Earlier this year I spent some time helping a young Formula Ford driver, Collete Davis, at her first ever street race in St. Pete. It was my first time as a driver coach and I suddenly started to realize that while I was able to help with the driving side, there was more to it, and so much more I could do to try and help Collete and others like her move forward. As someone who is still fighting to find her way into the big show on any kind of permanent basis, I simply didn't understand how much I had actually learned on the way up this far - and most of it the hard way! In Collete, I saw a younger version of myself who I could help both on and off the track, and it was an extremely rewarding experience.
After that weekend, I got back in touch with Greg again and we started to kick around the idea of my joining the program in some way. I knew I didn't have anything to give other than myself and my time, but I wanted to be involved and I felt that just having someone there for these girls as they were starting out could be great resource for them. I wish that when I was younger I'd had someone to whom I could turn who had been through the rigmarole before me, someone who could be on the other end of the phone or the email, someone who knew what it was like right now trying to make things happen.
As we discussed more about the GHR program, I started to learn even more similarities. I got my start in racing as a 13-year-old on an indoor go-kart track, completely by chance, and with no idea that anything beyond that even existed for me. GHR uses their current young drivers to host karting days for girls who are interested in getting a start, or who just want to try out and see what it's like. It provides a safe environment with a female mentor who is actually race coaching, and teaching them at the track as they get their first taste of life in the fast lane.
Then this year, all three of the GHR drivers – Collete Davis, Savannah Rickli and Jeassica Bean – either have degrees, or are at college studying for them, and all have a keen interest in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) subjects. As someone who skipped out on higher education to race go karts in Italy when she was 17, I thought that it was exceptionally cool that the organization was part of a movement to encourage young drivers to stay in school while they race, and to encourage more females to get involved with the engineering side of things.
One of the other factors with the GHR program that I hadn't considered at all, is that while we are seeing more female drivers slowly break through the ranks there are still very few female race engineers. Last year, Leena Gade made history in Europe with Audi at Le Mans when she became the first female race engineer heading up a program to win that historic race. Her sister Teena works in the World Rally Championship.
But here in the States, and specifically to me in IndyCar, we still have very few female engineers. Right now in the paddock I can only think of one female DAG (Data Acquisition Guy/Girl), one female gearbox mechanic, and no female race engineers. That is something that I think all of us involved with the program would like to see change one day, and if we can in any way help facilitate that happening, then that would give everyone who is a part of GHR a deep sense of satisfaction. Personally, I would love to one day work with a female race engineer who had worked her way up through the ranks – if she's good at her job, and I happen to be the driver who gives her the big break and chance she needs to prove what she's got, then count me on board!
As you may have guessed from this last few paragraphs, helping more women get into motorsport, both in the cockpit and from an engineering standpoint, and helping girls get into their first ever go-karts is something I am deeply enthusiastic about. Before I met and spent time with Collete in St. Pete, I didn't realize that in my current position of uncertainty that I still had so much I could offer to those starting out on the ladder below me. And before I met Greg, I didn't realize how closely my story tied into not only GHR's creation, but also how the way I found my way into motorsport ties in with how GHR are helping other young girls get their start.
Some may have noticed recently that I have had more and more involvement with the girls in the program, and those of you who are really awake may have seen via Twitter that I hosted a GHR Q&A on stage with Collete and Jessica in the IndyCar Fan Village on the morning of the Indy 500...
I am excited to be able to announce that I am now officially a part of the Glass Hammer Racing Program. I am now an official resource/coach/mentor for Collete, Jessica and Savannah, and I plan to get involved in one of the karting days for the even younger girls as soon as I can. In the meantime, my fight to get back onto the IndyCar grid goes on, but when I make it back there, I will have a nifty new patch on the sleeve of my race suit, and one that I'm incredibly proud to sport – BeatByAGirl.org.