I read your recent article in NASA Speed News about women in motorsports and feel compelled to respond. I note there were a number of responses posted to the article, both in support and in harsh criticism. Your subsequent response addresses some of the concerns but remains flawed.
As a long time (and now former only because I no longer drive) NASA member I have always had only good things to say about the organization. I got my start in HPDE with NASA, and it was always my preferred place to drive and race. I also was responsible for fielding and attracting teams that resulted in the largest female participation in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill (2018) that the organization had then or since ever seen at that race. For the most part, my experiences on track and in the paddock have been positive and encouraging.
That said, I take issue with a number of points you raised. You write from the perspective of someone who knows something about the issue but I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s hard (if not impossible) to truly experience things from someone else’s shoes. You perceive the experience of women in racing from a privileged male perspective.
What you have seen in racing about the dynamic between men and women is a small piece of what women actually experience. From the little girl who is the solo female in her quarter midget class and gets bumped repeatedly because the 8-year-old boys, sometimes acting on instruction from their Dad’s, don’t want to get beat by “a girl,” to an Indy 500 racer who was in a crash with several male racers but was the only one questioned about “whether she ‘belonged’ in racing” the stories abound. At the end of one of my own NASA Spec E30 races, a fellow competitor complained when we were all back in the paddock that he “even got beat by the girl.” While comments like these may seem innocuous, they are at the heart of what you say doesn’t exist.
You also can’t fully understand (nor know) the number of times women simply let things go because we want to “fit in.” Case in point: as of this writing the vast majority of comments are from men. Moreover, several of my female racing friends told me to “drop it” and not make a big deal about it. Because of this, and despite the advice, I am responding on behalf of all the women out there who potentially feel as I do but for a variety of reasons don’t want to step into the ring. It is nevertheless important that we don’t ignore or step away from conversations where we can help clarify the reality that there is still so much more to be done.
As women we fight hard for equality, however, often when we do, we are labeled with pejoratives. You talk about “dominance,” whether women do not race because of lack of interest or welcome, or the socialization of girls and boys/men and women as reasons for the absence of women on track. One of the commenters mentioned the ease with which women get on pro teams and that it’s “MUCH easier for them [women] to get sponsors.” Why women are so badly underrepresented in motorsports is a subject one could write an entire thesis on.
However the thinking that there is parity in motorsport for women is the factual and fundamental flaw of your article and subsequent comments. The cold reality is that “women receive roughly 1% of the global sports marketing sponsorship spend.” See SI.com, June 21, 2023, Claire Kuwana, “Pippa Mann Wants More Women in Motorsports – And She’s Making It Happen with Shift Up Now.” See also Sports.Yahoo.com June 2, 2021 Catherine Burns, “Follow the money: Data shows visibility and sponsorship in women’s sports is the right play.” I also take issue with the comment posted that noted: it’s easier for women to get on teams because men want them on the team. The women who are getting on those teams are doing so with exponentially harder work in all aspects including attracting sponsors.
As a woman in motorsports and the Founder of Shift Up Now, I consider myself fortunate to have been mentored and encouraged by the vast majority of men at the racetrack. However, I have also personally seen men (admittedly in much smaller numbers) intentionally derail and demean their female competitors. I therefore feel qualified to say that we have not yet leveled the playing field in motorsports. There are a number of organizations, team owners and individual drivers helping to create a more inclusive field of racers with equal opportunities in funding, equipment and training. These groups include women and men who understand such realities and strive to do better. Because we do not personally see or experience a problem does not mean it doesn’t exist and to publish opinions as fact undermines the real work that’s being done to promote equality in motorsports. — Lynn S. Kehoe
This letter was submitted in response to the July 12 “Speed Reading” column. It has not been edited. — Ed.