On this edition of Woman of the Week, we are featuring Danielle Crespo, marketing and media relations manager at TRG-Aston Martin Racing in California. Danielle got her start in motorsport when she founded Suite Pass - a booking service for hotels, VIP function suites, and high-end transportation in Austin, Texas - to provide for the influx of Formula 1 tourism at the Austin Grand Prix. While in Austin, she also worked for Longhorn Racing, marketing and managing their supercar experience days. She later diversified into writing for eRacing Magazine, and a number of other motorsport and motoring publications, before going full-time with TRG-AMR.
Bridget Schil:What was your first memory of motorsport?
Danielle Crespo: My dad had a Datsun 280z when I was really small. I was too short to see out of the car window, so really the only thing of interest to look at on car rides was the car's shifter boot. I didn't really know what that was for, but as he's an aggressive driver, it did know that it was really fun every time he moved the shift stick as we dove into a turn. This isn't specifically motorsports, but it created that thrill for speed that eventually manifested itself in to motorsports later in life.
BS When did you decide to pursue a career in motorsport?
DC This all started back in 2010, when F1 was announced in Austin. I had been to the Circuit de Catalunya outside of Barcelona for test days, and then started following the series. In May of 2010, by chance, I had just returned from Monaco as it was being set up for the Grand Prix. When the race was announced in Austin, I identified the bizarre juxtaposition right away. I knew I wanted to be involved in helping Austin understand F1 and vice versa. It was a secretive announcement, so I didn't know who to go to in order to find out about a job with the future race circuit, so I just started my own little news website that was a placeholder for a hotels website. I had no idea what I was doing but I was willing to learn as much as I could, and Twitter interactions helped greatly with that. After I started gaining traction on my little website and twitter presence, which then converted in to me landing an actual Formula 1 team hotel booking, I realized I could really make something out of this idea.
BS How did you transition from entrepreneur/webpreneur to being a full-time team member?
DC This is still new, but it was from one connection leading to another leading to another. I met the team I'm with now, TRG-Aston Martin Racing, while in Austin covering the Pirelli World Challenge race for E-Racing Magazine. I interviewed two of their drivers and kept in touch afterwards. When I randomly saw that they were hiring later on in the year, I immediately applied and got a call back in an hour. After a long interview process, we decided I was the right match for the job and I left everything behind to move to California.
BS Who have you found to be the most supportive of your career?
DC First off, I'm realizing how incredibly important it is to have support in this field - it's extremely intense and can be very time consuming, and I don't even drive the cars! Over all, my mom has been the most supportive - she's been encouraging me without fail from day 1 to be involved and try different ways of engaging with the industry. For something that I wasn't making much money off of, but was spending a lot of time on, it was really great to know that she saw my passion for this field was too great to discourage. Secondly, it's been difficult to date guys who either don't understand what I'm doing or are intimidated that I'm more involved in racing than they are, so I'm really lucky I found a guy who works for a racing team which is headquartered not far from mine. And, we don't race in the same series - so we're careful about not spilling potential "speed secrets" but we don't have some weird tension as competitors!
BS What has been the most exciting moment of your time in motorsport?
DC I think I could write a novel in which I try to pinpoint an exact moment. I can't choose one - maybe meeting Allen McNish on the balcony of the Hotel de Paris at the Monaco Grand Prix? Going in to the Force India garages for a private tour on the Friday before the inaugural US Grand Prix? My first big Suite sale? In reality, I could list a dozen things that seem like I'm just bragging, but these are treasured life experiences that are only possible because of the incredible people I've met. I have to acknowledge motorsports artist Kevin Paige for not only supporting me in my business, but inviting me to join him on many of his own race track adventures. He knows everyone in multiple race series and is a pro at what he does, so he's led the way for a lot of my "exciting moments in motorsports" to come to fruition.
BS What do you think is the biggest struggle facing women in the industry?
There is a segregation between women's roles and men's roles in the industry, whether people want to admit it or not. Now that I'm "known" in the paddock and have a team-branded polo, there's no problem for me to hop in and out of places on the track with no questions. Before, when I was just walking around paddocks in "plainclothes," I would be asked if I was there with my boyfriend or husband, if I've ever been to a race before, etc. There's this expectation that if you're not working either for a team or as a grid girl, you have no legitimate purpose of being in the paddock on your own. Guys will try and argue this with me but without experiencing these subtle expectations, you can't really empathize with a woman's reality. I do sometimes wish I was working on team strategy or was an aerodynamacist just to skew the numbers (and also because those roles seem fairly badass).
BS What do you love about the industry?
DC We're supporting people who are truly, truly doing what they love. Drivers get to experience their state of flow, while the rest of us get a visceral experience as the engines roar around the track, enveloped in beautiful machinery. There's a gladiatorial experience (have you seen the Pirelli World Challenge this year? Brutal!) and a travel component. There's new tech combined with old tricks and rivalries. There's business going down trackside - serious, multi-million-dollar deals get done over a race weekend. It's as if us transients in racing fly from city to city and form our own mobile country with our hugely diverse range of skills when we land at a track for the weekend.
BS What advice do you have for girls/women wanting to carve out a career for themselves in motorsport?
DC Get informed, show up, and be assertive. If you're there to get a job done, get it done. Remember that hardly anyone has a static role in motorsports - the person you see doing grunt work for some no-name team could easily be someone you have to answer to within a race series in just a few years. Or, the person you rely on for help could move on by the next season. It's best to make good connections and friends across a whole spectrum of roles but also know that you need to be self-reliant at the end of the day.
Hello everyone. We had a glitch with Woman of the Week this week (busy, career-focussed women are busy), but instead of just going silent for a week, we thought we'd chat to you about something that affects all of us.
So, picture the scene...you're participating in the tweet-up of a race event, and see that someone's replied you. You click your @reply thread, hoping it's one of your friends. Except it's some jerk who's trolling the hashtags and being a jerk to people whose opinions differ from his. You hit the block button, and go back to doing what you were doing.
Caitlyn Moran quoted, but didn't link to, a study that showed men felt women were drowning them out when they contributed 25-50% of a discussion. I tried looking for the paper she was talking about on Google Scholar. I didn't find it, but instead found a mountain of evidence to suggest she's right.
We've noticed a trend of guys trolling motorsport hashtags and picking fights with fanwomen over a wide range of topics that apparently need mansplaining to us (eg. girl racers, grid girls, any team/driver they support and we don't). Added to that, most series organisers say they have a relatively small percentage of women supporters – 9% was quoted for F1 after their fan survey last year – and yet sports like NFL have up to 40% female viewership.
After spending six years on Twitter, I've noticed a trend. There are some whip smart geek women who love motorsport, and there are also some less geeky women who also love motorsport. Of the two groups, the smart ones tend to be quieter. Perhaps this is because they are too busy with their careers to waste hours online. Perhaps they got caught in Gamer Gate, and went quiet on social media for fear of more rape threats.
This is where you come in. (We're assuming if you're here, rather than on the websites with a buffet of boobs, you're in the smarter/geekier half of the crowd.) What we want to do will probably cause a backlash from the meninists in the fandom, so get ready to liberally employ the report-and-block function on social media sites. Sorry we can't offer you a better solution than that, but there isn't one at present.
We want smart women who love motorsport to talk about it on social media. And on blogs (we'd love to host your articles, and can recommend woman-friendly sites if you want to opine about topics other than women in racing). And in magazines (if you can get Autosport to publish you, we'll give you a voucher for something cool).
The more vocal we are online, the more people will get used to having us around, and should eventually come to respect our opinions. At the very least, you'll be able to sort the cool guys in the fandom – the ones who @reply with something constructive and have fun discussions with us – from the jerks. You might just make some new friends and useful contacts.
The key is to use hashtags and user handles, and post when people are online. (There are apps that analyse when your followers are online, or just join tweet-ups of events.) CC relevant teams (you never know, they might RT you), drivers, and/or series. CC us and other 'women in motorsport' accounts when you're talking about women in the industry. Hashtag appropriately to get your posts seen by more than just your followers. For example, use event tags, or if you have a Formula E question, tag it #FEBuzz, and surf the hashtag the Tuesday evening following the event for your answer. It's really that simple.
Just a word on being nice: it's kinda the golden rule of being one of the cool people online. Yes, there are awards for trolls, but if you don't engage them, they lose street cred. My grandmother says, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing. I would like to edit that to if you have nothing nice to say, compose a witty and insightful opinion piece (preferably with academic references), and find somebody to publish it, rather than ranting on social media. Firstly, it gets okayed by an editor who's worried about lawsuits, so you're less likely to offend people. Secondly, you can express more complex thoughts, because there's only so much you can fit in 140 characters. Thirdly, the pen really is mightier than the sword, and you're taking the classy woman's battle strategy.
There are dramatically more men than women who write opinion articles. We all have degrees (and from our crowd on social media, the ones that don't yet have their certificate are working towards one); we all have the skills to write well, and friends who can proof-read to fact-check and correct sentences. Go forth and make your voices heard!
Harminder Rai-Mottram has worked her way through the motorsport ranks, beginning her career in corporate finance support. She moved on to researching for companies interested in acquisitions and MBO deals, before being moving to a role as bids manager for a security organisation. She then took on a great role to manage hospitality for the historic Donington Park, before developing into a corporate partnerships role for the Park. After this, she went to work for a global security firm to carry out the role as the Global Business Manager. Harminder is currently with BAM Motorsports Group as their promotions and partnerships manager. She is also fluent in Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu. She is also studying Spanish and Italian!
Dory Brown: What's your earliest memory of motorsport?
Harminder Rai-Mottram: My passion with motorsport started in 2009. I never forget watching my first ever MotoGP race on tv that year which got me hooked on the sound, style and manoeuvres. My husband is a huge two-wheel fan and also rides motorbikes. He owned a Ducati 916 when we started dating. I was always intrigued by how it felt to be on a motorbike. I invested in a whole set of Alpinestars leathers, boots, gloves and a new HJC helmet with a drop down visor. From my first outing on the back of the hubby's 916, I was addicted!
I then started following MotoGP racing, World Superbikes and British Superbikes religiously. TV, social media, web pages and so on. There was a lot to take in but somehow it all made sense. It all came to me like second nature. A passion for motorsport was brewing.
It all came to reality when my hubby and I went to our local race circuit Donington Park for the last MotoGP there in 2009. It was the best experience ever. Even in the downpour of rain the racing was just outstanding!
Then came the British Superbikes round there and also the World Superbikes in 2010. We started following the various series' at different race tracks in the UK and even some rounds overseas. I was completely hooked by now.
DB Who have you found to be most supportive of your career?
HRM My husband Darren and my mum. Both have always pushed me to take hold of any opportunity that came my way. Darren has taught me a lot on the racing side in terms of how every different series' race happens, how drivers and riders qualify, difference between factory and satellite bikes, riders and their past championships and so on.
My mum has always been an inspiration and has always wanted me to achieve and be something. She always tells me how proud she is of me. It's not easy for an Asian woman to step up and try to become successful in a career, especially if it's in an area where it's male dominated, but my mum wanted to see me step up and achieve my goals.
DB How did you get into a career in motorsport?
HRM I came across Donington Park via a different job I was in at the time. It was pure coincidence (and fate) that a sales position in hospitality was available at the time I met with the Circuit Manager for other business matters and I was lucky to have been offered the job, due to my passion and knowledge of the sport, plus my sales and business experience.
I started off managing corporate hospitality for the race circuit for all super race and club meetings. The role included sales generation for hospitality and then the implementation and management of the hospitality areas on the event days and weekends. It was great fun and I met many great people at each event and season.
The events ranged from World Superbikes, British Touring Cars, British Superbikes, F3/GTs, ELMS, classic car and bike events, festivals and VIP events.
I started managing sponsorship opportunities for the park from 2014 and was involved in some great iconic deals.
I parted from the park towards the end of 2014 and joined the MSV team for the British Superbikes Championship to coordinate the podium for each round in 2015. As I followed this series for some years as a keen spectator, and as I looked after many of the BSB guests during my Donington days in hospitality, I pretty much knew who was who in the paddock and the racing teams, which made this role easier to execute. It was a huge honour and pleasure to be a part of such a great series which is growing from strength to strength each season. I have also made some great friends from this series. The BSB is a big family and I loved being a part of it.
I then was head hunted by an agency who came across me for my current position at BAM Motorsports. I manage the sponsorship activation and marketing plans for various drivers and teams across the globe. I also promote our other services such as F1 Paddock Club, MotoGP VIP Village, Le Mans 24Hours VIP packages and WTCC VIP packages. BAM Motorsports is a great business which offers a range of key services to support and promote teams, drivers, VIP packages and Motorsport in general. This role is a dream come true for someone like me who watched racing on TV once upon a time and now lives and breathes the industry every day. I even get to visit major GP race tracks across the globe which I only dreamt of ever seeing such as Monaco, Spain, Shanghai, Imola, Macau, Mexico and Abu Dhabi!
DB What are your biggest challenges in the industry?
HRM Being a woman in a male dominated industry is never easy. Motorsport is an industry where women are successfully now making a mark in various areas such as marketing, hospitality, media and also in racing. However, many women in this industry normally come with a brolly and a pretty face, and it is assumed that all women come with this background and therefore aren't taken seriously but admired for their looks.
It's a difficult one as this mentality comes from many many years ago now and won't diminish overnight. However, there are several women who are involved in racing, the teams and the business side of Motorsport now which are giving us women more recognition for our hard work and gives us the right level of attention and for the right reasons. We need more women out there to make their mark and get involved.
DB What do you love about the industry?
HRM Mostly everything. Two wheels, four wheels, the sounds, the smell of engines, the racing action, the various personalities of drivers, riders and teams, the family orientated industry, corporate brand associations, the different championships and series across the globe and the large spectator following worldwide.
DB What is the stand-out highlight of your career thus far?
HRM As a one off, I had the opportunity to be a pit lane reporter for Donington Park's very own Classic Motorcycle Festival which included celebrity historic champions and riders!
I always wanted to be like Suzi Perry. She's an idol. That weekend, I also had the very honour of looking after and interviewing the guest of honour, Mr Kevin Schwantz! A weekend which definitely won't be forgotten easily!
DB Have you encountered sexism in motorsport? If so, how do you deal with it?
I personally haven't encountered this yet, but I can imagine that many clients and businesses expect to deal with a male instead of a female when we are talking about Motorsport and partnership deals, especially with my current role which involves communicating with businesses in the Asian continent which aren't use to having women dealing with business partnerships in this industry. It's purely a perception which we can diminish with our hard work and efforts. Slowly these mindsets will change for sure.
DB What advice would you give to women wanting to get into motorsport as an industry?
HRM To be appreciated and respected in this industry, you have to work hard and in a professional role to gain that acknowledgement.
It's a great industry to be a part of and if you love the smell and sound of engines, then get up and join this big crazy family! There's plenty of opportunities arising worldwide in this industry. It's all about grabbing the right opportunity.
You can make your dreams come true too, like I did.
PROGRESS MADE THIS QUARTER
Skills Level-Up: Emails
We figured out how to access our Arvixe-hosted emails. They're no longer forwarded to our personal emails and answered from there. You can reach Dory at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Brij at email@example.com.
Woman of the Week Series
We've had a good response to the WotW series. Formula E's official twitter account tweeted about Naomi's WotW (twice, including once on International Women's Day!), which extended our reach in a way that we're very grateful for. Our apologies that it's been a bit patchy; our personal lives got in the way of weekly interviews.
Scholarship and Sponsorship Fund
We're working on more efficient options to fill the fund without getting out the donations hat. The Zazzle store...it's an expensive way of running an online store, so very little of what y'all spend on merch actually ends up in the fund. We're in talks with a silk artist to make custom scarves (including a version that can be used as head scarves by the Muslim sisters and a modesty shawl for the breast-feeding sisters) for the store that will be appearing on the website in the next quarter. We're looking for people to print t-shirts, hoodies, etc. to replace the Zazzle option. If you know a motorsport-friendly t-shirt printer, please email us about them! Bonus points awarded if it's a business owned and run by a woman or a member of a traditionally marginalised group.
We realised that the best way to get kids excited about motorsport is to get them to participate. The basic model for this project will be to host family fun days in towns with karting tracks, have races for both kids and parents, and generally provide a good time for everyone. This will achieve several Sisterhood-orientated goals – provide cost-efficient karting days to get kids proficient before their parents invest in equipment; give everyone the opportunity to race against girls, and get used to seeing them as competitors; show a good cross-section of talent to bring up stars from the next generation. We're in discussions with people in the UK and Canada to get this going as a reality.
WHAT WE'RE PLANNING FOR THE NEXT QUARTER
We've had Bunmi from Gridpasses (who interviewed Danielle Murphy for WotW) write for us. Bunmi has been a part of the influence circle for the Sisterhood from the beginning. She's been my sounding board since the community was little more than an idea, and is a tour de force of Twitter introductions. We're also bringing Sarah on board as a contributor. When we get the store sorted out, her artwork will be on some of the shirts. She will also be writing for us.
On the subject...
If you have pieces written about women in motorsport, but can't find a motorsport media outlet to publish your article, give us a shout. We would love your content! Likewise, if you would like to interview a woman in the industry who you think is amazing, contact us; we would love to have her as a Woman of the Week.
Once the Sisterhood HQ is in Oxfordshire (should happen this quarter, all things being equal), we want to start games nights. As in, we rent a venue that has a kitchen and a liquor license, provide a meal and two beers, and play geeky games like 30 Seconds: Motorsport Edition. A small portion of the cover charge will be donated to the Scholarship/Sponsorship fund. The events will not be women-only; you're welcome to bring partners, friends, team-mates, etc. of both genders. Or show up in all-girl and all-guy teams and compete to see who's smarter. Whatever works for you.
There's only so much that anybody can do over the internet. I realised in January that I couldn't possibly run the Sisterhood from my hometown in Zimbabwe. I am in the process of organising a relocation to the UK to be closer to the action. Dory has come to Africa for a writer's retreat, and will be staying until the book is finished. She will continue to do interviews and research for the book (which is a novel about F1 culture) via Skype and email.
We've been talking about running courses since we started. We aim to have the first one online in June/July. The hitch has been that both Dory and I think what the community needs is training in feminism, but there's always such a backlash from the general social media public as soon as the F word is mentioned. Nobody else is running those courses, and the data show that there's a need for us as a sporting community to have these discussions. So we're coming to a compromise. We're writing courses about authenticity on social media and in sponsor selection, and handling salary and contract negotiations confidently, and dealing with rejection. These are properly applicable topics in feminism, and will hopefully be more interesting and informative than hardcore feminist theory.
Accounts on the Site
We want to start a 'get an account' function on the webpage. We won't charge for membership; we want it to just be a way of showing off your motorsport street cred and running a specialist CV. Kinda like LinkedIn for motorsport professionals. This is going to require some concerted tech effort, which will probably only be possible in April/May when I've written my exams (I'm busy doing a second bachelor's at the moment, and have more than a full course load this semester, which has been slowing me down).
We still want to have the Spa weekend. Wouldn't it be lovely to do the Spa 24hr with someone on hand to rub our aching feet and backs at the end of a hard day, and tidy up our ratty-looking hair before we head off to the track? Unfortunately, we've still not found a campsite to host us. I even tried writing to the Mairie (the mayor's office) of Spa-Francorchamps in (admittedly rather broken) French to ask about campsites. Nothing. If you know a campsite in Spa-Francorchamps who would like to host about 150 people (Sisterhood, plus partners, friends, and/or children), please email us about them?
Hair for Equality
Not something that's technically happening this coming quarter, but it came to our attention since I wrote the last CEO's Report. Apparently some teams (no names mentioned) hire traditional barbers to give their male employees party hair for their Christmas parties, leaving the women to fend for themselves. For sure, there are bigger feminist issues than party hair. However, we're in the fairness game, so if it happens again we will arrange for a hairdresser (or a team of hairdressers) to give girls from those teams stylish up-dos. We'll tweet about it in a way that doesn't slander the teams with the unfair party benefit schemes, but makes it clear who's doing the work and making their women feel welcome in the industry.
We're really super-happy to have all the new followers/likers on board. Thank you all for supporting us this early in the journey! We hope to see you at events this year.
Today is International Women's Day. Happy Women's Day! We hope you have a lovely day, and are treated well by everyone you meet today. We also hope your day includes a foot massage from a loved one.
We've had some questions about our feminist orientation, and today seems like a good occasion to officially address them in a public forum. Bear in mind as you read this that there are as many expressions of feminism as there are feminists. Not all women are feminists, and not all feminists are women.
Are we feminists?
Of course we are. Any organisation that works expressly for the equality of women is, by definition, feminist. Fourth Wave feminism is also concerned with the equality of minorities, people of colour, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and other sexual/gender minorities including intersex and asexual people) community, etc. The low numbers of women (and people of colour, and LGBTQ+ people and other minorities) in motorsport fits within that brief.
Are we the kind of feminists who shave our heads but not our legs (and insist that others do the same)?
No. That kind of feminist has become more rare since Second, Third, and Fourth Wave feminism came into being. We believe that gender expression is a personal thing. If you want to wear pink dresses, make-up, and style your long hair into epic, Pinterest-inspired masterpieces, that's great. If you're more into jeans-and-plaid (or, let's be realistic, team kit) with low-maintenance hair, that's also great. How you feel comfortable expressing your femininity is great for you, and we don't believe in policing it. Women who police other women's gender expression for not being feminine enough are called phallic women; we don't approve of that either.
Do we hate men?
No, no, no! We love (most) men. Hating all men universally, simply for having penises, is not what feminism is about (or at least not the kind of feminism that we practice). Some men are sexist assholes; some women are sexist assholes; sexist assholery is not gender-specific. Hating men is counter-productive, especially in an industry dominated by straight white guys, a large number of whom are really great to women.
Are we an exclusive women's club?
Yes and no. We welcome male followers of our social media accounts. We welcome engagement from men, and will retweet/share/reblog male writers/journalists if they're writing about women in motorsport. Once our community events (games nights, comedy storytelling nights, etc.) get off the ground, those will be men-welcoming. Motorsport is a community, and that community includes (mostly) men. When the end of 2016 rolls around, it will bring an awards ceremony, and we will have awards that are, by weight of demographics, open to men (eg. team boss of the year, department head of the year, parent of the year, etc.) to recognise and big up the people who are supportive of women's careers. Take notes of cool stuff people do for you, girls, because we expect you to justify your nominations with examples of their cool, supportive behaviour! We will also have awards that are exclusive to women (eg. racer of the year, journalist of the year, engineer of the year, etc.) because we want to celebrate women's achievements.
Do we hate grid girls?
No, we don't hate grid girls. Grid girls are women involved in motorsport too, and deserve to be welcomed into the community, especially since some of them use their modelling work to support their racing habit. (They also use modelling to pay their bills in this tough economy, to get an education, etc., but that's a story for another time.) That said, we would like to have a conversation about the wider motorsport community treating women as sex objects. In the academic literature, believing that women are sex objects strongly correlates with more problematic things like high rape rates, wide pay gaps, and low gender integration. We're not okay with women being 'entertainment' (actual quote from an email between a series boss and a friend of Brij's who asked why they had grid girls). If we're going to have grid girls, we want to get to know them as people rather than as boobs-on-legs.
Do we expect all women in motorsport to be preachy women's lib types?
No. If you are a women who loves fast cars, you are by definition a member of the sisterhood. We accept that there will be a variety of political opinions within the group. Assuming that all women will think or feel the same about a particular topic is an insidious form of sexism, because it doesn't take into account that all women are multi-dimensional individuals with opinions of their own.
Are we fan-welcoming?
Of course! Most people – women included – who end up working in motorsport started out as fans. If you're a fan-woman with a skill you feel could enrich the community, give us a shout! Good at sewing? Great, we could use some Sisterhood-branded purple superhero capes for comic effect. Good at video editing? We can definitely find a way for you to participate. Good at organising functions? As luck would have it, that's a skill that applies to motorsport too. All we require is that you treat other members of the wider sisterhood with the respect you would like to receive.
Drifting is one of the fastest growing extreme motorsports around the world and Danielle Murphy is one of very few successful female Drift competitors in Europe with Pro-level status. She won the first ever Queen of Europe Championship in 2013, was runner up in 2014 and Champion again in 2015 - and also secured 5th place 2015 Championship finish in the King of Europe Street Legal Class.
She has big plans for 2016: make a bigger impact - not only across Europe, but around the World as both a competitor and ambassador. She intends to upgrade the engine in her car, along with major fabrication improvements to be more competitive against the bigger European Teams and have a better chance to beat them.
Fresh of her 3rd place finish in Battlemania New Zealand at Bruce McLaren motorsport park, she spoke to Bunmi Ade about her love for motorsport, her career so far, challenges she has faced, and her future career plans.
Bunmi Ade: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Danielle Murphy: My first memory of Motorsport was of my dad and his brothers racing Stock cars during the 80’s, I attended my first race when I was just 2weeks old! I’m not sure which my earliest memory of them times were but I do remember some particular instances like my dad winning a race with 3 wheels after losing one 5 laps from the finish! Or the tensions and arguments between the competitors, it was a pretty rough game! My dad won the Championship 3 times during the 1980’s but stopped soon after I was born to pursue a Haulage business which also went on to be successful.
BA What inspired you to pursue a career in motorsport and specifically Drifting? What is a typical route into the sport?
DM I never planned to have a career in Motorsport to be honest, I was always lucky that with my parents Haulage business, I was able to drive performance and powerful cars from when I was 18 (Legal limit to drive in Ireland is 17) I was always interested in power over looks of a car. I got involved in the Tuning Scene and attended Car Shows across the Country and the UK. It was at these shows that I seen stunt drivers go around in circles and raising smoke from burning the tyres (in a confined and safe area), the crowd love it. It wasn’t my thing as I thought, “anyone can do that!” So I challenged myself to get involved with these shows which then led to me being recognised as a girl. Drifting then started in Ireland a few years later, which was a bigger challenge and required a lot more car control. It was unknown for any women competing at this time, I knew I could do it and I wanted to be the first woman to make a name in a man’s World. I always wanted to Rally but I could never afford it, when Drifting started it was easy to start on a small budget. As the years went on my “hobby” started to progress with results across Ireland & the UK. Then I wanted more challenges and went to Europe, and presently now chasing worldwide recognition. But I think the word “career” is a little strong at the moment as I am not receiving any financial support, as much success I have achieved to date, the daily struggle is still very evident.
BA Have you encountered sexism in motorsport? If so, how do you deal with it?
DM Yes, as I started going up the ranks and achieving results in the early days I found a lot of jealousy, be it from competing in the UK with some Irish competitors talking, or competing in the UK and dealing with severe harassment and bullying, either way it all seemed to stem from the one thing, jealousy. I’m a woman who can drive as well as any man, even when my car was not up to proper competition specifications, I did all my own mechanics, drove my own truck and had my own business. It is hard to ignore it but it was always the better option. My mother always told me to Smile, regardless if inside I was screaming, because behind a smile, no-one can see what you are really thinking or feeling. The extremeness of the bullying and damage I experienced in the UK back those few years ago was what actually pushed me to Europe, I was ready to quit and walk away, but my mother literally picked me up from my negative mindset, she told me that she would get behind me 100% and emotionally support me to compete in Europe, “We will give it one good year, if it doesn’t work out, you know you tried your best and will never have any regrets”. Those words, I will never forget, since my first competition in Europe, I have never looked back, I grew back to the strong, confident woman I was before, I’m living my dreams and the true hunger to succeed after I realised I could is making me thrive to this day and beyond. It is because of this experience you will often see me use the hashtag in my social media posts #NeverGiveUp #FightForYourDreams
BA What advice would you give to women starting out a motorsport career? What sort of ambassador role would you like to perform?
DM Just do it! Women tend to overthink and analyze things! I’m so grateful to have had some women contact me in a variety of circumstances previous, 90% were not encouraged by friends or loved ones as they wished to try get into Motorsport, be it Competing, Marshalling or Photography. They follow my Social Media and see me constantly overcome many challenging obstacles, be it mechanical, financial or transport issues, I have experienced them all on a major scale! But even when all options seem to be explored, I somehow find the energy to keep looking and believing that giving up is never an option (for me anyway) and I find a way. I decided to open this element of my life through my Social Media so everyone can see what goes on behind the scenes, the reality & the struggles. This first started among my friends but then I started getting messages from people around the World telling me how much of an inspiration I was to them and that because of me they have overcome professional, personal and even health challenges.
That is the role I want to continue to perform. For me, I’m not here to get rich, I’m doing what I love doing all while sharing my story with whoever wants to follow it, and by my story I want not only women but men & children to always believe that absolutely anything in this World is possible once you believe in it and have the support of loved ones along the way, I am proof of this. Make achievable goals while working towards your ultimate goal, and piece by piece the road will fall at your feet.
BA What is your most memorable event in your career so far?
DM There is a lot within these past few years, but ultimately, the first ever Queen of Europe Event was held in Bulgaria in June 2013. One week before the event I decided to make the trip, but it was impossible to take my car due to the distance and finance of logistics, that and I was pretty scared of driving in some of the Eastern Europe Countries from stories carried through Trucker friends. The organiser of the event was able to hire a car for me, the only thing I knew was the car was brown, the same model of my own and required 18” tyres! Literally at the final hour, my only option to make it to the event on time (with financial help from friends and family) I got the ferry to the UK from Dublin with my mam, a friend drove from Peterborough to Holyhead to collect us, take us to gatwick within 5 hours to make a flight to Sofia, Bulgaria! It was my first event properly outside of Ireland and the UK and I was nervous, I ended up winning this event then on to claiming the Championship that year. It was that event and journey into the unknown, being brave and taking on a challenge, that I realised I did actually have potential and the ability as a driver, and after that moment the past was left behind, I used the past to fuel my future, and now personally, it’s pretty surreal to see how far I have come since that one event. I regularly look back on the video documentary of that trip and it inspires me
Our Woman of the Week is Naomi Panter, known by her teammates as 'Pants'. She started her motorsport career as one of the founding members of Current E. At the end of Formula E's first season, she was offered a role as PR and Communications Manager for Mahindra Racing.
Naomi at Buddh International Circuit. Photo credit: Nick Heidfeld
Bridget Schuil: What was your first memory of motorsport?
Naomi Panter: It's something I got from my dad - he has always been a huge fan of cars and of racing. Some of my earliest motorsport memories are of watching F1 on TV. My dad was a big Damon Hill fan. I remember him winning the World Championship, and his years against Villeneuve. Along with that, I remember going to a couple of classic car rallies. My dad's passion was always classic cars. I went along to a few, and remember loving the sounds and smells of the cars.
My mum was also a big inspiration, although she was more interested in bikes. She met my dad when they were both working in the hotel in Banbury. It was one of the hotels used by a lot of the racing teams around the time of the British Grand Prix. They would often tell me stories of people in motorsport coming to stay in the hotel, like the time they found the nose cone of a Marlboro McLaren birthday cake or the time they cooked and served Alain Prost his breakfast the morning he won the British Grand Prix. (As a family, we take a teeny bit of credit for fuelling that win. Not that I’d dare say that to him now in the paddock.)
BS When did you decide to pursue a career in motorsport?
NP It's almost embarrassing, because it sounds so recent. I always dreamed of working in motorsport, but it was never a realistic goal for me. My background is in architecture; there was never a direct translation of my skills into motorsport, which I always assumed was either racing, or engineering and technology. Ireland has a very strong heritage of motorsport, but it wasn't really accessible where I lived in Limerick.
I remember distinctly when I decided to push for a career in motorsport. It was just before the British Grand Prix in 2013 – the year Hamilton's tyre blew up. I had tickets to the Grand Prix, which was my first ever Formula One race. My dad and I drove from Ireland, and we took the time to explore the area around Silverstone. We went to Woodstock and Banbury, and the towns were filled with team members wearing their kit, all preparing for the weekend ahead. It was that feeling of the motorsport community, and the heritage of racing, and a sense of them doing something monumental. It was there and then that I made the decision to spend the next few years pushing really hard to make a career in motorsport and to be creative about how I would get there.
Winning the VW Ireland Journalists' Hot Lap Competition. Photo credit: Paddy McGrath
BS You mentioned you were an architect. How did you get from architecture to your current role?
NP So yeah, I trained as an architect. My interest was always in the creative. The five year course was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was incredible, it was intensive, and it taught me a lot about a wide array of things. Architects are famous for knowing a little about a lot, in that they have a very broad skill-set. This means that you can think about things in minute detail while also considering something on the scale of an entire building. If you translate that into what I'm doing, it's very much a similar idea – we're not talking about a building, but we're talking about putting together a race weekend and building an entire community. It's important to be able to see the end goal while focussing on the minute details that need to get you there.
BS Who have you found to be the most supportive person in your motorsport career?
NP As I've said, my partnership with Ross is one that I treasure, and I don't think either of us would have got to where we are now without each other. It was a very complimentary partnership, and one that certainly drove me; I think it drove Ross as well. And Ross introduced me to the Formula E paddock.
BS That's an interesting route to take. How did you reposition yourself for work in motorsport?
NP Well, I graduated in the middle of a recession, in 2011. There weren't many opportunities, but I was lucky in that I was never out of work. I worked on a sustainable transport project straight out of University for three years and quickly moved towards the PR and creative side of the project. I wasn't used to only working nine to five. Regularly, in architecture school, we would skip one night’s sleep each week, just to get things done. I used the free time that I suddenly had to start to experiment with motorsport. I used mornings, evenings, and weekends to start working on various projects.
I was lucky that the first person I met was Ross Ringham at Current E, which was essentially a technical blog at that time. Formula E was still in its early stages. A lot of teams and drivers hadn't been announced. From the first conversation, we had a very similar vision. We knew that this was a great opportunity to get stuck in and make something cool that people would respond to – me working on the graphic, creative side, and Ross on the editorial side. That began a partnership that I really treasure. Ross and I worked very hard, and started working with Shivy (Shivraj Gohill) on photograhy. About halfway through the Formula E season, Dan (Bathie) joined us as well. It was a very good professional partnership, even though we were only communicating via WhatsApp and the occasional Skype, which is amazing, looking back.
Ross’ cheeky approach of (and I’m paraphrasing) “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” has certainly helped us get very far, and I'm very proud of what we achieved in the first year. I’m glad that Ross, Shivy, Dan and I still work together on some projects. I've learned an enormous amount from all of them. That quality of their work has never faded, and if anything is just continuing to improve. It's wonderful to watch how Current E's profile is still expanding. Even though I don't wear the Current E across my sleeve any more, I am immensely proud of what we all built together.
Naomi trying a car out for size at the London ePrix
BS What are the biggest challenges you face in motorsport?
NP Well, my role in motorsport isn't a traditional one. I didn't get my job through an agency, or working in a motorsport setting. I got to where I am in a very different way. The challenge for me so far was getting here, and I hope my work will speak for itself and allow me to stay. I personally find it quite difficult to switch off. There is always a lot to think about and to plan. I care a lot about what I do and with the exception of a few rare nights, I have dreamed about Mahindra Racing and about Formula E every night since I joined the team last August.
As to the most challenging aspect of the work, it's no secret that the schedule is demanding. The sheer amount of hours we need to put in before and during a race weekend can be a shock to the system. But when you get a great result like Nick's podium in Beijing, or our double points finish in Buenos Aires, it feels like winning the Championship. Success in racing feels like nothing else. It goes without saying that it's hard work, but if we weren't all absolutely passionate about it, we wouldn't be doing it.
BS What was the most exciting or surreal moment in your career thus far?
NP I don't know if surreal is the right word, but for sure standing on the grid before my first race with Mahindra, in my team kit was amazing. Having worked really hard and got through the nerves of planning for this first race, I just stood and took a moment to just be there. It was an incredible feeling, and I'll never forget it. The grid is my favourite bit of every race weekend. We go through a lot in the preparation before each race, the days are just so busy, and in many ways the grid is my moment to just take a breath to realise where I am. It's a fantastic thing.
There was also a surreal moment in Beijing. I'm notably tall at 6’3”. That can draw a bit of attention. In Beijing, I was walking with Nick (Heidfeld) and Bruno (Senna) to a press conference in the Bird’s Nest Stadium, and this guy came running up with a camera, speaking in Chinese to Bruno. That's nothing new; that happens all the time. But he was trying to give the camera to Bruno. Bruno was like, “Do you want a photo?” and then the fan gave the camera to Bruno and pointed at me. Nick and Bruno were in stitches, laughing at me. Nick tweeted a photo of Bruno taking a photo of me. That was definitely an ice-breaking moment with the drivers who still constantly tease me about how tall I am.
At the Beijing ePrix. Photo credit: Nick Heidfeld
BS What advice would you give to women or girls looking to pursue a career in motorsport?
NP It's a tricky one; I don't think of myself as doing anything against the odds, so I'm not sure I can really answer that. I’ve been very lucky. I just want to be seen as a person who is pursuing what they love, who just turned up and got on with it. In the autumn of 2014, I couldn’t even get media accreditation for the preseason tests; I actually snuck in past the guards the first day. By preseason testing for Season Two, I was back there, this time in my Mahindra team kit. I think that's all down to being rigorous about what I was doing, and clear about where I was going.
To girls and women specifically, I would say to not think in those terms explicitly. Motorsport is an area that relies on finding people with the best experience and the best skills, whether male or female. All teams are in competition. Teams want the best ability, the best insights, the best ideas. They want to always be a few steps ahead, and that doesn't discriminate. It's about trying to be the best and showing people that you deserve to be there. Everyone starts somewhere, so just get going.