If you’ve read any part of my blog, you know I love racing, cars, and Formula 1. You also might know that I’m a girl (let’s hope you figured out the latter before the former). If you combine those two nuggets of knowledge, you should be able to figure out that I’m a woman in a man’s sport.
Circuit of the Americas had a competition to win a prize pack worth $20,000, for the upcoming US GP this weekend. Awesome seats, travel and accommodations, a super-exclusive dinner, meet-and-greet with the drivers, paddock passes, the works. To enter, all you had to do is write a 500 word essay on why going to this race is on your bucket list. Despite the fact that I already had tickets, I wanted to enter the contest – because who doesn’t want a free upgrade, and this was the ultimate upgrade.
I spent a lot of time on the essay – more than I should have, I think. I spent more time on this 500-word contest than I did on many of my 5,000-word college papers. I tossed around ideas, which was a giant challenge, especially since I attended the inaugural race last year. Finally, I came up with a unique angle that I thought was creative, would definitely wow the judges (which was explicitly in the contest description), and make me stand out from the hundreds of entries about “I don’t have money and it’s my dream to go to Formula 1” and “I am in love with [insert driver name here].”
Halfway through the essay, something in the back of my head told me to read the contest rules. After a lot of fine print regarding what an eligible entry actually was (no plagiarism, no computer-generated stuff, words actually have to make sense), and the description of the whole prize pack, and how it’s for you and a guest, I stumbled across something that really left me surprised: The contest winner would be determined by random drawing from all eligible entries. “Random drawing?!” I thought. Here I was, sitting at my computer, putting all this effort into this essay, and it wouldn’t even matter what I was writing about. I felt a little jipped, and like maybe I was wasting my effort – that statement halted my progress for about…three minutes.
I decided to continue writing the essay, as I originally intended, because while developing the thesis, talking about my memories from childhood, and my progression as a driver, I realized that my “angle” was actually a lot closer to my heart than I had originally thought. As I put the finishing touches on my essay, it finally hit me – this wasn’t just some “angle to get me to stand out.” It is a lot more, and means a lot more than that. I saw how a trip to the 2013 Austin GP is actually on my bucket list.
My pregnant sister-in-law just found out the sex of the baby. I told her I didn’t want to know yet, but she immediately sent me a picture of a crib with a race car motif. “You just gave it away!” I exclaimed – until she reminded me that in our family, race cars are gender-neutral. And it’s true. But sadly, that’s not how it is in the real world.
Even though she and I are dedicated to racing, we’re very much an exceptions in this male-dominated sport. There are a handful of women in my region, and just a few hundred that participate nationally, out of 55,000 Sports Car Club of America members.
Driving is my passion. As a kid, I was found under the hood, playing with spark plugs, while my dad did tune-ups. I started driving at 10, and learned on a manual transmission – controlling the beast was exhilarating. Fast forward another decade, and I’m putting the finishing touches on my very first engine assembly, installing it, and turning the crank. I joined the SCCA, and it became an all-consuming hobby. I compete more than 30 times a year, mentor novices, and organize events. There are tires in my bedroom. When faced with prioritizing racing versus…well, anything, racing always wins.
On the course, I am inspired by women who vanquished stereotypes of their gender: Lyn St. James, Danica Patrick, Susie Wolff – all great drivers, period. When I started competing, I wasn’t sure that I could achieve the same parity with my male peers. At first, it was cool to be “the girl who simply tried.” I kept at it and became the “fast girl.” Now, after years of study, practice, and yes, trophies, I’m finally a “fast driver” – no “girl” qualifier required.
Yet there are still far too many female drivers who feel that no matter how hard they work, they will never be taken seriously in racing. I want to help change that.
Which brings me to my Bucket List. My big-ticket items aren’t crazy or daring; they are the ones closest to my heart. Living my greatest passion to the fullest – that’s what tops my Bucket List. And my greatest passion is being part of the motorsports world.
Driving is just one aspect of the racing experience. The heart and soul of racing is the community. It’s helping your teammates. It’s supporting other drivers, even your rivals. It’s cheering on the people you’ve never met and knowing you are a part of something huge, powerful, wonderful.
Nowhere in racing is this more apparent than at an F1 event. Formula 1 is the pinnacle of motorsports, and attending the 2013 USGP in Austin, standing side by side with fans and racers, pros and amateurs, old-timers and beginners – all the while representing the women of this amazing community, and showing other women that they too can be an integral part of the motorsports world– there’s no greater joy that I can imagine.
The contest rules said they would announce the winner yesterday, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t win. It’s ok though – I’m still going to the race, and I’m really happy with recognizing that this sort of thing is important to me. Even if I don’t end up being involved in professional racing, I’m happy to work to be a role model for other female drivers, and I’m happy to be this girl: