Kelly has been involved in racing since she was a teenager. She started out volunteering at events, and worked her way up to a paid position in a race team. In her final year before launching KBru Communications, Kelly worked for Team Falken Tire in the American Le Mans Series. She now owns and runs KBru Communications, working to increase fan engagement for her clients.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Kelly Brouillet: It would probably be watching the Indycar races with my dad at home in the early 90s. Neither one of us were involved in a participant capacity yet at that point, and anytime there was a race on, you could be sure we were parked in front of the TV. Although I don’t think it was my first race event, my clearest early event memory would be going to the inaugural US 500 at Michigan International Speedway in 1996, watching Jimmy Vasser win over legends like Greg Moore, Emerson Fittipaldi and Alex Zanardi. Man, what a field.
BS When did you decide that a career in motorsport was what you wanted to pursue?
KB Like any young person, I went into college not really knowing what I wanted to do. I was horrible at math and science, but had a good understanding of computers and communication. I started working the CART races as a volunteer at 13, and by the time I was in college, I was getting small jobs here and there in ChampCar and Formula BMW USA. As my major shifted from Computer Programming to Speech Communications in my third year, doors continued to open in racing, and I realized I could potentially make a career out of it, at least for a few years.
BS What do you love about the industry?
KB The people. The fans really only see a small part of our racing family, and don’t really get to know the drivers, crew and management like us participants do. They are some incredibly amazing people here, and we’re a strange, big family. It takes a special kind of person to be on the road for as long as we are, working the hours that we do, in the high pressure and very expensive environment that is racing. It’s not for everyone. The people still around have grit, to say the least. They’re highly intelligent, funny, and we all understand each other. We’re our own traveling circus.
BS Any career highlights you'd like to share?
KB Joining Flying Lizard Motorsports was a big moment for me. Even when I didn’t watch sports car racing, I knew who the Lizards were. Their history is legendary and they carry themselves with such integrity. They were also the first sports car team to hire me because they genuinely liked my work and wanted me on their team. Cost or connections weren’t a factor, it was purely quality. To be recognized like that by a team like the Lizards was incredible.
Then of course the big wins through the years are always memorable: Back to back Baltimore wins with Falken Tire with Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler, the 25 Hours of Thunderhill with Flying Lizard, EFFORT Racing’s dominating weekend runs at Mid-Ohio and St. Petersburg, the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring with Tequila Patron ESM, winning COTA by over 30 seconds in the rain with K-PAX Racing and Kevin Estre. Those are the moments where everyone comes together, all the hard work pays off and nothing cataclysmic happens. And those are the best press releases to write.
BS You run your own business in motorsport communication. How did you get to be an independent contractor?
KB As with most things in racing, it was a result of cost. I was working full time for Derrick Walker, who managed the Falken Tire American Le Mans Series program. After one year, I was moved to work directly under Falken Tire, and they downsized the role from full time to part time. It saved them a lot of money, but I couldn’t work on a part time salary, so with their permission, I started to take on other clients in the ALMS. John Edwards was a longtime friend and in the need of a public relations representative, and he reached out immediately. Word got out very quickly I was taking new clients, and within a month, my roster for the year was full. I never really wanted to start my own business, it just worked out that way. As each year shows more growth than the next, it seems to be working out rather well. Who knew!
BS Who have you found to be the most supportive of your career?
KB A spunky carefree spirit by the name of Michele Henn. I met her when I was working in ChampCar and after just a few minutes of chatting, she gave me her business card. Her background included Skip Barber Racing School, and at that time was managing the show at Formula BMW USA. She saw potential and gave me a chance to work under her and learn some new sides of the sport. It was a small opportunity, but that tiny offer led directly to my job at Skip Barber Racing School, which led me to Derrick Walker and Falken Tire, which led me to starting my own company. She and I again work in the same series, and I’m forever grateful for that one small chance she gave me, and how she continues to cheer me on. She’s a great friend to have, and her work ethic is second to none.
BS You recently addressed a fan's sexist/discriminatory comment in an open letter. Is this an isolated incident, or, from the responses you've had, is this a frequent issue facing women in the industry?
Despite the common perception that it was an isolated incident, it wasn’t. I can’t speak for other women, but for me, it probably happens 3-5 times a day, whether it’s a sexually explicit comment, an “accidental brush”, or a simple ignorant remark. I received maybe 50-70 responses from women sharing similar stories not only in our sport, but the NFL and MLB as well.
BS How do you deal with sexist/discriminatory behaviour on a day-to-day basis?
KB Previously, I just ignored it, or maybe made a slightly snarky but respectful comment back, but this time, when it was said directly to my employer, I realized that by not saying anything, I’m saying that kind of treatment is acceptable. After going through some of the responses in my inbox, it’s obvious a lot of women are hesitant to speak up, for fear they’ll receive the same backlash I got. We’re called dramatic, entitled, angry, accused of playing the victim or over exaggerating. We get shamed for simply standing up for ourselves, and that’s not right. So many men came forward and apologized in disbelief for not realizing this still happens, and promised to make an effort to stop it when they see it. That’s great stuff!
This misogynistic attitude starts somewhere, and I’ve now made it my goal to continue to respectfully confront it each time it occurs. Judging by the responses, it’s clear that there’s a BIG misunderstanding between giving someone a compliment and making a demeaning comment because of someone’s sex. There’s also a difference between being attracted to someone and how you choose to act on that attraction. Just because a woman wants to look presentable doesn’t mean it gives anyone the right to make violating, demeaning comments or actions. One man’s comment said if women didn’t want that kind of attention, we wouldn’t put on make-up or do our hair in the morning. Seriously.
My article was very clear and concise, yet so many choose to miss the point, misconstrue my words, jump to conclusions and further tear down myself and other women, the support and progressive conversations that have come from it far outweigh the negative. They chose to ignore our stories and firsthand knowledge of this topic, and instead responded with doubt, mockery and hate. Their ignorance and hate proved my point better than I ever could. It hurts me to know other women have to see those words, and I’m very much aware that some of those respondents are so far gone, no logic will get through to them. My message was about simple respect, and they make the conscientious decision to run with it in the exact opposite direction. As for me, every day is a choice to represent myself in the best way possible and encourage others to do the same. It’s not easy, and sometimes we mess up. Sometimes there were be people sitting up in the peanut gallery determined to put you down instead of encourage you, without even attempting to understand that maybe you know what you’re talking about, because you’re right there in it. But in the end, you’re in control of how you choose to deal with it and how to use it to inspire others. Many women found their voice from this, and that’s one of the many things I was hoping would happen.
BS What advice would you give to girls/women wanting to pursue a career in motorsport?
KB Look at the big picture. Females in the sport are under a microscope. Right now, we get scrutinized unfairly on a regular basis because of old thinking and because of the actions of other women in the sport. It’s gradually changing, but it’s something we all need to be aware of. Racing is a small community, and every connection is valuable. Don’t burn bridges. If you want a long term career in the sport, you have to think long term about your connections and presence in the sport.
Connect with other women in the sport who share your values and goals. Don’t see them as your competition. Some of the most intelligent and supportive women I’ve met are from the motorsports community. Sometimes, as a woman, you’ll have to work harder to prove you’re here for the right reasons, but eventually, if you do it right, people will recognize you for your skills and professionalism. Sometimes, you’ll have to distance yourself from people who bring down your credibility. Everything is a balance, and you’ll have to make a constant effort to maintain that balance.
On this day – the 12th of April – in 1961, humanity slipped the bonds of Earth. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin blasted into orbit, and spent the best part of two hours in orbit. As a result, today is celebrated as a day of celebrating space exploration.
First up, to soundtrack your reading of this article, click play on this. It is Commander Chris Hadfield's rendition of David Bowie's “Space Oddity,” which he recorded aboard the International Space Station.
Since we at Motorsport Sisterhood are all about women in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics), we thought we'd write about a few women who have inspired young girls to pursue careers in physics, engineering, and the fields that space travel and motorsport have in common. Many women have participated in building space craft, going to space, and working on space-based experiments. This is just a highlights reel as we skip chronologically through humanity's history of space travel. NASA have a Women@NASA page, if you want to check out some inspirational examples for yourself.
Cosmonaut (and later politician) Valentina Tereshkova holds the distinction of being the first woman in space. From a background in amateur skydiving, she was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps in 1962, and piloted the Vostok 6 on the 16th of June, 1963 at the age of twenty-six. She was a full decade younger than any American astronaut who had flown. She orbited the earth forty-eight times, spending about three days in space. In that single flight, she logged more space time than all the American astronauts to date combined. She periodically took photographs of the horizon, which were later used to analyse the atmosphere's layers. Tereshkova later went on to earn a doctorate in engineering in 1977, finally retiring from the Russian Air Force and cosmonaut corps in 1997.
She's not a scientist or an engineer. She's not even an astronaut. The furthest she's been above the earth is a sub-orbital flight that NASA organised as a special treat for her when she was in her eighties (as an aside, if I'm riding the Vomit Comet on sub-orbital flights when I'm in my eighties, I'll consider myself a successful grandma). Still, between 1966 and 1969, she inspired a generation of young, black girls to dream big. She was Lieutenant Uhuru on Star Trek – one of the first non-stereotypical portrayal of a black woman on an American primetime TV. Her role was so revolutionary that Martin Luther King Jr. urged her to stay on the show when she was considering leaving.
The second woman in space, Savitskaya began her career as a test and sport pilot. She set eighteen world records in MiG aircraft, and three group parachute records prior to joining the cosmonaut corps in 1980. Her first space flight was on the Soyuz T-7 mission in 1982. In 1984, she became the first woman to participate in two space flights. While in orbit, Savitskaya worked on the Salyut 7 space station, cutting and welding metals on a space walk that lasted for three hours and thirty-five minutes. This task made her the first woman to perform a space walk, and remains the only Russian woman to do so. She retired from the Russian Air Force in 1993 with the rank of Major. Savitskaya was so influential in Russian space exploration that she has an asteroid named in her honour – the 4118 Sveta.
Sally Ride holds the double distinction of being the first American woman as well as the first lesbian woman in space. A California native, she joined NASA in 1978 after they advertised for female physicists to join their astronaut candidate program. She was doing her PhD in physics, specialising in the interaction between x-rays and the interstellar medium, at the time. Her first flight was done at the age of thirty-two, and she remains the youngest American to have been to space. Despite being the capsule communicator on the second and third space shuttle flights, and being on the team that developed the shuttle's robotic Canadarm, before her flight on the seventh shuttle launch in 1983, she was besieged with questions from the press that related to her gender, rather than her technical skills (click here for a discussion between Sally Ride and legendary feminist Gloria Steinem). She provided key information to the investigative team after the Challenger disaster, and her observations about the behaviour of O-rings in extreme cold led the team to discover the cause of the accident.
Helen Sharman, OBE
The first Briton to fly to space, as well as the first woman aboard the Mir space station, Sharman was selected live on ITV in 1989 after a rigorous selection process to determine her suitability for the mission. Project Juno – a collaboration between the British and Russian governments – was initiated to put a Briton in space. While the lottery failed to fund the program, Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the mission to proceed funded by the Soviets, and Sharman launched on the 18th of May, 1991. She performed medical and agricultural tests aboard Mir, photographing the British Isles. She also performed an unlicenced radio hook-up with some British school children to promote space flight.
In 1992, space flight finally diversified when Mae Jemison became the first black woman to orbit. She began her university career at Stanford University at the age of sixteen, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Afro-American Studies. She then went on to a medical doctorate from Cornell, and worked in general practice before joining the Peace Corps. Following Ride's space flight, Jemison applied to NASA's astronaut candidacy program, and was part of the first class to be accepted after the Challenger disaster. In 1992, she was mission specialist on the forty-seventh shuttle flight, performing bone cell experiments, as well as researching weightlessness and motion sickness on herself and the other crew members. After her retirement from NASA, Jemison became the first actual astronaut to appear in on Star Trek.
The above-mentioned women are only a tiny slice of the women who have participated in space programs since their inception in the 1960s. The first South Korean and the first Iranian in space were both women. Women have performed a myriad roles within the machines of the Russian space program, NASA, ESA, and now private companies like SpaceX.
To end off, we'd like to leave you with NASA's parody of Gangnam Style, recorded at the Johnson Space Center by NASA staff.