Our Woman of the Week is Caitlin Wood, a 20 year old Aussie racer currently driving a Lamborghini Gallardo in the Blancpain GT Series in Europe. She is the first Australian woman to ever compete full time in a circuit racing series in Europe. Caitlin began racing when atseven years old in go-karts, and progressed into race-cars in Australian Formula Ford at the age of fifteen, and then a few selected races of Australian F4 at the end of 2015. In 2016 she made the leap to Europe to compete in the Reiter Young Stars Program within the European GT4 Championship with Reiter Engineering in their KTM XBOW GT4 and ultimately won the Reiter Young Stars program which promoted her into the Blancpain GT Series with Reiter this year.
Bridget Schuil: What was your first memory of motorsport?
Caitlin Wood: My first memory of motorsport was when I was very young, I used to go out to the go-kart track on weekends and watch my brother race and I used to think it was the coolest thing watching him so I was always annoying my dad "When's it my turn?". Waiting to turn 7 took a long time for me. (Laughs) Sevenis the legal age in Australia at which you can get a go-kart licence. So on my 7th birthday we went out to Newcastle Go-Kart Track and it has just progressed from there.
BS How many years did you go along to the karting track with your brother before you turned 7?
CW A long time really. Pretty much since I was born. There is quite an age gap between me and my brother. (He's 33 and I am 20.)
BS So motorsport was an intuitive career choice for you? Was there ever another option?
CW Ofcourse there has been other options, there is never any guarantee with motorsport. At first, it was a family hobby. Something we did on weekends for fun, but as I got older I realised it was something I was extremely passionate about and my dad gave me choices and made me give up other sports to make sure I was completely committed to motorsport and it was something that I was 100% sure I wanted to pursue. To make a professional living out of any sport is extremely difficult and I am still not at that point but I am more determined than ever to continue the hardwork and keep pushing to achieve my dreams.
BS Is that – finances and difficulty raising sponsorship – why you've decided to crowdfund your next season's campaign?
CW Yes, finding budgets is a big part of motorsport. Essentially, if you don't have the money to pay for the racing - you can't go racing. Motorsport is a very expensive sport and in today’s economy, it is extremely hard to make a long term sponsorship deal etc.
BS What do you say to the people who say it's unsustainable to crowdfund? Have you had much success with your campaign? Is it something that's dependent on how engaged of a following you have, and the nay-sayers are just not as good at crowd cultivation?
CW You have to try, don’t you! That’s what I say. I have not begun the crowdfunding part yet, I have just released my journey/story in what I am trying to achieve as I want everything on my website that the people buy to hopefully be live when I start the crowdfunding via Indiegogo. It definitely depends on your following and how involved your followers are, I am extremely lucky to have good support from my family and friends but yes I need my story to reach tens of thousands of people before the campaign would work to the extent we need it to.
(Click here for Caitlin's IndieGogo page.)
BS I hear you! When does your campaign go live, and what are you offering as rewards for your donors?
CW The full campaign will be live very soon, I can't give an exact date but I plan to have it up and running soon.For rewards, we have 4 different packages – Fan Club, Paddock Pals, Virtual Race Team and Co-Driver. Depending on which package people buy determines what they have access to.
But essentially I am trying to get fans to come off the sidelines and literally join me on my journey to Le Mans 2020. They will have access to onboards, live videos, debriefs, timing, my workouts, blogs, vlogs and so much more. We plan to make it as interactive as we can so people can talk with me about strategies and all the behind the scenes action at each race.I want to offer people the experience of not only a race but everything that goes on behind the scenes for a racing driver. Make them as involved as possible, not many people do this so it would be cool to have so many people join in, in any way possible.
BS Who's been the most supportive of your career?
CW This is a hard one! I would definitely have to say my family but if I had to pinpoint, it would have to be my Dad and my brother. My brother was my inspiration to start motorsport and was always extremely involved with me through coaching me, mechanics, engineering and pretty much just everything! So I am extremely grateful to be able to share this experience growing up with him and have his unconditional support. But ultimately my dad has been so supportive through my whole journey from when I was 7, to now when I am 20. He has really been by my side (even if he does live on the other side of the world) through all of the struggles and the highs. He has made a lot of sacrifices for me to be able to try and achieve my dreams, I wouldn’t be here without him – I owe him a lot!
BS What struggles have you faced, and how have you dealt with those struggles?
CW In any career choice you are going to face struggles, nothing worth having comes easy. These struggles for me have been financial more than anything but that is the same for most up and coming racing drivers out there, male or female. You just have to keep pushing and put in the hard work.
BS Have you experienced much sexist treatment, if so how have you dealt with it?
CW Being a woman in a male-dominated sport I guess can be intimidating more than anything, and sometimes that's how it can feel as majority of the time I am the only female competing in a series etc. But I have gotten used to it, and it is something that doesn't bother me at all. I have had a few moments where I have been told I don't belong here or crap like that but you just need to shrug it off and prove them wrong on track. When you put your helmets on you can't tell the difference between a male or a female, and I find majority of my competitors don't care either, I get the same amount of respect as anyone else and that’s something I really appreciate.
BS That’s a common response – ‘yes, I’ve experienced some sexism, but no I don’t do anything about it.’ There’s a ridiculously meaty research article by Ehren Pflugfelder that says the way we conceptualise women and men as racers is different, and they know your car/helmet livery so can still distinguish you. Does that factor into your thinking, or do you just ignore it and get on with racing?
CW I wouldn’t say I don’t do anything about it, yes I have grown up around sexism and yes I have experienced it but it doesn’t mean I don’t want it to stop for the next generation of girls coming through. I don’t want girls to be intimated by the sport so if I can do something about that, then I will. My mother is a very strong woman and has always taught me to stand up for myself so there have been situations where I have spoken my mind about what they have said but as a whole you can’t let it bother you because then it distracts you from racing. I have a job to do, and that is to race – whether I have boobs or not shouldn’t be a factor. My main focus is racing, and that’s how it should be.
BS Do you have any advice to give younger racers trying to have an international career?
CWThis is hard because I am also trying to achieve an international racing career, unfortunately I don’t think there is any magic words but ultimately you just need to work extremely hard and keep pushing. There is always a way, no matter how bleak it may seem – if you want it bad enough, there is always a way. Make sure you have a good support system around you whether that is through your race team, coaches, family or friends – it makes the world of difference when you know you have that support behind you. Stay passionate and most importantly have fun.