Women are a near equal part of the large, enthusiastic audience who supports grassroots racing at the track, but their numbers are less well represented in the industry. Contingency Connection, an organization committed to advancing the conversation about the motorsports industry as well as promoting racing, was curious about the demographic breakdown and reached out to three women working in the industry to learn more about what they do, how they got involved and to solicit advice they may have for other women looking to get into the field.
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 represent manufacturing, driving, and track operations. They were eager to talk about their work as individuals, their love of the sport, and their time in the trenches.
Contingency Connection asked each of them how they got into the motorsports/aftermarket industry.
“I was working for Lincoln Welders at the time and bid on a position in their Motorsports Marketing Department,” says Lori Bollas. “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!”
Leigh Hubbard 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. ”
Pam Kendrick’s career started at Dover Motorsports in Dover, DE and then she transferred to Memphis. “My initial interest was NASCAR. In Dover we only had NASCAR and Indy Car a few times. But in Memphis I worked in multiple sanctions of racing. I had to learn the drag racing side of the business. It was a challenge in the beginning, but being open to the culture and difference was the biggest key to doing it.”
Each woman has found success in their corner of the industry, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges, including those that accompany being women in a male dominated business. For all three, this has meant rising to, and exceeding, the challenges of expectations.
“I think women are held to a higher standard entering this field because it has traditionally been a male-dominated sport,” says Lori. “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.”
Pam agrees, “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.”
Leigh Hubbard has seen similar surprise at her place in the pits and on the track, but aside from the initial reaction from her male counterparts, she feels embraced by them.
“The men tend to look a little funny when they see they have to run a woman, “Leigh says, “but 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.”
Leigh comes from a racing family — mom, dad, and brother Clay are all racers. In fact, Clay Millican is an NHRA top Fuel champ. Her husband Cliff is also a bracket racing champ. It was his success, and her efforts on his behalf, that finally got Leigh onto the strip. “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 and 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 husband’s 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.”
So what advice do they have to women interested in getting into the racing industry? “Learn the sports, many different variations 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,” says Pam. Leigh agrees. “Get involved in the sport any way you can. If you know someone who races go hang out and help as much as you can. Most importantly LEARN as much as you can. Women can race just as well 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.”
Speaking for her part in the industry, Lori advises, “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.”
To foster and facilitate an interest, Pam encourages families to show young women the ropes.
“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.”
So education, hands-on experience, enthusiasm. Good advice for anyone interested in getting into a field, but particularly in the case of young women who want to translate an enthusiasm and passion for racing into a career in the world of motorsports. And they’ll have excellent role models like these professionals to guide them once they get there.