Women in Grassroots Racing: Careers in every aspect of the sport

FROM CONTINGENCY CONNECTION Kingsport, TN It’s an intriguing contradiction: Grassroots racing is known as a family sport and  Motorsports racing events around the country see audiences that are almost equally split between men and women; yet fewer and fewer women are making their careers in the industry. So if women are enthusiastic enough to attend races in such large numbers, why do such a low number choose to make motorsports their life’s work? Contingency Connection recently interviewed three women who work in different aspects of the motorsports industry: manufacturing, driving, and track operations, as part of their continued initiative to create conversations and promote the grassroots racing industry. Lori Bollas-Sports Marketing Director at Lincoln Welders;  Leigh Hubbard-Super Pro Dragster Driver and sister of NHRA Top Fuel champ Clay Millican, and Pam Kendrick-President of the IHRA sanctioned Memphis International Raceway each weigh-in on their individual experiences in grassroots racing, their genuine love of the sport, in the trenches, from the bottom-up! Lori Bollas, Sports Marketing Director – Lincoln Welders CC: First things first: How did you get into the motorsports/aftermarket industry? How many years have you been involved? LB: I was working for Lincoln Welders at the time and bid on a position in their Motorsports Marketing Department. I had a degree in marketing, but knew nothing about racing. After my first racing event I was hooked. That was 18 years ago, time flies when you love your job! CC: What makes being a woman in the motorsports marketing industry a unique experience? LB: I think women are held to a higher standard entering this field because it has traditionally been a male-dominated sport/aftermarket. When you attend events, you see that there are just as many female fans as male fans. Yet, women are not represented as much as men in motorsports positions. As more women become interested in cars and motorsports, it should open more opportunities for females in this industry. CC: So, what do you think it will take for more women to become interested in cars and motorsports as a whole? LB: Teach young women early about working on cars, get them interested in racing by taking them to the track and showing them the women who are doing it now, teach them that they belong under the hood, not on it.  Automotive aftermarket companies, automotive training centers and racing series can help break down the stereotypes and market more towards females.  If you show confidence in females tackling major things like car repairs and racing, it will encourage them to go for it. CC: What would you say to young women who are thinking about pursuing a career in motorsports/aftermarket? LB: I would encourage these women to attend a variety of racing events to get a feel for the industry.  I think it also helps to attend automotive aftermarket trade shows like SEMA and PRI show, as these shows feature the latest and greatest products on the market. Leigh Hubbard, Super Pro Dragster Driver, sister of NHRA Top Fuel champ Clay Millican CC:  Tell us how you first got in to racing and a little about your journey in grassroots racing. LH: I was born into racing. My dad, mom and brother all raced. I was raised at a racetrack every weekend. That’s where I met my husband Cliff. He is a multi-time track, big money bracket racer champion. I knew I was meant to be there every chance I got. For years I was just the pit help. I did the fuel, air pressure, kept up with all the data every round. Anything that I could do to be of help to Cliff to win in the Super Pro class… I did. I had raced my daily driver (Honda Civic) in the D.O.T. class a little bit & did pretty well. I made a few passes in the dragster just for fun, but still never thought about driving full time. Then about 3 years ago I raced my husbands souped up Plymouth Duster and  went to the finals the first night I drove it. He decided to let me take a shot at driving the dragster and I’ve been in it ever since. CC: What was it like growing up with a mom who loved racing as much as the men in your family? Did that shape your enthusiasm for the sport now in any particular way? LH: When my mom raced she ran my dad’s ‘55 Chevy on a air strip that they all used as a drag strip as well. This is when they were first married back in the 1960s. Of course I wasn’t even a thought at that time, but she was always right there when we would all load up and go to the track with my brother… being as supportive as she could be. I always saw old black and white pictures of her and my dad with his racecar at the drag strip. I just thought how cool it was that my mom liked the thrill of the fast cars too. Now she has two kids who race. One just goes a little faster than the other. Ok ALOT faster but you get the point. CC: Well both you and your brother Clay have found success with racing in your own rights! Fill us in on how this season is going for you? LH: I’m happy to report I have finally found the winner circle again. I won the Friday night “IHRA Division 2” Gamblers Race at Memphis International Raceway, with $2500 prize and a 100 cars to beat. Biggest win of my career! It was some tough competition but I got it done. I have struggled some this year with getting used to a faster motor and I have not made  the winner’s circle until recently . I got down to three cars in the $10k to win and turned it .001 red. I get down to the finals in weekly races,  just haven’t executed all the way to the end. CC: Congratulations on the win, Leigh! How has being a woman in racing been a unique experience? LH:  Its been a little different. The men tend to look a little funny when they see they have to run a woman. But I think once the helmets go on, we are just competitors. Although I know they hate being beat by a girl more than they hate being beat by a man. For the most part though all the men I have raced have been really good sports to me. I have been treated no differently. CC: So based off your experiences, what would you say to young women who are interested in getting involved with grassroots racing? LH: I would say to get involved in the sport any way you can. If you know someone that races go hang out and help as much as you can. Most importantly LEARN as much as you can. Women can race just as good as men if not better, if we really set our minds to it. Women have come a long way in racing over the years and will continue to grow bigger as time goes on. Pam Kendrick,  President – Memphis International Raceway CC: Tell me how you got started with grassroots racing and ended up with Memphis International Raceway?   PK: My career in racing started at Dover Motorsports in Dover, DE.  Dover owned the Memphis facility.  My initial interest was NASCAR and when I transferred to Memphis it gave me an opportunity to work in multiple sanctions of racing which I have absolutely loved.  The drag racing side of the business was one I had to learn, as in Dover we only had NASCAR and Indy Car a few times.  It was a challenge in the beginning, but being open to the culture and difference was the biggest key to doing it.  The racers and the fans have made the experience once I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to take part in. CC:  How has being a women made your experience working in motorsports unique? PK: It has been interesting to say the least, many initially think I’m joking when we discuss my background and what I’ve done and then quickly learn the knowledge and history is there to get their attention.  Being a listener and not a reactor has also been a benefit. CC:  What would you say to young women thinking about a career in motorsports, especially at the track level? PK: My number one advice would be  – learn the sports, learn as many different variations of the sports as you can.  The knowledge we gain in the classroom allows us to make sound business decision as we gain experience, but the knowledge of the sports gains the respect and loyalty of those you are working with. The fact of the matter is that grassroots racing has always been the ONE true family sport; with husbands, wives, grandparents, sons and daughters partnering on race teams, wrenching, tailgating, and grilling in the pits together. So although women decide to pursue careers in motorsports less frequently than men, their appetite for performance is no less passionate than their male counterparts. A career in the aftermarket industry may be the road less traveled for women, but a few female pioneers are hoping to change that mantra and open the door for future generations of women to influence and effect the growth of the performance market.