Women In Racing. Staying On Track Off The Track.
Susie Wolff’s recent article in the Huffington Post UK had me wondering if she and others are missing a trick when it comes to promoting women racing at the top levels of motorsport.
Wolff is a former development driver for the Williams Formula 1 team and participated in a Formula 1 weekend a few years back (actual seat and track time, which is an incredibly big deal for any driver).
So she's a classy steerer.
I’m not too sure her program for encouraging women to race, as outlined in her article, is as polished.
Her piece talks of barriers, and male domination within the sport. Which led her to found ‘Dare To Be Different’. In her words, it’s “an initiative aimed at opening up the world of motorsport to young girls and women”.
So the sentiment is spot on. Her thought of role models to inspire is great. However, the terminology, the idea, seems at odds to what the initiative is actually promoting.
‘Dare To Be Different’. Couched this way, it hurts the cause. 'Daring' and 'Different' suggest taking risks and elements of fear. However, the whole point of this initiative is to illustrate there being no differentiation between the abilities of men and women race drivers - once strapped in a car, there is no…difference. As Kelly Linigen (an Australian top tier Sprintcar racer) would often say to me, “My race car doesn’t know if I’m a man or a woman”.
Linigen never dared to be different. She just raced.
Seems to me, most woman racers I’ve chatted to or heard interviewed steer away from gender as a motivation, both for why they do it and why they started. Sure, being a successful driver, who happens to be a woman, is part and parcel and is to be celebrated, but it’s not the reason women race (again, this isn't a sweeping statement, just observations I've made from my time inside the motorsport world). All the women racers I know tell me they race because they love it. They love the speed. They love the cars. They love the competition. And, just like their male counterparts, they love winning.
Back to Susie's story, I must admit, even the article's title caused me to cringe a little: ‘Motorsport is not just for the boys’. Have we not already established this? Do we seriously, in 2017, need to keep rolling out this fatigued headline? Can we not park it in the garage, place a dust cover over it, take the wheels off and put it up on bricks? I’m fairly certain the likes of Alexis DeJoria, Courtney Force, Simona de Silvestro, Rachelle Splatt, Danica Patrick and the many women who already compete in a myriad of motorsport categories worldwide are quite aware of this fact. Check out the Women of Australian Motorsport if you don't believe me.
Interestingly, the article begins with, "Lewis Hamilton said boldly last week that he would like to see more ladies in the F1 paddock". Boldly? What's so bold about it? Is it such a polarising, shocking statement to make? Again, you're simply red flagging and amplifying negativity when you use language like this (and don't get me started on the use of the word 'ladies', either).
I may be wrong, but the only real way to park gender is sustained winning (yup, which ain't easy). Multiple victories so that 'Woman Wins Race' is no longer a headline. You've only got to watch coverage of the NHRA when Courtney Force races to witness this; she's so competitive, she's become 'just another racer' with over 100 wins.
Perhaps then, we're just going through normal growing pains and in time, 'women racers' will in fact become just 'racers'.
The great irony in all this is that motorsport has one wonderful trait that tennis, football, rugby league, Australian rules, rugby, mixed martial arts and cricket all don't have - and that's not needing to have a segregated competition.
Initiatives like Dare To Be Different, while well intentioned and full of valid content, when catch-phrased and headlined like this, only serve to perpetuate women racers as a risk. That for a woman to sit in the driver's seat of a Formula 1 car is crazy talk. And that for a Formula 1 team owner, they must take an even bigger gamble on a woman driver.
It's bullshit. If she has the talent, hire her. No daring. No difference.