This is a difficult topic to write about, which is probably why I couldn’t find anyone else who’d written about it when I went looking for information. And that’s why I’m writing about it, because I know I’m not the first woman to have gotten behind the wheel of a race car and felt like a total fraud. Or the first person, because some of the things that made me feel like an impostor have nothing to do with my gender.
Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending! After I figured out I was experiencing impostor syndrome, I did my homework on it and got to the root of my fear that “I don’t have what it takes to be a ‘real deal’ race car driver.” As it turned out, I was holding a few inaccurate beliefs about talent and abilities that were getting in my way.
“Ooh! I know what brake pad knock back is!”
When I started doing HPDE events, I brought the same overachiever, goody-two-shoes attitude with me that had made me so successful in school. Even though it had been ten years since I graduated from college, that “Smart Girl” in me just can’t help but come out any time I’m in any kind of class.
But HPDE isn’t wasn’t like the other classes I’d taken. HPDE is first and foremost about making sure everyone is safe on track. That means instruction is often geared toward keeping overconfident drivers safe from themselves and others, while information on how to improve driving performance is deprioritized. That’s understandable, because drivers who overestimate their skill level and drive over their head are objectively more dangerous than rule-following drivers who politely lift and point faster cars by, but may never reach their full potential as a driver. Continue reading
Look at me, actually racing someone!
Road Atlanta is one of the more intimidating tracks in North America. It has big hills, blind turns and tall concrete walls. Being fast at Road Atlanta means keeping your foot flat to the floor when you can’t see the track in front of you. Road Atlanta is also my home track and the track where I’ve turned the most laps. I was nervous about this event, because earlier this year my lap times there had hit a plateau. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get below the 2:00 mark, and that is nowhere near a competitive time in a Spec Miata.
Carolina Motorsports Park (CMP) is known in the Southeast for its surface. The asphalt has much of the tar worn away, leaving sharp little rocks that provide little grip and wear tires like a cheese grater. Combine that weird surface with tight turns and hard brake zones, and you get a track that’s punishing for both cars and drivers.
When I was in the beginner HPDE group (where I spent what felt like an eternity before getting promoted up), I noticed that there were these guys (and they were always guys) who would show up for their first HPDE event, spend a couple of events in the beginner group, and then get quickly promoted to the intermediate group. When I talked to them, they’d all say, “Yeah, this is my first track day, but I’ve played a lot of racing games.”
This was a strong enough pattern that I had to investigate. I hated video games, but I discovered that you don’t have to like video games, or even be good at them, to use them to your advantage as a racer.
This is me learning something in iRacing that I won’t have to learn on the real track now!
I’m writing this post so that the next woman who scours the internet searching for a supportive, flame resistant bra to wear racing will have an easier time finding one than I did. I’ve spent a lot of time researching safe and comfortable fire resistant undergarments for women, and I’m putting it all in one place to make other women racers’ lives a little easier.
But… spoiler alert! There is one bra that won’t fuse to your skin at 130°F and will contain your DDs when you sprint across the paddock to the tech shed. It’s the Arc Bra. It’s made of Nomex and Kevlar and is designed for women who work in environments where they could be exposed to an electrical “arc flash.” Note: I am so excited about this bra that this might sound like they paid me to write about it, but they didn’t. It’s just that exciting to discover that your big boobs won’t keep you from enjoying racing!
My first NASA-SE race weekend was a baptism by fire. It was nearly 90 degrees and steamy, living up to the event name. Roebling is a deceptively technical track where I’ve never felt particularly confident. There were 50 cars in 5 different classes, racing all at once on the small, two mile track. It was intense. And it was wonderful.
Many large racing organizations require you to have a competition license to race with them. NASA competition licenses are earned by attending a “competition license school” event, which is really more of a “prove yourself worthy” event than a “school.” The full day event is designed to stress and exhaust comp school students and concludes with a “mock race.” The idea is to demonstrate that not only are the students safe and competent racers, but that they’re safe and competent races when they’re so hot and exhausted they can barely remember their own names.
I knew on my very first track day that I wanted to be a race car driver. In pursuit of that goal, I’ve climbed the ranks of NASA’s (National Auto Sport Association, not the space NASA) HPDE program and got approved to attend “comp school” to get my NASA pro racing competition license and run my first wheel to wheel races in September.
However, as luck would have it, my racing debut came a little earlier than expected! My friends at Racing Analytics invited Brad and I to participate in the Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) Car Championship series. Even though I don’t quite have my license yet, Racing Analytics offered to write a letter of recommendation to the race director which would allow me to participate as a rookie! I signed up for the two race event on Sunday, July 23rd.