This week we are featuring Geraldine Read as our Woman of the Week. A long-time motorsport fan, Geraldine discovered the joys of circuit racing after university. She was later selected for an all-girl Red Bull Rookies team for the Sepang 1000, placing a very respectable 12th. You can find her on facebook and Instagram. She also has a web series called Girl Torque.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Geraldine Read: I remember seeing a go kart in our car porch when I was a little girl. My dad was racing in a go kart race series in my hometown Kuching, Sarawak. I don’t remember what year it was, but it was 8 rounds around Kuching that was held as part of the Sarawak Championships. They closed the streets, and had the course run through the city and the entire town would come and watch and cheer. At the time, there weren’t any proper go kart tracks and the only place for them to practice was in an empty parking lot. I remember following my dad to practice and after he was done, he’d put me on his lap and let me “drive” the go kart – while his feet were operating the pedals.
I also remember watching the MotoGP and F1 on TV as a child. I was much more interested in bikes when I was younger, but never allowed to learn how to ride one because of my petite frame of 5’2” and also because I am a girl. Girls on bikes was unheard of and considered dangerous. I was determined to ride one but my first attempt nearly ended up in a drain so I stopped there. Learning how to drive a car was much easier and I didn’t have much problems picking it up. By my first official driving lesson, I was already driving on the main road (and in heels no doubt – but I highly discourage driving in high heels, I didn’t know it was dangerous then!).
My interest in cars grew when I was studying in Australia. The car modification scene there at the time was huge and I would be at every Autosalon that was held, even the drag meets that were insanely popular. I remember once I saw a girl driving and it peaked my interest even more.
Fast forward many years, I moved back to Malaysia and then was introduced to the Red Bull Rookie search in 2014. They were looking for female drivers to make up a full female team to race at the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race. At the time, the idea of me racing was far-fetched. By then, I had been to the race track with my cousins who tracked regularly but still, it had never crossed my mind to get behind the wheel at the track. I had never seen a female racer and had never even heard of Susie Wolff!
S What made you decide to pursue racing as a career?
GR Racing is my passion. I have a day job in an oil and gas services company still but hopefully I will be able to have the means to pursue this full-time. I fell in love with racing in 2014, when I joined the Red Bull Rookie search and made the full female team, earning my seat to race at the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race. Together with 2 other girls, we were given intensive training to prepare us for the gruelling 9 hour race. Up against factory teams and privateers alike, the race went well and we finished a commendable 12th place, and I was hooked.
BS What do you love about racing?
GR The feeling when I’m out there on the track, you’re forced to focus and concentrate 110%. Your day to day worries disappear and nothing else but driving in that moment matters, targeting to improve your timing one corner at a time. It’s also the challenge, the journey of getting myself onto the grid, it’s not as simple or straightforward as one would imagine. It makes you appreciate it even more when you finally get to the fun part - racing.
BS How do you support your racing habit?
GR Racing is expensive so I’ve had to look for funding and sponsorship to support my races. Currently I have a few sponsors that are supportive of my race journey - Lufter Cleanroom Builders, Auto Spahaus and Momentum Autoparts have been extremely supportive and I am very grateful for their support. I have also had help via Dream Chaser Malaysia which is a racing development program that also part funds my racing. I’m very thankful, because without all these sponsors, I would not be talking to you about racing today.
BS What are the highlights of your career thus far?
GR I haven’t been racing for very long so every race has been an achievement for me in its own way. From finishing my first race with the Red Bull Rookies to racing on my own in the local series, every race has had its ups and downs but most importantly are the lessons that I take away from it. I am happy that this year I am racing the full season of the Malaysia Championship Series. This is my first season racing in the MCS. It was a goal that I set for myself and it is what I am currently racing in, so I’m very happy that it’s come to life. We’re halfway through the season. I’ve learned so much along the way and looking forward to learning even more.
BS Who have you found to be the most supportive of your career?
GR I would have to say my partner is the most supportive of my racing. He himself is a racer too so he understands the challenges that I face and the industry that we are in. I’ve also had two special people who believed in me and encouraged me to dream bigger and they are the team that manage and provide the extra support to make racing happen. Thank you Alan, Sarah and Pete! <3 All that you see, would not be possible without them.
BS What biggest challenges have you faced in racing?
GR Funding. Funding is the single biggest challenge when it comes to racing. Racing is an expensive sport, and everything costs a lot of money. There’s just no way around it. You’d either have to be able to pay from your own pocket, or be able to raise the funds to pay for it. Balancing time away from work is also a challenge for me. I am lucky that my employer is supportive and understanding but, race weeks do take up a lot of time and I have to be careful not to abuse the privilege.
BS Have you experienced any sexism in motorsport? If so, how do you deal with it?
GR Yes, I think any female in motorsport is not spared from sexism, regardless of the role you play in the industry. Personally, the one that stuck out the most was when I was talking about my race with some friends and a guy exclaimed loudly that females can’t drive (let alone race) and all they know is how to crash cars. How did I deal with it? I just ignored him. There will be plenty of sexist comments that would come from many different kinds of people. Don’t think there is much point arguing with someone that doesn’t know what he is talking about.
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!
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.
Gemma Trotter is a Surrey-based racing driver. She secured a 2016 drive with Team Brit, with the ultimate goal of doing Le Mans. Ahead of the upcoming season, she'll be spending much of her time training at iZone, Silverstone.
Bridget Schuil: What is your first memory of motorsport?
Gemma Trotter: My dad used to have the Sunday afternoon superbikes coverage on really loud, but he wasn’t a car lover, unlike his daughter. After he decided to build a go-kart for all three daughters, including me, this was where my love for motorsport came in.
It may have been powered by a lawn mower engine, and achieve 33mph on the flat, I loved getting behind the wheel even more than just sitting on the sidelines, watching.
BS What inspired you to pursue a career in motorsport?
GT I always wanted to be a rally driver, which is such a raw form of motorsport, but I also loved the engineering of cars & felt I also wanted to work on them. I knew that the more I knew about the engineering side of cars, the better understanding I’d have when setting the car up for racing. Having that knowledge & close bond is a key part of getting the best out of any car.
Please describe/outline your motorsport career thus far?
I started racing hot rods when I was 17. I was a new above knee amputee and was finding my feet in life so to speak. I learned to walk and then a few months later, I started racing Hot Rods on dirt oval race tracks, going straight into the unlimited class called Super Saloons. The class was anything up to 3.5-litre engines, space-framed chassis, single bucket seat, rear wheel drive. My Dad & I felt going in at the top class was a sensible move, as the most progression I would make was in this class, plus I think he knew I wanted to go as fast as I could.
I wanted to race in a competitive, hungry class of good drivers, which gave me more hunger to win and improve. So I started out, a complete rookie, and consistently finished wet or dry. Finishing the championship 3rd overall was a real surprise, as I was racing against some very seasoned drivers. So I had the bug and we moved racetracks for the start of the new season - Tongham. This is where I stayed for the next 2.5 years, getting a 2nd in the year-long championship against 26 men! I was used to racing men, and being the one and only girl on crutches, it didn’t phase me!
After your accident, was it the prospect of potentially racing in the future that made you opt for the amputation, rather than life in a wheelchair?
My ambition was to race cars, to be the best I could, and this vision had never left my thoughts even when contemplating having my leg chopped off. I felt the leg I was left with after the accident would always hold me back and restrict my life, so going racing was definitely a great focus for me. It was the reason I got out of bed every morning and my main driving force to get me walking.
My leg was useless, painful and would’ve always held me back. I’d had enough of 2 years in hospital so my 25th operation was to get rid of my leg. I had 2 months to get back on my feet before I started my car mechanics course, which I was desperate to start. Life in a wheelchair was never an option, for me I couldn’t stand being in one, feeling like I had to break free from the life I was potentially forced to lead.
How did you come to be an ambassador for the Douglas Bader Foundation?
I knew of the Douglas Bader Foundation through their great work with both adult & junior amputees. I met Lady Bader early on in my recovery, feeling so drawn to the charity named after such a great man. I remember watching the film ‘Reach of the sky’ when I was an impatient at Roehampton, and Douglas became an instant hero to me.
I became a member of their cycling team, ‘Team Bader’ in 2015 and started competing in races and time trials on my road bike. I also competed in the London Triathalon as a part of a team and we loved raising awareness for the charity. Being their ambassador has always been a true honour and I love giving my time. Team Bader has enabled me to combine two passions, my voluntary work to help others and also to be competitive again.
How do you feel about the prospect of doing Le Mans in 2018?
To have the opportunity to race at Le Mans is a feeling you cannot describe or measure. For me, racing has been a big part of my life. But to race at the absolute pinnacle of the worldwide endurance race stage would be every dream come true. Everybody has an ultimate goal or ambition and Le Mans is at the very top!
Making history to be the first all disabled race team is going to inspire many worldwide to follow their dreams. It’s going to be a hard road to get Team BRIT there, but with the team’s grit and determination we will get there.
Have you encountered sexism in motorsport? If so, how do you deal with it?
I have earned a great respect from the majority of men I’ve raced against. Occasionally, you come across a man who thinks he’s a better driver, just because he’s a man. I find this a strange concept that someone can be better or worse, just because of their gender. Everybody should be on a level playing field and no assumptions be made of ability. The way I deal with it is to calmly say “We’ll see when we’re racing, eh?”
Talk is cheap, as I have always been able to hold my own with intimidating men. due to working in a garage & being surrounded by that sort of humour.
If there was something you could change about how the majority of people treat people with disability, what would it be?
I think too many people focus on what someone can’t do or what they’ve lost, rather than what they can actually achieve. Let’s celebrate what someone has achieved. People who have an injury don’t want sympathy, they just want to be treated normally. I think I have set myself some really big challenges since my accident, as a way of showing the world that having one leg doesn’t need to hold you back.
I get a buzz out of achieving things that you don’t expect to achieve with one leg. Everybody thinks it’ll never happen to them, but like my car accident, everything changed in the blink of an eye. It’s then about picking up the pieces and discovering a new you. I don’t regret the accident I was in, as I’ve seen such positives out of it that I could never regret the path my life took.
What advice would you give to women starting out a motorsport career?
The advice I would give any female starting out in motorsport is aim high and believe in yourself. It’s about having the confidence in both yourself and your ability to make it to the top. No excuse, no exceptions, just doing what you love doing and grabbing hold of your dreams.
It’s very male dominant and intimidating, but once you have the respect of others, you can just concentrate on being the best version of yourself behind the wheel. I feel the fire in my belly and excitement through my veins when I’m racing, as no other feeling comes even close!
Erica Ortiz is a drag racer from the United States. She started racing as a teenager, and hasn't looked back since. She did, however grow tired of people commenting on how she dressed outside the racing arena and founded Horsepower & Heels, an organisation to support women in racing. Horsepower & Heels has been growing slowly over the past decade with her dedicated work to make women feel welcome in racing. Instead of burning bras for her feminism, she burns rubber.
BS What's your first memory of motorsport?
EO I didn't come from a racing family or background, so my first memory of motorsports came during high school. I always had this unexplained love and fascination with hot rods, and a few classmates had fathers and siblings who were into drag racing. I was dating a boy in high school who had a brother that raced, and when they talked about going to the races over the weekend, I really wanted to go. I think he thought I was just trying to be a clingy girlfriend, and wasn't really interested in the cars, so he never invited me along, but I did run into them a few years later as I pulled my car beside their at the track.
BS What made you pursue a career in motorsport?
EO I always have been drawn to automotive and motorsports, and poured myself into learning everything I could about them. I didn't just want to drive, I wanted to understand the cars, the technology and to be involved in pushing the limits of these mechanical marvels on the track. It has always been my love and passion, even when life pushed me to the sidelines.
BS When did you first start racing?
EO My first time on the track was shortly after graduating high school. I bought my first car, a 1990 Mustang GT, and took it to the local test and tune night. I was hooked instantly.
BS What do you love about the industry?
EO Everything. For me, the cars and technology are fascinating, and I love seeing the connection between (wo)man and machine. But the biggest part is the people, racing is a lifestyle and so much more than just a sport. You can be the most intense of rivals on the track, but the racing community as a whole is one big family that you travel across the country with from week to week, all sharing this one driving passion that fuels your soul (pun cheesily intended).
BS How do you deal with the sexism you encounter?
EO I've been around long enough to have run the full spectrum regarding sexism in motorsports, and through Horsepower & Heels, I've been able to talk to countless women who have shared a similar story about their own careers and experiences. What I've found, is that many of us go through cycles/stages in regards to this topic.
You start off as a young naive girl, with a big dream and lots of passion and fearless determination. Early on, you are met with the blatant sexist roadblocks of some really old school misogynistic men who will belittle you and try to undermine your confidence and resolve in motorsports. For me, I had comments thrown my way early on "Honey, do you even know where the gas pedal is on that thing?" and just really ridiculous statements that felt so unexpected in today's society. It was very surprising to learn that these type of opinions still existed, and that they were more prevalent that you'd ever think. Not only is your performance under a micro-scope that judges on a ruthless and unmatched benchmark, but so are your personal relationships, your dedication, your achievements - because they look for any reason to discredit your success as anything other than your own. "It must be her boyfriend's car"; "She must have slept her way into that driving position"; "She hasn't won a race yet as a rookie- she must not be able to cut it"
For many girls, this is the point where they develop a bit of a "Chip on the Shoulder" - or the overcompensating response that makes them feel they have to go out of their way to prove they are "one of the boys" and worthy of racing beside them. The tendency to denounce being a girl in favour of just being a racer, having to have this overly aggressive, tough-guy exterior all the time, and the general harsh attitude that many women adopt to be taken seriously in their sport.
I saw this in myself to a degree early in my career, and it led me to really stop and question what I was doing...because I really didn't understand why I felt this need all of a sudden to apologize for being a woman. And I certainly didn't feel like I should be forced to choose between being feminine and being a fierce competitor. Thus the idea: who says Horsepower & Heels don't mix?
When I stopped trying to be one of the boys just to compete with them, and instead embraced being a great racer AND being a proud woman - it really opened my doors to so much more. In racing and in life, too many women think that to succeed in a man's world, they have to become one of the boys. But embracing who I was - a powerful woman and competitive racer - and reaching out to other women sharing the unique experiences that being a woman in a male dominated sport, was much more rewarding and powerful than all of the time I wasted trying to "be one of the boys" to fit in. In business, they talk about the concept of "women leaning in" and I believe in motorsports, that same idea is key.
The long and hard-fought struggles are not without their battle scars though, as many of the women who have been in the sport for any length of time often cycle to a place of jadedness and burnout - myself included. Dealing with the public scrutiny, the very harsh catch-22 situations that don't afford women the opportunities they need to gain the experience necessary to compete with their male counterparts, and the ugly side that isn't discussed publicly - where people with bad intentions manipulate and prey on young ladies trying only to chase their dreams takes its toll. Much of it comes from the lack of a strong network of support for women- who could share their experiences and lessen the struggles for other young ladies entering the sport. That is the area I am so passionate about changing, because if the next young ladies can in any way benefit from my experiences and go father, then its a win for ALL women in motorsports.
BS Do you think the US is doing better than Europe in recruiting women racers?
EO I definitely think drag racing here in the US is, and I believe that may trump ALL other genres of motorsports in gender equality across the globe. Where other forms of motorsports are still awaiting their first female competitors in the top tier ranks, drag racing has elite women winning, and winning BIG in ALL of its ranks.
But, I have noticed more support and professionalism for women in motorsports internationally than I've seen or experienced here in the US at times. I've been really impressed with the organizations I've had the pleasure of connecting with and their initiatives to not just call for equality, but put measures in place to achieve it. The programs, the funding efforts, all seem to be more aligned with supporting women as a whole from the earliest stages. And that path, ultimately, may prove to be wildly more successful for the long term.
BS What can we expect to see from Horsepower Heels next year?
EO Horsepower & Heels is steadily growing, and working towards the ultimate mission of being a place that celebrates and promotes women in motorsports, and provides tools, education, opportunity and connections to help support females in the industry.
Next year, we hope to provide more and more coverage of the success of women in our sport, showcasing the talent and abilities of women. When you search "Women in Racing", my goal is to make stories like Erica Enders' dominant back-to-back championship season or Amy Ruman's record setting championship be the top results, and not all of the hottest women in racing lists that currently appear.
We plan to launch a Horsepower & Heels Power Hour webinar series that focuses on personal and professional development to help women in motorsports, where we bring in expert speakers to teach their best-practice strategies.
We also are working on a long-term plan to develop financial and sponsorship support for women in the sport, trusted services and providers that want to see and be a part of the success of women in racing.
BS Who will your workshops/webinars be open to?
EO Workshops and webinars will be open to female racers, crew members, and professionals in the industry or those aspiring to be in the industry.
BS What advice would you give to girls and women looking to pursue a career in motorsport?
EO Do one small thing, every day that gets you closer to your goal. Reach out to people you admire and ask them for their advice. The road to success isn't traveled alone, and enlisting the support of people you look up to will only help you better navigate your own path.