I don't have the traditional motorsport story. I wasn't born into racing. No one raced nor watched racing in my family. I didn't start karting from the moment I quit wearing diapers. I didn't come from a rich family and I'm not my father's son. When motorsport came into my life at age 16, I had about 11 years to catch up on. I can humbly say this sport is extremely tough and many drivers have to overcome some of the same obstacles.
But, apparently, there is still another hurdle that I and others have to overcome. I wanted to compete with the boys just to say I could, and when I beat them I didn't say anything at all, because it wasn't necessary. Why? Because I respect my rivals, male or female. It's an honor to share the racetrack with well-regarded competitive drivers of either gender. Yes, I do think having more women in racing is fantastic because it will help the future of the sport, and that's why I started the #SteelOvaryNation campaign, but I am not a “let's get our pom-poms” kind of girl. I just believe racing is one of the sports in which females and males can compete on an equal footing.
Apparently, not all agree. Legendary former racing driver Sir Stirling Moss was quoted during a recent BBC radio documentary saying, “I think they [women] have the strength, but I don't know if they've got the mental aptitude to race hard, wheel to wheel.”
He went on to add: “We've got some very strong and robust ladies…. [‘Robust' isn't really a flattering word, Sir. Just saying…] But, when your life is at risk, I think the strain of that in a competitive situation will tell when you're trying to win…. The mental stress I think would be pretty difficult for a lady to deal with in a practical fashion. I just don't think they have the aptitude to win a Formula 1 race.”
I can assure anyone that not once have I ever gotten into a racecar and thought, “My life is at risk.” OK, I'm not driving F1 cars but, come on, the “risk” is something all racers marry from the moment they decide to take their racing career seriously. And so, despite having the utmost respect for Sir Stirling's amazing achievements in the cockpit, his comments regarding women racers are utterly ridiculous, offensive and have more than a hint of ignorance. While Moss is absolutely correct in saying it takes mental strength to be a racing driver, his comments basically state that female drivers aren't equipped to deal with this.
There's a difference between thinking you can win and believing you can win and, even for natural champions, this can be one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome. That's why so many drivers go through sports psychology, a.k.a., mental training. That includes F1 drivers. That includes male drivers.
I understand Moss is from a different era but in today's world there's a difference between tradition and equality. I can handle “old-school” mentality but his comment, whether he intended it to be this way or not, was absurdly sexist and badly thought through. Motorsport is male-dominated and while there are still so few female racers in the world (relatively speaking), how can anyone possibly pass judgment on whether female drivers have what it takes? There have been only five female drivers in the history of Formula 1! Five!! So what stats is he basing his opinion on? To me, and I hope thousands of others, Sir Stirling's comment is a generalization of the most ridiculous magnitude and should be dismissed.
For the past three years, I've seen women in the industry making larger impressions than ever before because they are finally getting the chances they've earned. Needless to say, they must work hard to gain respect but that's true for male racers, too. And that is my point: women racers aren't (or shouldn't be) asking for favoritism because of their gender. But it certainly is right for us to be regarded as equals from the outset, so that we, like men, then have the chance to succeed or fail based on our performances on and off the track. We should not have to flaunt our #SteelOvaryNation credentials outside the racecar, just to overcome the prejudices of the ignorant.
Sir Stirling Moss, I think it's time you welcome us. And respect us.
• Shea Holbrook drives the TrueCar Racing Honda Civic in the SCCA Pirelli World Challenge.