Women in Motorsports: A Rebuttal

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.


  1. As I commented in support of the first article, I feel compelled to comment here as well (and use my full name since last time that apparently cast doubt about the legitimacy of who I am). I’ll try to summarize into three points:

    1) I’d like to note the continual theme that motorsports, and NASA in particular, is BROADLY and nearly universally welcoming. The author admits this herself by having “been mentored and encouraged by the vast majority of men at the racetrack”. There is no crisis of sexism. This is not a systemic problem. Everyone on both sides of this discussion has conceded this. There may be a difference in representation numbers, but it’s not driven by malice or hate. More guys than girls like race cars, and that’s okay. This was the entire point of the first article, and I completely agree with that point…

    2) The author cites the “privileged male perspective”… since we’re relating anecdotes from our personal experiences in motorsports, let me relate this undeniable fact: I haven’t been “privileged” with anything in motorsports, from my first session of HPDE to exercising my comp license. No family racing legacy, no inheritance. It was solely my work, the money I earned, and the initiative I took to keep going after setbacks. Of course, I had great advice from the other racers in my class… I had guys who were very supportive (specifically thanking the late Darren Brady). But my car was out there because I put my own money into it and built it mostly with my own two hands. And when the pandemic threatened my career, no “privilege” emerged when I was forced to significantly curtail my racing… I realize many other racers have the same experience, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to say: “privilege” didn’t put me out on the track anymore than anyone else…

    3)…which brings me to the final point. Speaking of privilege, the author cites programs specifically targeted at elevating women in motorsports. She apparently even recruited a large contingent of female competitors for a high-profile NASA race. So while I certainly concede that I haven’t been subjected to hurtful comments based on my sex, and I can also confidently say that I’ve never been encouraged, recruited, highlighted, sponsored, or in any way elevated based on my sex. I have personally encountered maybe 6-8 female racers between two NASA regions… and I have read articles, in various motorsports periodicals, with glowing profiles on at least 4 of them. Which is also okay… women in motorsports are rare, and the only systemic characteristic evident is that such rarity appears to acknowledged with overwhelmingly positive attention towards the female racers in the sport. I’m not asking for magazines to profile my story to make things “equitable”… just maybe acknowledge that everyone pretty much gets to do what they want – with sometimes maybe even a little extra attention – and leave the identity politics grievance narratives outside the track…

  2. Lynn, thanks for writing this piece, I’d say it was certainly more well thought out and articulate than my comments on the other article. To your exact point, it’s nice to have an actual woman’s perspective when talking about, uh, women’s experiences in motorsports.

    Brett, if you happen to be reading this, I do owe you an apology for the ad homs on your article. You mention in your follow up comment the concept of your “motorsports family”, which I actually share. I spend a lot of time as an instructor trying to get people involved in something I’m very passionate about (both at and away from the track). This is the source of my frustration with your post, a family wouldn’t discount the experiences of it’s members simply because they had not had the same experience. And then going the step further and writing an article that was, more or less, unsolicited that is entirely dismissive is aggravating to say the least as it sets the tone for an entire group of people that may be interested in joining the sport that your their experiences will not be taken seriously.

    Jeff, you’re nothing if not consistent. I just wanted to address a couple points in your comment. Firstly this isn’t “grievance narratives or identity politics” (frankly those appear to be buzzwords rather than actual things) it’s about having empathy towards other people who share or want to share the same hobby as you.

    Secondly you broadly claim “There is no crisis of sexism. This is not a systemic problem. Everyone on both sides of this discussion has conceded this.” This article is a direct contradiction to that and it seems wild to me that someone who is in the “in group” being criticized just tries to ignore the problem by just repeating this as if it is fact. It is not fact. You seem to think that in order for a problem to be systemic men have to be out at the track saying “man these women really shouldn’t be here” but that isn’t the case. The general notion that women are worse drivers because of their gender, that they’re too emotional to race, as Lynn mentions, the idea of “being beat by a girl” are all things that are deterrents for people just “doing what they want” would you want to be at the track if people constantly gave you backhanded compliments? It’s often the people that don’t realize what they are saying is degrading that do the most damage.

    Next you claim “…I certainly concede that I haven’t been subjected to hurtful comments based on my sex” this is THE TEXTBOOK DEFINITION of privilege. Many people try to frame “privilege” as a leg up rather than what it actually is, not starting the game behind because of their gender/race/religion etc.

    Finally, your mention of equity misses a key bit if nuance in this discussion. I actually agree with you on one point, the goal here should not be to see some quota number, it should be to let people “do what they want.” But this REQUIRES giving underrepresented groups more attention. Even if I waved a magic wand and, poof, sexism was gone at every race track today, there would still be the leftover stigma from the past. So if you’re claim was true that, no longer are tracks excluding people, you would still need to build up those under represented groups to KNOW for sure that it’s just a “interest” problem and not a exclusion problem to be logically consistent. This is the difference between equity and equality, and the race track needs to be an equitable place until it is an equal place.

    • Well, it’s big of you to apologize to the first author, so I’ll give you credit for doing so…

      I’ll again quote the author directly from her article: “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”… Everyone should ask themselves… does this sound like an organization that is systemically discriminatory? Again… this was the entire point of the first article. There is low representation of women in motorsports… but it has nothing to do with systemic sexism. (For even more proof, there’s now a third commenter saying NASA is “welcoming and embracing”… I’m not sure how much more obvious this basic truth can get now). Are “backhanded compliments” the mark of an organization faced with needed change? Here’s an idea: instead of pushing the idea of vast, generalized grievance across the entire sport, just go talk to these few people who made the comment… maybe they didn’t even know that what they said was taken differently. The entire foundation of this argument might be resolved with an, “oops… sorry”…

      But I think there’s a larger question about who’s dealing with reality… you seem to be interested in facts, but not the facts that counter your preferred narrative. I noticed you’ve quoted parts of my comment but – it’s almost comedy – skipped over the points inconvenient to your narrative of identity politics grievance (also, these aren’t buzzwords, anymore than “equity” or “inclusivity” are buzzwords)… because the next point, that extra opportunities exist for women in motorsports, is actually the real textbook definition of privilege. If you think one person’s lived experiences are more valid than another person’s lived experiences, if you think special treatment/extra opportunity, i.e. privilege – based on gender/race/etc – is okay for some groups, but not for others, then you are demonstrating what Orwell described as “Doublethink”… essentially, programmed hypocrisy.

      As a larger thought for anyone reading this, it might seem like I’m just arguing over politics… but that’s not my intent here. If you are even remotely coherent, you’ve watched the ideology of identity politics infect virtually every segment of modern society… it’s in news, entertainment, government, the military, business, education, and sports… the question to reflect on is: are we really better for it? Are the figures and leaders pushing it really interested in fixing anything? Are they really compassionate, tolerant, and understanding? I’ve noticed that those who claim to unilaterally possess “compassion”, “tolerance”, and “understanding” are the same people who drive ideological and political agendas masked as “inclusivity”, “equity”, and “needed change” to fight some nebulous, unseen conspiracy of systemic hate and discrimination… and these same people get really angry when you start asking basic questions about that.

  3. “Because we do not personally see or experience a problem does not mean it doesn’t exist.”

    Thanks for writing this, Lynn. It is so irritating to be told that your lived experiences are in fact not what you say they are. The LGBT community gets it too (no surprise there) and when I started Out Motorsports, I had several people (all straight men) in various paddocks tell me a group by and for queer motorsport/car enthusiasts wasn’t needed because things are welcoming already.

    If Lynn’s response here – and my comment, more than likely – get you as a fellow racer or driver all riled up, I would encourage you to reach out and befriend those in the paddock who aren’t like you, get to actually know them, and learn about why they may not feel their path to racing has been as easy, why they haven’t always felt as welcomed, whatever.

    That said – NASA paddocks have been generally welcoming *to me* though I can’t speak for anyone else’s experiences. I’ve been around since 2008 and that’s because my region is full of good, kind people, at the leadership level and otherwise, who have been welcoming and embracing. Not everyone, but enough folks that I keep coming back.

    But please… speak less, listen more. Believe what oft-marginalized people are telling you when they take the energy to do so.

    OK, done. Flame suit on.

  4. Obviously I can’t speak as a woman but I can say being a huge fan and friend of Cindy Sisson and Lyn St James for all they do to promote women in Motorsports that I felt Brett’s well written article paying respect to women in Motorsports was given an abrupt slap across the face. In fact he was doing exactly what the rebuttal states isn’t happening, paying respect to women in Motorsports. Doing well in any sport requires devotion, dedication, hard work, and dedication, not whining or blaming it on the opposite sex. The facts are, there’s more “successful” in women’s Motorsports today than ever and growing exponentially.

    Gary Faules

    NASA Mentor Director

  5. Sounds like everyone is gaslighting everyone.
    What sparked my interest in writing is to remind Lynn Kehoe that I contacted her group,
    Shift UP, twice with interest in participation and was totally ignored.
    Please note, I am writing from a club racer’s perspective. I have no direct experience with professional racing, and was never interested in pursuing a pro racing career. Rather I have a classic car restoration shop and have been working on cars for over 40 years.
    As a female, I have experienced it all – on track, in the paddock and in the shop.
    Sports car ownership and participation in this sport is dollar driven and it is economic segregation in full display.
    Those people who have the bucks get to play. People with less financial wherewithal either learn to work on cars or work the races as corner workers, tech, race control, etc.
    What is the common denominator – WORK.
    This is a very technical sport and more time is spent on gaining knowledge than is spent turning wrenches. I have found in this arena, knowledge is the key.
    Who wants to put the time in, who wants to do the WORK.

    • Well said… agree completely.

      “Sports car ownership and participation in this sport is dollar driven and it is economic segregation in full display”

      This is a separate issue, but I think by far the most relevant. I know it would be a much longer discussion so I’m not going to go down the rabbit hole here… but just wanted to say how salient this point is. Obviously money is necessary to race… I don’t begrudge anyone who is successful and wants to spend their money on motorsports. If anything, it makes the sport better for those of us at the entry level, and I appreciate it… but absolutely, the level of access is largely funds-driven, with rare (but notable) exceptions…

      “I have found in this arena, knowledge is the key.
      Who wants to put the time in, who wants to do the WORK”


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