Kehoe’s passion for girls’ education led to the formation of Shift Up Now, a female racing team she uses to promote and inspire courage and confidence in girls and young women.
Kehoe put a team of all women drivers together for the 2018 25 Hours of Thunderhill Presented by Hawk Performance, and did so probably later than one should. The response was so great, she not only was able to field one car, but she attracted enough drivers and support to field two cars under the Shift Up Now banner, her BMW E30 and a Global MX-5 Cup car.
During her career in real estate investment management, she said she was often the only woman in the room. When she goes to the racetrack, the dynamic is largely the same, so the idea for Shift Up Now sort of stemmed from her experiences in business and at the racetrack. Kehoe also serve on the board of Stoneleigh-Burnham, an all-girls school in Greenfield, Mass.
We caught up with Kehoe just before the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.
Q: Can you describe what you’re doing with Team Shift Up Now?
A: We do programs at girls’ schools. I’ve met with the Girl Scouts of St. Johns County in Florida where I live. I am doing motivational talks to girls’ schools and girls clubs, and we do hands-on programs. We view this as a natural way also to get girls interested in some of the STEM fields, whether it’s engineering, mechanics, data review, and then also showing them an interest in motorsports.
While motorsports is not the primary objective — courage and confidence are the primary objectives — motorsports is a great byproduct. It’s a great way to develop that courage and confidence and do something that’s out of the norm.
Q: How is it that you came to race at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill?
A: How we got here to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, I met Pippa Mann from people saying you guys need to meet one another. We had an hour conversation one day and really hit it off, and she said at some point that we should do the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. It’s the kind of race that really can make a name for you. As naive as I was back then, which was probably four months ago, it’s been a huge, huge learning curve. We were working with Jacob Mosler from Mosler Motorsports and trying to bring a Consulier, but we weren’t really all that successful with it. We’re continuing to develop it to bring to the race next year
Q: How did you put this team together?
A: I hooked up with Karen Salvaggio, who has run this race eight times. She has been my best friend in all of this in trying to get us organized. She’s been amazing, taught me a lot of things I didn’t know, so it’s been a really, really good learning experience. A lot of the folks that are here helping are people Karen has recruited and who have helped her in the past. I have probably 10 people from the East Coast who flew out in an all-volunteer effort, just because they want to be part of Shift Up Now, and because they believe in the message and the mission, and also because the 25 Hours of Thunderhill is such an iconic race.
Q: How did you find all the volunteers?
A: They actually found us. We put a lot of things on Facebook. Sarah Taylor is my social media person for Shift Up Now full time. I’m working with Kelly Brouillet from KBru Communications, and she’s been doing a lot of PR for us. She started helping us in November with PR. Once we put out the fact that we were doing this, people sought us out. I have messages through Facebook with people asking, ‘How can I get involved, and what can I do?’ They’ve sought us out.
Q: And you’re running two cars in your first attempt at the 25?
A: We realized on our second test day with the Consulier, after almost blowing our second engine, that that was not going to be our reality. I’m not somebody who gives up. Shea Holbrook was with us and she said, ‘Let me make a couple of calls.’ She ended up getting with Sick Sideways with their MX-5. Sarah Montgomery had the car and no team. I had the team and no car. But I also have an E30 that is mine, so originally I thought we can run that. In the meantime, Shea worked her magic and got the MX-5 because I also thought that my pros weren’t going to want to drive an E30. They all said, ‘We’ll drive whatever you put us in.’
Q: So, you put together two teams to run at Thunderhill in four months?
A: Shift Up Now has the two female teams. The other thing that happened in all of this — and I think were two really big wins — as our team grew to two cars, we needed a few more drivers, and we have a 16-year-old driver, Kristina Esposito. I know Kristina from New Jersey Motorsports Park, where she’s a member. Part of what Shift Up Now is trying to do is help bring up women drivers in motorsport, and she’s starting out and I’ve got four pros who are more than willing to help her understand what it is to be a professional racecar driver. That’s what she aspires to, and if Shift Up Now can have a part in making her career, we want to do that.
Q: You ended up attracting more drivers than you could accommodate, right?
A: The other thing that happened is Erin Vogel, who’s running with the Flying Lizard team, way back when we were looking at the Consulier, she was looking for a seat with us. We were full at that time, and she went and decided it was such a great thing to do, to have a woman’s team, that she developed her own female team, and she’s working with Darren Law and Flying Lizard, and they also put together a pro-am team. Flying Lizard is running two cars as well. Erin bought the Audi from Darren. Flying Lizard is maintaining the car and Darren is helping Erin’s effort with a pro-am team inspired by Shift Up Now, which I feel very proud of and I’m thrilled that Erin kind of picked that up and ran with it.
Q: How did Toyo Tires become involved in your efforts?
A: Toyo Tires is sponsoring both of my teams and they’re also sponsoring the Flying Lizard. So, Toyo has wanted to get behind a female driving team for a while, and I think Marc Sanzenbacher was a little surprised when he thought he was going to have one team and ended up with three. We’ve grown this exponentially, and I think all the people rallying around to support us have been just amazing.