group called NASA, and I liked the way NASA was organized. NASA has a HPDE program with 4 levels. In the first level you get instructor. I moved up the chain and got my TT license. Then I got bored racing at Utah Motorsports Park and wanted a challenge. After getting some advice from a fellow racer in what to do next he suggested racing in Global Time Attack. They mainly race at different tracks in California but they also race at Road Atlanta.
I just fell in love with being on track. It’s just an amazing feeling, being pulled by the G forces on the track. I was in heaven. I dedicated more and more time and money to it. The faster I went, the more I spent. I mean, not all cars were built to race, so pieces started breaking. You upgrade one piece, and that’s connected to something that’s factory spec, so then that one breaks and you gotta upgrade that too. It’s just a never-ending story. Race cars break all the time. It’s just what they do.
BS And when they don’t break, you dream up things to do to them to make them go faster…
JM Oh yeah! For example when my husband and I are at a restaurant we would take about how we can improve the car. “This would totally make the car faster,” or “We should really change that.” People probably think we’re nuts because we’re always talking about the car and what needs to be done to it.
BS Who’s been the most supportive of your racing thus far?
JM I’d have to say my husband, for sure. He’s always been there for me, cheering me on. That’s just how our relationship is. We’re always supportive of each other. I support his photography, and he supports my racing. On days when I’m not believing in myself, he’ll help bring me up so I can go out on track and kick ass.
BS How long has he been in your life – since before you started racing?
JM We were high school sweethearts, so we’ve been together for…gosh…it’s gotta be like fourteen years at least. He’s been there right from the very beginning of the racing. We know each other quite well, and we make a great team together. When we put our minds together, we’ll accomplish it.
BS So how involved are you in his photography, and how involved is he in your racing?
JM Sometimes he shoots me at the track, if he’s not helping me with something on the car. But most of his photographic work is landscape and abstract photography. He gets a lot of opportunities to take photos while we’re on the road. There’s a lot of cool stuff that we see. There are so many awesome little towns that we drive through on our way to races. The different people we meet, different cultures we experience from city to city. It’s awesome. We have fun together.
BS Would you like to talk a little bit about your workout regime?
JM Oh yeah. I actually work out in my trailer. I do a warm-up focussing on my glutes, because those are the muscles that need to be working really well. If my glutes are weak, my hip flexors start to kill me towards the end of a race, then the fatigue pain goes up to my psoas. I’ll do leg swings to warm up, and if it’s before a race I’ll do some yoga. Pigeon pose is my absolute favourite, because it stretches all of those out. I do arm swings for my shoulders, especially my right shoulder, because it’s the one doing the shifting and all of that. It gets tired and painful, and that comes up my traps.
I have to strengthen those areas in advance to prevent the pain. I do a lot of squats for the glutes, and rows to make sure my back muscles are activating. I’m still working on those. I had a racing accident that upset my back muscles, and that’s still an opportunity for growth. My back muscles are still weak, so they’re still not firing like they’re supposed to. I’ll get there; it just takes time.
BS Lots of locust and bow and bridge pose and those ones that really work the core?
JM Yeah, yoga is my best friend! That and my foam roller, massage stick, and lacross ball. They help me roll out all the knots and stay loose. My acupuncturist is always telling me “The looser your muscles, the faster you react out on the track.” I always remember that.
BS On that theme, do you have a mindfulness practice to help you stay loose?
JM Yeah. The night before a race, I’ll lie in shavassana on my yoga mat, and just breathe while listening to meditation music. I’ll just sit in that space. I won’t think of anything particular, just be there, present in my body in the moment. If I’m struggling during a race day, I’ll go to my trailer during lunch time and do the same thing. It’s just to kinda reset myself. There’s an engery modality called vortex healing. I do that for myself, and it just kinda calms the system down. It sounds crazy, but it works.
BS In your bouquet of self-care practices, is there anything that you do specifically for your mental and emotional health?
JM Actually, I find that racing kinda helps my mental health. It’s a way for me to forget about everything. Racing’s almost like an open-eye meditation, because I have to be there in that present moment. There’s no, “Oh, I gotta do this tomorrow, and I forgot to do that…” There’s none of that. That’s just gone. That’s just wiped off the plate. So for me, racing is how I keep my sanity. When I don’t race, I get anxious and itchy like I just need to go race. It definitely helps chill me out. After a race, I’m so chill and loving life.
BS It helps you to block everything else out?
JM Oh yeah. Especially the pain. I don’t realise how sore I am until like the next day. I wake up the next morning aching, wanting to ask for help to get up out of my chair.
BS Do you feel that there’s a physical disadvantage for you racing as a woman?
JM You know what, I think it’s the same for either party. Actually I took a course at Bondurant and all of students were talking about that pain the morning after. I was the only woman in the class. It was funny to hear the guys on the course – who were between about 21 and 65 – complaining about their lower backs hurting, and ask me if my back was hurting. I was like, “Why yes, yes it is!” We were all having the same symptoms, and I realised I wasn’t weaker than them. It’s just that race cars punish your body, that’s just what they do. Especially the Formula Mazdas! They are not kind. You end up with bruises and cuts and everything.
I don’t see a difference between me and the guys. Everyone’s dealing with the same G forces and stuff; everyone’s working out a lot to build strength. Now I’m working out more than when I started, I feel I’m in less pain later. I hate when people say that racing doesn’t take much physicality. Oh yes it does! Your neck, arms, legs, glutes, core, back, everything is stressed. Heck yeah, it’s physical.
BS And how has the fundraising side worked for you? Do you have mostly sponsors, or do you do more entrepreneurship to raise money? What’s the balance of that aspect?
JM I got a little bit of both. On the one side, I have a few sponsors. It’s been a little difficult, because you have to be your best self to raise sponsorship. I find it really hard to boast about myself and my achievements, but not sound narcissistic. But, the more podium finishes I get, the easier it is to show my progress, the easier it is to find people to fund me. I have two partial sponsors right now, and two full sponsorships. They’re car parts sponsorships, rather than cash. It’s baby steps to get to cash sponsors.
On the business side, I started selling t-shirts and tank tops and hats to help. That offsets a little bit of the racing costs. Our first batch sold really well. The second was a bit slower. We just gotta keep at it. We recently rented out our house to turn that into an asset and reduce our debt as much as we could. We got an equity loan to bundle up most of it. Living in the mobile home has reduced our cost of living and freed up more money for the racing. It just sucks to be money-dry. It’s difficult because things break all the time, and you don’t necessarily expect them to. I’m like, “Great! Now what do I do about that?”
BS Do you feel like you’ve experienced discrimination as a woman in motorsport?
JM I think the only inappropriate thing someone has ever said to me was…I’ll back up a bit. In autocross, there was another Latina racer, and the one day she was telling me that some older men made a comment about her cleavage. I was shocked. I was like, “Are you shitting me? Really?” She didn’t seem that bothered by it, but I would’ve been absolutely pissed about that!
Fast forward a few months, and the grid master was this older guy, standing by the cars, being really nice and just chatting. Then he told me that he’d told a woman she had really nice cleavage. I was like, “That was you?” I told him he shouldn’t be saying that kind of shit to random strangers. I was so pissed at him. He started getting angry with me, so I went to the race director at the time, who was a woman. I told her this was why women didn’t go racing, because they didn’t want to deal with shit like that. Like, when you’re racing, it should just be about racing. That put me off so bad. Like, why do we need to talk about my boobs? There’s no reason. I’m here to race. I don’t know if he got me confused with her, like all the brown women look the same to him, or I have no idea. That kinda stood out.
BS And as a Latina? Do you feel like you’ve been treated differently because you’re a different ethnicity to most of the paddock?
JM I haven’t experienced overt racism in racing. In life, sure, but not in motorsport. Other than that guy getting me confused with the only other brown lady on the grid, it’s been really positive for me. In life in general, yeah, it’s happened more than once, definitely. Especially in Utah, which is like…well, there isn’t much diversity there, period. Mormonism kinda dictates everything that happens in the state. I guess I stand out more in that kind of crowd. But other than that, I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t seen…well, you know, covert racism is so hard to see, so I haven’t picked up on too much of it. I haven’t had any overt racism. Like, at races, I’m the usually the only Latina and the only woman, so it’s hard for anyone to mix me up with anyone else.
BS How do you find your work environments? Do you think people are generally supportive of you, or is there subtle discrimination like people underestimating you or diminishing your skills and abilities?
JM Oh yeah, especially in IT. I graduated from college with a Bachelor’s in Information Systems. I found that in IT they like to treat you can’t do your job if you’re a woman. Whenever there’s a big project or anything like that, they always seem to skip me, even when I ask to be on a team. I want to take on the bigger challenges for the opportunities, but I still get skipped over. It’s so frustrating, because it feels like I’m treated like a child. Like, “Oh, poor Jamie, she can’t do that,” when I really can if you give me a chance.
BS That’s not just IT; it seems to be tech and engineering generally. I read a study a few years ago that found that when engineers were divided up and assigned a task in single-gender groups, the women had a fair distribution of tasks, but when they had mixed-gender groups, the men assigned the administrative tasks to the women engineers. Like, it’s probably unconscious bias – I don’t think they’re doing it intentionally – it’s just that their beliefs about women’s abilities lead them to treat us differently.
JM Oh my gosh. That’s insane! Wow. Great job there, guys! I haven’t heard of anything like that in racing. The one story I’ve heard…there was a woman in Utah NASA who was an instructor there. She was instructing a guy, and he refused to get in the car with her because she was a woman. She’s an excellent driver and coach – she races a freaking Lambo – but he wouldn’t. I’m just like, “Are you kidding, dude?” Like, I’ll get in her car and learn from her if he doesn’t want to! Shit! Don’t pass up good coaching! I have no problem with her gender.
BS When we were arranging this call, we discussed consent, and that you and your husband had been chatting about it. Do you think motorsport has a culture of consent? Do you think we could do some work to have clearer boundaries?
JM It was actually before the Weinstein scandal. We were bingeing on Netflix, and whenever there’s a character that’s like the quintessential heterosexual, narcissistic, white guy – well, they don’t have to be white, but they usually are in the stories – treating the women in the show like they’re there for his pleasure. Like, the way they talk to the women characters just kills me! My husband is always like, “He doesn’t know anything about consent.” I’m like, “Yes! Thank you! You see it too!” And then you see the character’s father, and it explains where it all comes from.
BS Do you think there’s a way to improve the situation? I mean, obviously, it’s not just a problem in motorsport, it’s everywhere, but this is our front porch, so we care more.
JM I think parents should be teaching their kids about consent, and what it’s all about. It should start from really young. That way, when they hit puberty and their hormones are raging and stuff, and they’re trying to figure out who they are, they don’t sacrifice respect. Like, we don’t only see it in the movies. In my high school, like, wow. My dad always taught me to stand up for myself if someone was touching me when I didn’t want to be touched. He told me to kick them in the balls. But the message was clear: it was my choice whether I wanted to be touched.
My husband’s the same. We’re good at communicating to each other when we don’t want to be touched, and it works for both of us. I don’t think one gender needs to hear the message more than the others, because there are times when all of us just want to be alone. It’s a very personal thing, getting up in someone’s space, and I think people need to respect that. People need to respect personal space.
It kinda bugs me when men say, “I have a daughter, so I understand.” And I’m like, why does it take having a daughter to understand? If you have a son, why don’t you teach them to be respectful of all humans? Again, it’s that personal space. I don’t think they think about how women feel when they’re close by us, touching us without asking.
BS Obviously, your husband goes to the track with you, and you’re obviously coupled. Do you think that has an effect on how you’re treated?
JM [Laughs] I think my resting bitch face scares most men off. I have RBF when I’m thinking. Most people are pretty respectful. I don’t mind being tapped on the shoulder and asked for a photo or an autograph or whatever. That’s normal. I watch how people interact with other people, how friendly they are. Some people are just really touchy-feely, and that’s just how they are. Some people aren’t. I guess it depends on the person, but it’s all pretty normal. I haven’t ever felt scared or uncomfortable in those situations. If I do, I’ll say something to the person, like, “Would you mind taking a step back?” There are some people who like to stand super-close, and I’ve had to tell a few of them that I need my space, but it’s not been a problem for me in racing.
BS Where do you stand on the grid girls debate?
JM I can see the pros. I can see both sides. The women are working, and it’s a job for them. But then I see the downside – the stereotype of women seen as sexual objects is there. It’s kind of a toss-up for me. I think that, as women, we should feel empowered to feel sexy about ourselves. Why should we hide it? Why should we be ashamed of our bodies? It’s this whole duality thing, like, if they’re comfortable then it’s not my place to judge. If they feel uncomfortable, they should get out of there. It’s kinda “damned if you do; damned if you don’t.”
BS I read a paper (Ariely and Loewenstein, 2006) about the effects of sexual arousal on sexual decision-making, in which they talked about how marketers used pretty women to stimulate the arousal response in straight men and shift more product because their judgement is affected. Do you think grid girls plays to this end, or do you think it’s unrelated?
JM I think it’s more complicated than that. They’re there because they like racing, so they’re not going there for just the women. But I guess it’s an added bonus for them, because the environment is very masculine and the grid girls is what they’re used to. That’s complicated, but I see where you’re going with that. It makes sense, though, because we have import models on imported cars all the time.
BS Male fans have expressed that they see femme fans and other women around the paddock as “grid girls we can talk to,” with the implication being that they’re also just there for male pleasure. Do you think that’s true of how you’ve been treated?
JM I think that depends on how they were brought up, to be honest. If they’re brought up to be a douchebag, they’re going to be a douchebag. That’s a hard one, because everybody’s different. Honestly, it depends how they were brought up, and how they were taught to view women. Maybe they were taught to view this particular set of women as sexual objects, but other women not. Some men, it might be all women. It totally depends.
BS Another paper I read (Griffin, 1995) talked about the pressure on female athletes to be what she called “heterosexy” – needing to appeal to the male gaze. Some women racers have said they’ve needed to become more femme to get sponsors. Have you experienced that?
JM I haven’t gotten that from my sponsors, but growing up, definitely yeah. I feel like women are expected to have all these different roles. Like, you have to be sexy, but you also have to be smart, but you also have to know how to cook and clean and all that. As it got older, though, I’ve started to wonder why I need to fulfil other people’s…not fantasies, but, like…why do I have to please anyone other than myself? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a little wiser. Now I’m like “Wait a minute, why do I have to play into these stereotypes? What’s the point?” You see all these commercials and movies where women are gorgeous and thin as a stick, but that’s their business – to look good.
The fashion industry is just crazy on women’s bodies and all that. So yeah, I’ve felt that pressure, especially as a teenager. When you’re growing up, you’re trying to figure out who you are, and think, “Oh wow, I need to look just as good as that…” Like, my skin colour isn’t really represented. You never see anyone like me on the cover of Vogue. So then there’s a load of added pressure of “Wow, I really don’t fit in.” As time’s gone by, I’ve learned to really love my skin colour, and that the magazines are crazy. I will never be a freaking size double zero ever in my life. That’s just how it is. My body’s different. But, I’ve totally been there. It sucks!
BS Where do you think the sport is going in terms of environmental friendliness?
JM I’ve thought about this, because I’ve learned at the race track that the big racing companies will use a set of tires once and then toss them. I’m like, “Are you serious?!” I understand the need to be competitive, but if they’re not going to use those tires, why not donate them to someone who’s racing on a smaller budget? Hell, I’ll take the tires! I use my tires until they’re completely done. Yes, that’s crazy to people who’re super competitive. I’m competitive, but I feel like I need to use the rubber down to when it’s done done. Something in me, I just can’t throw them away if they’re still good.
Also I learned the racing teams…and this happened at Miller Motorsports a few years ago, Miller would take the used tires from the teams and store them in their tire waste area…people were going into the garbage area and taking the tires, because they’re still good. So racing teams started drilling holes in the tires so nobody could use them. I’m like, “why do they care?” Like, let those tires have some more use if they’ve got enough rubber to be safe.
It’s a hard subject, because we’re not being eco-friendly out on the race track. We are burning fossil fuels like crazy – gas, tires, oil, brakes. It’s difficult to find the balance. The battery power still isn’t there for cars. They don’t last well on the race track, so fuel it is for now.
BS Do you think we need to offset our carbon with tree planting to make up for our racing habits? It’s a bit of a loaded question, land use, especially in countries who have issues with poverty and starvation and want to use that land for agriculture. Do you think that’s a possible avenue?
JM It feels like a cop-out to me. Those fossil fuels are done, and we’re never getting them back. Ever. No matter how many trees we pant, that resource is gone, and there’s no re-making that. Unless someone can figure out a cool way to use a resource that is replicatable but sustainable at the same time. But planting trees is always good. I understand planting trees for cleaner air.
(A few years ago, someone came up with a machine that turned air and sunlight into petrol, but it doesn’t seem to have caught on.)
BS Okay, favourite track, car, weekend, etc.?
JM My favourite track is Road Atlanta, it’s insane! The last turn, oh my gosh, it’s crazy! Before the last turn the hill goes up high, you can’t see the other side and then comes back down to an off-camber right hander. Wow. After applying 100% throttle through that turn like you are supposed to I got out of the car shaking. It was incredible. Forza really doesn’t do it justice. In the simulator, I would crash all the time when I first started driving there. I discovered that you don’t brake during the turn nor lift. You also can’t turn in late, or you end up in the wall. There’s literally nowhere to go if you mess up. There’s a lot of incentive to not make a mistake on the last turn. If you ever get a chance, drive that one.
BS Do you think the sport is safe enough these days, too safe, or neither? Is the halo a good safety solution?
JM I think racing is just dangerous. I think of the drivers who get hit with random debris in F1and Indy. It’s awful. I don’t even have a good solution to that. How do you protect yourself from that? Like, the F1 cars have a bar that’s right in the middle of the driver’s face. How do they see for racing? Is that safe for racing, or has it become a hazard on its own? That’s a big blind spot. Racing’s just dangerous.
BS Given that ad sales are down across the internet, do you think sponsorship is a good economic model, post-2008, or do you think we need to rethink how we go about funding racing?
JM It’s tough. I don’t think we’re going to have that kind of economic prosperity again – the kind we had in the years leading up to the 08 crash. As a business, the sport and sponsorship should evolve to keep up. Maybe branding individual teams and racers? That’s where my business model is right now. I’m focussed on making more of a brand for myself. I noticed that ad sales and sponsorship were down, which is why I started the t-shirts to offset that. But it’s funny. Racing’s kind of an antique sport in the way they run things, the culture, all of that. I think they need to catch up with the times.
I actually got a new brakes sponsor not too long ago. I’m trying to get more exposure and build my personal brand to get more sponsorship. I need to show sponsors that I’m more than just a pretty face. I’m a multifaceted person. I can do a lot of different things, so I’m trying to get exposure and sell my products and hopefully show other women that they can do this too. It gives me a lot of joy, talking to young girls about becoming a racing driver. I think we need more women getting results, not just token figures.
BS Do you think motorsport needs to focus on its diversity? If it does, how do you think that will affect you and your racing?
JM I often feel like, because racing is such a male-dominated sport that we have to be more of a man than a man off the race track. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that movie “Selena”. My favourite scene in that film is when the dad says that you have to prove to the Mexicans how Mexican you are, you have to prove to the Americans how American you are. I feel that pressure constantly as a Latino-American, as a woman, and as a racer.
BS As a Latinx-American, how do you feel about Trump and his wall plans? Is this making you nervous about long-term plans?
JM I can’t listen to him speak for very long. His rhetoric is just so…yeah. I can pretty much only handle him from…who was the guy who took over the Daily Show from John Stewart? Trevor someone? [Trevor Noah, a South African comedian.] But other than that, I try to avoid him as much as possible.
BS What’s your favourite brand of race gear?
JM [Laughs] It’s actually funny. I don’t even have a suit. It’s just been too expensive to buy that on top of running the car. I race in 100% cotton clothes. I have been looking at the Sparco suit, which looks really nice. It’s on my vision board for this year.
BS Have you heard of fireproof bras? Is that also on your list of things to buy for racing this year?
JM Oh wow, I’ve never seen fireproof bras! I did wonder if they made fireproof bras.
BS There’s a few brands that I’ve found. There’s Chicane Racewear in New Zealand, who’re a racing brand and do S-XL, and Lady Eagle in the States, who started out serving fighter pilots with breasts and have now started serving electricians and racers.
JM Oh wow, that sounds perfect. Lady Eagle, right? I’m just looking them up. Sweet. That’s going on my list! I’m running a little risky at the moment. I need a HANS device as well.
BS So, where to from here? What are your plans for the next few years?
JM This year, I want to continue the Global Time Attack to get more experience. Eventually, I want to get into open wheel. I want to try to climb the Indy ladder. That’s a steep ladder, but I really, really enjoy the open wheel cars. They’re so fast! They feel like I’m riding a motorcycle, but not. You’re so low to the ground. It’s so intimate. There’s also not many women in open wheel like Formula 1 and Indy.
I’ve been wondering about right and wrong recently. I always conceived of these concepts as absolutes. Certain, self-evident. It turns out, according to a recent study, that the same brain regions are active when we think about facts and when we think about morals. We think we’re right, regardless of what we believe. This casts a fair amount of doubt about actually is right.
(Quick caveat before we move on: brain region activity imaging studies have recently come under some criticism in the neuroscientific community. Asking what and where, it turns out, are fairly uninformative questions, because we all use different bits to process different things, other than in the sensory cortices and a few other areas. I like to think of it as the encryption used by God/the Universe/whoever originated these four [and more] dimensions, solely for the purpose of confusing biologists. The small size of fMRI and PET imaging study participant groups makes it very hard to determine these things without meta-analyses of a range of studies on a topic, which, as far as I know, hasn’t been done on the ‘moral brain areas’ sub-field. However, it’s a thought experiment that bears exploration, since the data fit what we know from Twitter and other arguments.)
Do we need to think about morals in motorsport? It’s a sport. It’s meant to be fun. As we all know from our childhoods, the fun stuff is usually banned, so now that we’re adulting reasonably successfully, can’t we have our little indulgences?
Sorry for this, but we need to spend a bit of time on religion. I’m going somewhere with this; stay with me. I was raised in a fairly fundamentalist Christian church and school. We were told we were Evangelical, but later explorations into the theoretical underpinnings of my faith showed that I had been fed a lot of subtleties that mainstream Evangelical theology disagreed with. As a function of the fundamentalism, I was raised with a high degree of certainty. I was taught that truth and facts were the same thing, which therefore meant that, if I believed the Bible was true, I would logically need to believe it was fact as well.
This meant that all the fun was banned. Caffeine and sugar were permitted as drugs for public consumption, but everything else was off limits, at least at church. Nobody talked to the people who came for Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous meetings in the back room. Hugging too tight for too long (between a boy and a girl, because queerness was also off limits) on church property earned a suggestion that we should leave room for Jesus. Also, doubting or questioning anything the authorities said could get you on the highway to Hell, so sit down and shut up.
I then studied science at one of Africa’s most liberal universities. Like, the botanic garden on our campus was often the site of a pot-fuelled drum circle within smelling distance of the botany department. That liberal. There was no room for six-day young-earth Creationism. There wasn’t even room for intelligent design, which was what I had been sneeringly offered as a substitute for SDYEC. In part, I had chosen this university because of its reputation as a den of sin. I knew fundamentalism wasn’t for me, and needed a different, more kind of truth.
In my resulting decade away from the faith, I came to discover that not all opinions were created equal. I came to realise that I needed ethical, empirical, peer-reviewed evidence to believe something. JSTOR became my magazine subscription, the obscure sections of biology became my Bible, and I mainlined my new drug as I had mainlined Fundamentalism as a teenager. Science was relativistic enough to leave room for “what if?” I could justify any decision, as long as I could find some evidence to support it. This led to my using science as my map to navigate the murky and morally relativistic waters of the business world, into which I was rudely thrust at the end of undergrad.
There was one small snag: there’s no certainty in science. There's also no certainty in ethics. We all have morals, but, unlike science, we don't need facts to build these on. We can come up with a story that makes sense to us, and decide that's the truth. We have freedom of opinion and speech, and those count in lieu of facts.
Business likes to give people certainty. You’ve seen the ads on Facebook. “The course guaranteed to 10x your business!” “The skin cream guaranteed to [fix whatever normal biological process – eg. wrinkling – the beauty industry has decided to pathologise this week]!” “This person uses it, so it must be fantastic!” (They probably don’t use it.)
It’s no different in boardrooms. “We project an eight percent capital growth in the next three years, given our current market share. If we capture a new customer base in [this demographic], we can increase this by a further six percent.” I guarantee you the person saying that has no idea where the business will be in three years. Even if they think they do, let’s just leave it at “chaos theory”. A disruptive technology could blow their game wide open, change up their whole industry, and leave them scrambling to retain ten percent of the market share they had before.
I can’t offer you certainty. I can't give you facts that are irrefutable on which to form an opinion about whether certain topics that are regular themes in motorsport news are helpful or moral. The best I can do is, “It’s likely that, if the abovementioned experimental evidence is valid when extended from the specific to the general, and if external circumstances remain constant, then the following is a good course of action.” And that’s only when there’s evidence of something. There’s absolutely nothing comparing the cognitive processing speeds, courage, or physicality of male and female racers. There isn’t even an all men study of the physicality required to handle a race car. There’s no evidence to support or refute the claims made by journalists, racing drivers, and other men with opinions regarding the fitness of women to race.
There is a body of work from the social sciences and philosophy about how we the public, advertisers and marketers, and journalists frame women in motorsport. The work is almost always about drivers. However, if you have access to a JSTOR subscription (or use the contact form below to have a selection of PDFs shared via email or WhatsApp), check out the academic work on women in motorsport.
Google Scholar “grid girls”. I dare you. We’ve had them for around fifty years, and not one shred of evidence has been published to support their efficacy as marketing aids. There’s nothing on women racers and stereotype threat (it’s an unconscious bias, not something we know we’re affected by) induced by the rhetoric around women racers combined with consistent imaging of non-participatory women. There’s some vaguely related work about images of women’s bodies making men more likely to purchase, and some vaguely related work about the effects of sexual arousal on moral choices. But nothing about grid girls or whether they are morally positive, neutral, or negative.
Now, let’s just be absolutely clear about something: I don’t think that whether or not we have grid girls is the biggest moral or feminist issue of our time. Female genital mutilation (a problematic term in its own right) is a bigger feminist issue. Child marriage (with attendant problems, like teen pregnancy, school dropouts, etc.) is a bigger feminist isssue. Poverty. Climate change. Sanitation. The intersection of poverty, climate change, and sanitation, which disproportionately affects girls and women of colour. (We typically put the poor neighbourhoods near where we treat sewage and/or leave the unofficial neighbourhoods to deal with their own sewage, pay women less than men, find ways to institutionally punish single mothers, etc., and when floods happen, it’s the poor people in those neighbourhoods who are the first to die of cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and the other shit diseases and the least able to afford medical care.) Grid girls don’t even blip on the radar of ethicists and feminists in the mainstream.
So, if science and ethics are no help, how do we justify our opinions? How do we decide who’s right and who’s wrong, who to hate and who to direct our outrage at? Do we roll with utilitarianism and let the majority decide what makes them happy? Is happiness even the best metric for measuring good morality? Do we adopt compassion as a guiding principle, and hope for the best?
We can use the scientific method. We can test whether what we say about what we believe – that the outrage over F1’s doing away with grid girls is moral because we care about grid girls as human beings not sex objects, that women are being treated equally to men in motorsport, etc. – is true. I have included a screenshot of an excel spreadsheet.
Image search the term in bold and inverted commas. Please indicate which image search engine you used (Google, Bing, etc.) at the top of the spreadsheet. Narrow the search to the dates at the top of the column (the week of Monaco GP/Indy500 for the last five years, Wednesday to Wednesday inclusive). Click each photo, and note who or what is in the photo. If the name/s of the person/people in the photo are included in the description, or you recognise the subjects, insert a line and count them individually. Similarly, if their role is obvious (eg. driver, mechanic, journalist, grid girl, WAG) but they haven’t been named and you don’t recognise them, insert a line (as in the example of “anon engineer” or “anon grid girl”) under the appropriate gender and pose. Stop when you have a total of two hundred images for each search term and date range.
If you would like to log your impression of the results and compare to what other people found, feel free to copy the attached Google Sheet. Email the contact form below to receive a participant agreement and the inbox where the data will be processed. This is entirely voluntary, and you can withdraw from participation at any point. You choose whether your name and email are recorded in the respondent database for follow-up and classification, so please indicate if you want to contribute anonymously and not receive a summary paper. I haven’t got IRB approval for this, so it’s not usable as research data. It’s simply for curiosity to show you the proportion of images of how we view women, so you have a data point to justify your opinion. Feel free to sub-divide the genders into ethnicity, race, and/or nationality (if known), and/or sexual orientation (if known) to explore those demographic details and get some facts for yourself.
I would argue that, in interpreting your findings, compassion should be a guiding principle. Photographers/editors are loading huge photo sets onto the internet, and don't have time to Google everyone they don't recognise. People posting to social media with the #womeninmotorsport hashtag (which pings in the search results, especially if you narrow your search by network, or search the hashtag specifically) This is merely an exercise in spotting the unconscious bias of people who upload pictures to the internet. If you're curious...
F1 has axed grid girls. I can’t pretend to be unhappy. The routine framing of women as sex objects in motorsport has grated my carrot for years. I find it no end of annoying that I find an average of 10% of actual women in motorsport – that 10% is mostly women drivers, with the occasional engineer or mechanic; Britta Roeske is more often a caption, rather than in the frame of pictures – when I search Google Images for “women in motorsport”. Although, to be fair, I find fewer pictures of grid girls than radio controlled cars for that search term.
What took me by surprise was misogynists on the internet blaming feminists for F1 management’s move. Sure, we’ve been banging this drum for years, but it’s not like anyone has ever taken us seriously. The people who make the decisions on these things have no philosophical problems with using oestrogen-based humans as objects d’art. While it would probably give us street cred among people who don’t know better to claim this victory as the result of feminist activism, it would be wildly inaccurate.
Chase Carey worked as Rupert Murdoch’s right-hand man for decades, and hasn’t said anything to indicate a change of political stance since taking over F1. Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox, the network who are currently defending Donald Trump, a known serial sex offender, to the extent that “post-truth” has now become a thing. If birds of a feather flock together, I’d put money on him not being a feminist. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s not even an “I’m not a feminist or anything but…” Neither of the two other members of F1’s Committee of Ultimate Veto have said anything that could be construed as overtly feminist. If anything, Brawn’s interview lines read as defensively conservative. I can find nothing that signals Bratches’ political leanings, other than an apparently wholehearted buy-in to traditional capitalism. Note: I do not think Chase Carey, Ross Brawn, and Sean Bratches are morally equivalent to Trump, but there’s a lot of real estate between being morally equivalent to Trump and being a woke, informed, intersectional feminist.
F1 removing grid girls has little, if anything, to do with feminism. It may have something to do with F1 finally realising that they can’t keep treating their fanbase as homogeneously male and heterosexual. It may have something to do with F1 realising that they’re haemorrhaging fans, and getting women aged 14-22 on board with the sport is central to them regaining market share. It may have something to do with ex-Teen Vogue maverick, Elaine Welteroth, shaking up the teen girl culture scene and making a social conscience the modern woman’s must-have beauty accessory. Those things are all feminist, for sure, but it wasn’t feminists who had their finger on the button when grid girls were axed.
There are several issues raised in the Twitter storm that are slightly stickier than “the feminists are ruining the world”.
Let’s start with an easy one. Calling people “feminazis” is offensive to both feminists and nazis. Nazis believe that not enough straight, white men are in power positions, and that we need to fight for that as an outcome, up to and including the commission of genocide. Feminists believe that straight, white men have had their turn at world domination – eight to ten thousand years, featuring more varieties of violence against non-male, non-white/non-wealthy, and non-straight people than I have time and space to enumerate here – and now it’s time for a more equal society. The two groups believe totally opposite things. If your objection to the removal of grid girls includes the word “feminazi,” you automatically lose.
Moving onto the thread about how feminists are depriving grid girls of their right to work. See above for “it wasn’t actually the feminists”. Nobody is depriving anybody of the right to work. F1 has chosen to do away with one job in a myriad of roles available to people of all genders. They’re not refusing to hire women. Women are able to apply for jobs in other areas of the sport. Some teams are actually doing better than the British national average for women in engineering. Women who want to make a living out of being pretty can still work as grid girls in other series, or as models for fashion magazines.
(Actually, a job isn’t considered a basic human right; the human right in question is the freedom to do legal and legitimate business without undue impediment. Women, for the last 8,000-10,000 years, have been excluded from doing legitimate business by law, social custom, and other forms of discrimination. Technically, being a grid girl counts as doing legal and legitimate business, because time is exchanged for money – the basis of the capitalist economy – and grid girls have some contractual rights to rest breaks and fair treatment. Although 1) apparently they don’t have the right to stop people taking up-skirt shots or there wouldn’t be so goddamn many on t’internet, and 2) being objectified for money is inherently discriminatory, so not exactly a step forward for women. But point aside.)
This brings us to two points not raised by the pro-GG crowd on Twitter. They’re both points originally made by men. I’m hoping that counts for something with the anti-feminist trolls.
Firstly, Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley and several other companies, has spoken several times about businesses (and, for that matter, entrepreneurs, founders, managers, etc.) basically being either “humanity plus” or “humanity minus”. Lakhiani’s aim in his businesses is to be “humanity plus” – he accepts that the decisions he makes as CEO of his companies are essentially moral ones. His decisions have an impact on his employees, his customers, society at large, and the planet.
Are grid girls “humanity plus”? Does it measurably improve society to use women as decorations, or does it have negative side-effects? Does “women as décor accessories” improve the world more or less than having women in functional roles? Does perpetuating the dominant narrative of white, thin, and pretty as what is desirable have a positive or negative effect on society?
Are we, in our feminist ardour to get rid of problematic elements in our world, being “humanity plus” about this? Are we being compassionate (or at least civil) towards people on Twitter? Are we firmly on the moral high ground, or have we slipped into calling people idiots for disagreeing with us? I struggle to remain polite when people say things that I can only interpret as wilful ignorance, but it is a point we need to address, if we’re talking about being “humanity plus”.
Secondly, Ariely and Loewenstein in their (hilariously brilliant) paper “The Heat of the Moment: the effects of sexual arousal on sexual decision making” found that men who were aroused were more likely to make morally questionable judgements. The study participants were significantly more likely to lie to get sex, make their partner too drunk to legally consent to sex in order to overpower them, etc. in the “aroused” control than in the “unaroused” controls. This urge to get off once aroused is evolutionary – potentially furthering the species – but it is still a cognitive bias that has problematic real-world applications.
They mentioned “sex sells” marketing strategies as a potential contributor to the problem of rape culture and street harassment, because advertisers are constantly over-stimulating men’s arousal responses and making them subject to this cognitive bias. Men in the motorsport fandom report viewing their fellow spectators who happen to be women as “grid girls we can talk to”. Women who work in paddocks around the world report that men feel entitled to engage in inappropriate behaviour towards them in the workplace. Yes, putting a woman next to your car makes straight men want to look at it more, but is it “humanity plus”?
Further to “sex sells”…women make over 70% of household purchasing decisions, including purchase of cars. Most women, according to recent studies, are more likely to feel negative emotions – and therefore be less likely to buy the product – when they see a woman they perceive as more attractive than them. (And given that pretty much every woman I’ve spoken to about this thinks that people calling them beautiful are lying to get something, most women think that models are more attractive than them.) So, while the grid girl stereotype may appeal to straight men in the audience, they leave the vast majority of women (who make over 70% of household purchasing decisions, including car purchases) colder and drier than the Death Valleys of Antarctica.
So, therefore, should roles for grid girls, models, etc. exist at all? They don’t leverage creativity, empathy, and/or fine-motor dexterity, which are the three advantages humans have over artificially intelligent entities. If they don’t lose to “feminist kill-joys” now, they’ll eventually lose to the robot revolution. Small business owners are now more likely to choose non-professional models to display their apparel and accessories, or simply post a selfie of them wearing the item/s. Those who can’t afford a non-professional model to cover their aversion to selfies can do simple tricks with a mannequin and PhotoShop. Futurists are far more worried about the wellbeing of (predominantly male) truck drivers who’ll be out of a gig when autonomous vehicles hit the mainstream than the wellbeing of (predominantly female) models, even though neither role is safe from the robot revolution. I don’t see a re-training and re-employment project happening for either sector, but at least people are talking about re-training truck drivers before rolling out autonomous vehicles.
There is a philosophical difference between intent and impact. We are usually judged on impact, rather than intent. Case and point: do you know of anyone who got off a murder charge with "I just meant to rough him up; I didn't mean to kill him" as their defense? I doubt that women who work as grid girls intend to make life difficult for other women around the paddock by normalising the image of women as decorative non-participants, but that is the impact. I doubt they intend to participate in the over-stimulation of the male arousal response that leads to morally questionable behaviour towards other women in the sport, but that is the impact. Likewise, I doubt Carey and company even considered the financial wellbeing of grid girls, but the impact is that now they need to find other forms of income.
Ending the grid girl tradition isn’t a feminist act, it’s a capitalist one. They aren’t “pandering to a PC-mad minority” as one grid girl said on Twitter. They’re pandering to their shareholders. The world has changed since the 1960s, when grid girls were introduced, and they’re doing what they hope will be historically correct going forward. This may just be an attempt to buy our loyalty so we’re less likely to have a Harvey Weinstein moment of our own and out the sexual predators lurking in our paddocks. To construe this news headline as “feminism” is to fundamentally misunderstand feminism. But it is likely to help feminism's goals by showing young girls they can contribute more than just looking pretty, holding a flag, and applauding a man's success. For that, I'm happy.
Trigger warnings: discussion of discrimination, use of adult language, use of slurs
I gather from Damon Hill’s Twitter feed that you called Charlie Whiting a "mongol". This is considered an ableist slur, your use of which offended some people. I’m not going to comment on who was right in you vs the stewards; I’m not a race official and that’s not my area of expertise. With love, though, I want to weigh in on your response to their decision.
You’re not alone in motorsport in using slurs. I’ve been watching motorsport social media closely enough this year to be doing a research paper on the themes that have emerged, and I’ve seen some wild shit go down. There is a lot of slurring, name-calling, judging, blaming, and other toxic behaviours, and even people with the facts on their side choose to do this to others. I’m also guilty in having used slurs – often not realising that my word choice was offensive, which I would like to believe is true of your word choice – so please don’t think I’m preaching from some kind of untouchable moral high ground. I’m calling attention to your slur because it was reported by Autosport, not because you’re the only one who does it.
I understand that you said what you said in a heated argument. I can make a fairly accurate guess as which part of your brain you were using, and I don’t think it was the rational, compassionate part. The beliefs driving that comment were probably unconscious, rather than being an act of deliberate malice. I’m not calling you a terrible human, or implying that we should throw you out of the community. With that said…
It’s okay to be upset with the stewards’ decisions. It’s normal. By taking away points and podiums, they are threatening your territory, which activates a primal urge to defend against intruders. Jaak Panksepp calls this feeling RAGE, and describes it driving evolutionary defensive behaviour in much the same way as hunger drives eating to prevent dying of starvation. You have territory to defend today because for millennia your ancestors have been defending their territory from predators.
It’s okay to feel scared that people are going to think you’re not good enough. We are social animals, and guess what? It’s an evolutionary driver. We have social urges hard-wired into our brains, because being alone makes it easier for predators to pick us off. We have systems all over our brains that monitor how people see us, and drive us to make nice after a fight to maintain the unity of the tribe. Brené Brown recently released a whole book on the feeling of belonging, called Braving the Wilderness, in which she talks about how not belonging is a cause of pain and suffering. It’s a good book, if you’re looking for something to kill time on a long flight.
It’s okay to be afraid of being mocked by other men for not being alpha enough. Alphas get first choice of food and mates. Simon Sinek talks about the evolutionary drivers behind this at length in his book, Leaders Eat Last. In Mask of Masculinity, Lewis Howes talks about the Alpha Mask for a full chapter, because this is a common way in which men (Howes included) police other men for being “not man enough.” Another good book, worthy of bingeing on when the whole plane is using the wifi and making it slow. It went on sale this week, so is a hot topic on t'internet at the moment.
It’s okay to disagree, and present your case for review. This is the basis of every legal system the world over. Evidence is collected and presented, and a body weighs in on it. The key part of this process being that the decision is final unless a successful appeal is lodged.
What’s not okay is using name-calling to express your disagreement. I’m not preaching from the moral high ground here. I was raised with name-calling as a primary fighting strategy and have called people some really nasty things in a fit of RAGE. To be honest, I think were we all raised with name-calling, unless our parents were ahead of the curve on parenting strategies. However, name-calling is a choice, and we can un-choose this conflict strategy. Since I stopped name-calling, I’ve found that I have better quality relationships. People are no longer bracing for a shame attack from me. I’m not promising an easy ride, because this is a really hard habit to break. I can promise that it’ll be rewarding if you do.
As someone who hears gossip from engineers, the way you behave is a factor in whether a team chooses you to drive for them. You’re safe at Red Bull for now (at least, as safe as anyone can be at Red Bull), but what happens when you want to trade your overalls in for some red or silver ones? Will those teams see name-calling and other shaming behaviours as acceptable because of your talent, or will they choose someone else?
Another thing that’s not okay is using disability (and while we’re at it, gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, because those are also themes in social media slurs) as a weapon to dehumanise people. The reason people find your choice of word offensive is because it dehumanises people with Down’s syndrome, and that dehumanisation has led to abled folk being really spectacularly discriminatory towards people with the condition. Dehumanisation is profoundly dangerous, and every genocide in history can be traced to this practice at its beginning.
We as humans are actually hard-wired to be nice to others (see the aforementioned Brené Brown book for an approachable but scholarly explanation of why that is). It’s in our evolutionary interest to maintain a cohesive social group, so being nice is a primary driver. To be able to commit violence against people, we need to dehumanise them. Just in case you were wondering how serious it is, dehumanisation has been a feature of every genocide in recorded history. By using that word to undermine Charlie’s authority, what you’re telling us is that you have conceptualised neurodivergent people as subhuman. If we want an alpha to defend us against The Big Bad, you’re not the one we can trust to be on our side.
Your fanbase includes people who have disabilities. By using that word in anger against Charlie, you have told your neurodivergent fans that you feel contempt towards them as humans. This will come back to bite you in the ass, if you keep doing it. A relationship – even one as distant and non-committal as the one between racer and fan – can’t survive contempt. (Science says so. Facial microexpressions of contempt are the surest predictor of a couple breaking up or two opposing groups engaging in violent conflict.) Showing your fans contempt will drive them away.
One comment is all it takes to undermine people’s trust in you, if that comment is offensive enough. I still don’t trust you after you gave that interview (several years ago, after which there has been no comment on the topic) in which you said that women were naturally more afraid than men. It showed several things about you and your thinking about women that made me doubt my loyalty.
You can reverse the trend. There are easily googlable resources on being an ally to people with various disabilities, most of which contain helpful “what you can do now” sections. Damon Hill, who called you out on Twitter, knows a thing or two about Down’s syndrome, and I’m sure he’d be happy to teach you how you can be more kind and compassionate to people with that particular condition.
People with disabilities are marginalised by society in oppressive ways. So are women and people of minority genders, nonwhite people, LGBTQIAP+ people, people whose mother tongues are not English, non-Christian people, and the list goes on. Think back to any of the times you've been told to "man up" and "don't be a pussy" and "quit being so gay" in an attempt to make you act more like their expectation. Did it make you feel like shit? That feeling of injustice that you felt is how marginalised people feel when we hear you use ableist slurs, or make discriminatory comments to/about women, or call people gay as an insult.
We deal with enough of that kind of bullshit on a daily basis to last a lifetime. Some of us turn to sport as a refuge against the world. It’s very unpleasant to deal with slurs in the course of casual sport-watching. To give you a helpful guide of words to avoid, I've included a selection below, sorted by genre.
The following words are also considered ableist slurs: retard, stupid, idiot, spaz/spastic, dumb, lame.
Words that, when used as insults*, are considered sexist include: pussy (even when used against a man), cunt, twat, (any variation on names for vaginas, really) slut, whore, hooker, prostitute (commercial sex providers prefer “sex worker” as a term for their job), bitch. Using "females" to describe women is usually considered dehumanising. Using "girls" to describe grown-ass women is considered infantilising and demeaning.
The following are considered heterosexist/homophobic slurs when used to degrade, especially to shame someone into conforming to gender norms: gay, queer, fairy, queen, fag/faggot (this is actually especially hateful, because it references the traditional execution method used for people convicted of homosexuality, which was burning at the stake), dyke, tranny. When used as adjectives in a non-pejorative context, gay, lesbian, and queer, are widely accepted descriptors. Note that context determines meaning, so using PC language as an insult is also considered offensive. It’s also uncool to introduce trans*people as a transman/transwoman unless you also specify that the rest of the posse are cisgender. When in doubt, say nothing, or ask someone who knows the current rules (they change fairly often; I understand it can be a bit confusing sometimes).
There are more racist slurs than I have time and space to list here. A good rule of thumb is including the word “people” in your description of someone’s race, and not using skin colour, ethnicity, or religious background to demean people. You can google cultural appropriation, racist microaggressions, and systematic oppression to find the line on this one. Be aware that, as white people, we have huge blinders on, and when a nonwhite person tells us something isn’t okay, it’s best to shut up and listen to what they have to say without questioning them or playing devil's advocate.
I hope I’ve given you food for thought, rather than a shame shitstorm. Know that “asshole” is a good general purpose insult, if you want to use one that doesn’t imply bigotry. Compassion is a better option than name-calling, though, and will get you further in the long run. Note that developing compassion as a skill is a lifetime’s work, and people like the Dalai Lama have many years of practice on us. Nobody is expecting perfection right off the line, but please work to keep the trend going in compassion’s general direction.
* Some people enjoy some of these words as dirty talk. They’re not completely banned, but it’s a good idea to check with your partner before busting out words from this list mid-coitus. Advance warning of this kind of dirty talk helps prevent derailing the encounter by saying something that upsets or offends your partner.
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.