I know that most people look at the current situation in the IZOD IndyCar Series and firmly believe that the glass ceiling no longer exists for female drivers in America. I am often told that it is easier for us to raise the sponsorship to race than it is for the guys. I've also heard people say on countless occasions that in fact the only reason we have even made it onto the grid is because we are females, and thus able to “buy” our way in. Needless to say, as a female driver still on the sponsorship hunt and currently without a team to call home, these accusations make my hackles rise, and quite frankly my blood begin to boil.
This year I worked tirelessly day after day trying to put something together for this year's Indy 500. As most of you know, I was unable to put together the sponsorship soon enough to be on the entry list at the start of the month, and this year there did end up being only 33 cars. Not being able to put together a big enough budget in time meant I was out before I even began. People like to tell me that I should have been able to find a way to fund the program because I'm female. I like to think that it should have happened through a hard work ethic and my previous results at IMS.
Two years ago, I qualified on the pole for the Firestone Indy Lights race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Let's ignore the fact completely that I was the first female – and so far still the only female – to ever sit on the pole for a race at IMS. I quite simply beat a whole bunch of my contemporaries in finding the fastest way around the track. Four of those guys in that particular 2010 race were already on the grid for the 2012 Indy 500, having found sufficient sponsorship to run, and two of them are full time.
Last year I qualified an IndyCar for the Indy 500 at my first-ever attempt in my first-ever IndyCar race. Again, let's ignore the "girl aspect" and focus on the facts. In terms of speeds between pole and last it was one of the closest fields in history. People went through hell and high water to get in. Hearts were broken when several full-time drivers did not make the show, some with much bigger teams, and one was my very own teammate. This year I got to watch those guys run while I was standing on the sidelines...
However, this article actually isn't about me. I am simply using myself as an example, and my story from Indy this year to make a point that the glass ceiling for female drivers does still exist in terms of trying to put together a cohesive sponsorship package based on your on-track results. Yes, there are female drivers out there, and yes they have found a way to make it happen in the same way that I managed to do here last year, but we are still in a huge minority. The biggest thing about my story at Indy this year, is it doesn't just apply to female drivers trying to break into the top tiers of the sport, it applies to female drivers everywhere and at every stage of the ladder. However, here in Indianapolis, there is an organization trying to change that, and they are going after the glass ceiling with a hammer!
Glass Hammer Racing was founded by Greg Gaich in 2010 shortly after my run to pole at IMS in the Indy Lights car. He claims that he was at IMS that day, and I was one of the inspirations to him in founding the organization. I became aware of them shortly afterward when they helped Shannon MacIntosh (RIGHT) run in a midget at the Speedrome on the south side of Indianapolis, but I had no idea at all of their connection to me.
Last year Shannon went onto her first full season of Formula Ford, and the GHR team stepped up to help fund race winner Shea Holbrook at Mid Ohio in her touring car. My curiosity about the organization grew. Trying to help other young female drivers get their start out on the racing ladder, and help them find ways to get the sponsorship has always been a passion of mine, so I was extremely interested in their program. I started to notice their hashtag #BeatByAGirl appearing more and more often in my Twitter feed, and as someone who was once an obnoxious young teenager who might have said those very words to one of her karting competitors, that hook started to reel me in. The first GHR event I was invited to attend was a tweet-up last year at Mid-Ohio, and I finally got to meet the man behind the scenes who was making this program happen.