Friday, May 26, 2017

Katherine Legge: The Last, So Far

I didn't set out to name my heroine after Katherine Legge (Kate Reilly came to me as Kate, and later I specified her full name as Katherine), but I did steal one of Legge's career accomplishments for my fictional driver's resume. (Sorry/not sorry?)

Legge's early career was definitely on an open-wheel trajectory. She started in karts, then moved to the British Formula Ford Championship, British Formula Renault, British Formula 3, and British and North American Formula Renault 2000. Along the way, she was the first woman to achieve a pole position in Formula Ford, she set a new lap record on her way to a pole in Formula Renault, and she was the first woman to be named a "Rising Star" by the British Racing Drivers Club.

In 2005, she joined the Toyota Atlantics Championship where she had a breakout year, winning three races—including her first race ever in Atlantics, which made her the first woman to win a major open-wheel race. Plus she finished on the podium five times and placed third in the championship as a rookie. In 2006, she moved up to ChampCar where she was the first woman to compete in the series full time and placed sixth in her first ever oval race.

I have to believe it was the reunification of IndyCar that left Legge without an open-wheel ride in 2008, but she kept racing anyway, spending the next three years as an Audi factory works driver racing DTM (in Germany). By 2012, it was back to the U.S. for a season in IndyCar with Dragon Racing and her first start in the Indy 500. Her only other Indy start was in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. In 2014, she raced in the new Formula E series.

Legge has been linked to a new open-wheel team for the last two years...which has never actually materialized. Grace Autorsport is/was to be an all-female endeavor (or at least as much as possible), and there was a lot of enthusiasm around it, but there were reports of trouble securing a car in 2016, and after that it seems to have faded away. Not that Legge was sitting around.

Legge said she continuously asks herself if her maniacal racing focus “is worth it” and “what am I doing this for?”

So far the answers remain “yes,” and “it’s in my blood.”
(from Pressdog's interview with Katherine in 2013)

When she couldn't find open-wheel rides, she kept busy with sportscars, spending three years as a driver for the Panoz DeltaWing and just this year signing with Michael Shank Racing to drive an Acura in the IMSA Weathertech series. She also keeps busy promoting females in racing, as the STEM ambassador for Girl Scouts and as a member of the Women in Motorsport Commission of the FiA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile).

I've always liked Legge. I met her once at Road Atlanta during a Petit Le Mans weekend, and she was quiet, genuine, and positive. My impression (and that of others I know, as well) is that she's an introvert with a mission to do the thing she loves—I can relate to that, even if mine isn't the same as hers. Ultimately, Legge is a class act, and I think plenty of fans would love to see her back in the 500 again.

(Photo from

Friday, May 19, 2017

Pippa Mann: The One in the Pink Car

Pippa Mann grew up in Britain racing carts and then moved to open-wheel cars in Europe, becoming the first female driver to score points and start a race from pole position in the World Series by Renault. She moved to the United States in 2009 to race in Indy Lights, the feeder series to IndyCar, and in 2010 she became one of only two women to win a race in that series.

In addition, a statistic I know she's especially proud of, she became the only woman in any racing series to capture a pole position at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The same year, she finished fifth in the Indy Lights championship and was voted Most Popular Driver for the series.

She qualified for the Indy 500 for the first time in 2011, becoming the eighth woman in history, and the first British woman, to do so. Since 2011, she's started the race four more times (2013-2016), and this year, she'll make her sixth attempt. She's officially on record as the second-fastest female in history at IMS, with a top qualifying speed just under 230 mph.

The Indy 500 is the focus of Pippa's racing season, but she also makes the occasional appearance for Dale Coyne Racing on other ovals. In addition, in 2017, she's started racing Lamborghinis in the Super Trofeo series, and she helped found an all-female karting team, Team Empower.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know Pippa, and she's been invaluable to me as a source for my books. So I'm biased, for sure, but she's also a hell of an inspiration. You see, Pippa loves racing—loves racing in the Indy 500—so much that she works 50 weeks a year to pull together the money from sponsors to spend 2 weeks with her car on track. ALL YEAR. Plus, as if that level of fundraising wasn't enough, she's taken on more.

In 2014, she connected with the Susan G. Komen Foundation as an unpaid partner. Then she managed to convince her paying sponsors to make their logos really small, in order to have Komen on the car. Then she got partners and friends to donate goods that she could sell/auction to raise funds for Komen. In the past two years, the campaign has earned more than $135,000 for Komen.

What I find even more interesting is Pippa's experience with pink—because I went through the same transition in recent years. You see, as a female in a male world, growing up, Pippa eschewed pink, so as not to seem "girly" (we all know that usually means "weak," right?). And then along came Komen and the need for a pink car. So she took a deep breath and embraced it. And I think she came to love it (as I have). Now, she's finding that a lot of sponsors and fans LIKE to be associated with the female and the female cause on the pink has turned into an asset.

"It's kind of cool that all those little girls who are fans now not only have a girl to cheer for in this year's Indy 500, but also can cheer for a girl in a pink car!"
(from my own interview with Pippa in 2015)

Most of all, what's inspiring about Pippa isn't just her struggle to get a car on track or to raise money for Komen or to proudly wear pink. It's not how well and much she interacts with fans on social media. It's not even the fact that she's an admitted book nerd! It's that she's unfailingly positive. She posts positive messages every morning, and I've never heard her say a bad word about anyone. She knows that positive attitudes attract people, and besides, she seems to truly take every day she gets to be involved with racecars as a gift and a privilege. We could all learn from her.

P.S. Go check out her eBay auction for the cool stuff and experiences on offer—especially the Turn the Cockpit Pink item!—and help her raise even more money for the Susan G. Komen foundation this year!

(Top photo from

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book Release Blogging Roundup!

I've been busy around the interwebs, posting blogs in various locations. In case you missed them, here they are!

At Type M for Murder, I cautioned, Don't Judge a Book by Its Hook, something I know I'm guilty of also!

At Dru's Book Musings, Kate took a turn blogging, and let everyone in on the "glamour" of a racecar driver's life: The glamorous life of racecar driver Kate Reilly. (Hint: it's not usually very exciting.)

At Jungle Red Writers, I talked about the "rigors" of research, like being in the pits at the Indy 500! Tammy Kaehler - Kiss The Bricks

And don't forget: I've got two more real-life, female Indy 500 starters to profile—which also means we're only two weeks away from the Indy 500! I know I'm ready, how about you?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Bia: Finally Female Brazilian Talent in the 500

Her full name is Ana Beatriz Caselato Gomes de Figueiredo. Aka, Ana Beatriz, Bia Figueiredo, or just "Bia." Technically, she was the sixth woman to take the green flag for the Indy 500—because she qualified higher than Simona de Silvestro, who I profiled last week. But I've tackled Bia seventh, since she finished lower than Simona that year.

Bia grew up in São Paulo and started racing karts at the age of eight, after reportedly begging her father for three years to let her race—she was an admitted tomboy and played soccer, volleyball, and tennis, in addition to riding horses and taking ballet and theater classes. But at the age of 15, she chose racing. At 18, she started competing in Formula Renault, where, two years later, she was the first woman in the world to win a race, which she did twice, as well as scoring two pole positions.

A year later (2006), she became the first woman to win a pole position in the main class of Formula 3 racing. The same year, she graduated with a degree in business from a university in São Paulo. In 2008 and 2009, Bia drove in IndyLights for Sam Schmidt Racing, winning two races and reaching the podium (the first woman to do so) on multiple occasions. She received the Firestone Rising Star Award in 2008 and the Most Popular Driver Award in 2009.

Her successes earned her two races in IndyCar in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DRR): in São Paulo and in Indy, where she qualified and finished 21st. But perhaps a bigger highlight for her that year was her win that December in Felipe Massa's annual go-kart race, "Stars' Challenge," which saw her go from eleventh to first, beating the likes of Massa, Reubens Barrichello, and Tony Kanaan.

She ran her only full IndyCar season in 2011, again with DRR, missing only one race after breaking her hand in the season opener. In 2012, she signed with Andretti Racing to run two races, and in 2013, she raced six times with Dale Coyne Racing. To date, that's been the extent of her IndyCar career, encompassing four starts in the 500, and decent results. In 2015, she moved to stock car racing in Brazil, where she remains.

"[Being] a 'feminine' female driver helped me get more attention from the media, sponsors and new opportunities that are targeting women. Yet inside the track gender is irrelevant, and I don’t feel any different from a male driver. We are all aggressive and share the same goal of winning the race."

The story of her disappearance from the IndyCar scene is the same one we've heard before: money. She's taken a practical, but not extreme approach to gender in motorsport—using it, but not running wild—citing sponsorship by a cosmetics company and a gasoline company as some of the diverse backers she's attracted in years past.

Bia's got obvious talent, and it's hard to blame her for going where the money and a full-season's ride are. It's just a shame that's not in the United States and IndyCar.

(Photo from

Friday, May 5, 2017

Simona de Silvestro: A Serious Racer

Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro was chronologically the sixth (or seventh, it's kind of a tie) woman to take the Indy 500's green flag, in 2010. That same year, she won Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors for her 14th place finish. That 14th would remain her best finish in the five years she competed in the 500.

She'd made herself known in the U.S. racing world between 2006 and 2009, securing five podium finishes in Formula BMW USA, winning the Long Beach race in the Toyota Atlantic series, and finishing the 2009 season third overall, with four race wins. After moving to IndyCar in 2010, she posted the fastest lap at the São Paulo race (2011) and scored her first podium in 2013.

But it was some of her struggles that endeared her to many race fans (and perhaps teams). In 2010, she suffered burns to her right hand in a fiery crash at Texas Motor Speedway. In 2011, she suffered more burns in a practice crash for the Indy 500. Despite those injuries, she didn't miss a race until she suffered a concussion in a crash later in 2011. To (literally) add insult to injury that season, she missed a Sonoma race in August because a customs official was suspicious about her frequent trips to different countries—and didn't believe she was really a professional racing driver.

After all of those trials, de Silvestro spent 2012 struggling with a woefully underpowered Lotus engine, before joining KV Racing in 2013 and finishing second at the Grand Prix of Houston. That made her only the third woman, after Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick, to record a podium finish in IndyCar history.

Throughout all of the ups and downs, de Silvestro was a pro. She was focused and as fast as she could possibly be, and she generated near universal respect in the paddock. She didn't bring the controversy or the drama of some of the other women who've raced the 500. She put her head down and built a career driving.

"Gender doesn’t matter when you’re going 225 km/h into a turn."

Unfortunately for IndyCar fans, de Silvestro hasn't returned to the Series or the 500 since 2015. But fortunately for her, she's found other racing opportunities. In 2014, she was a test driver with the Sauber Formula 1 team, though sadly, contract disputes cut short her chance to inch closer to F1—and by some accounts, she was the most talented woman in position to do so.

In 2016, she raced Formula E cars, and in 2017, she's starting the first of three contracted years racing in Australian Supercars. Once again, money/sponsorship is the issue that keeps promising drivers (of both genders) out of the cockpit. But at only 29 now, Simona has years of racing ahead, so perhaps we'll see her back in an open-wheel car someday!

(Photo from

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kiss The Bricks Release Week: Last Giveaway!

My 5th book, Kiss The Bricks, releases tomorrow, and with that, I'm wrapping up my 5 weeks of 5 giveaways each week!

This Week's Prizes

This week is all about my protagonist, Kate Reilly, and fellow female racing drivers.

  • Grand prize: a Team Kate polo shirt (if I have your size!), a mini-helmet from the release of Avoidable Contact, a breast cancer awareness can koozie, a signed hero card from Indy 500 driver Pippa Mann, a copy of Sarah Fisher's Getting Behind the Wheel of Your Dream Job, and a Team Kate stuff sack to hold it all.
  • Runner-up prizes: assorted caps and a commemorative tile from a race at the Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.

How to win? 
By 12 midnight on Wednesday, May 3, do one of the following:

  • Comment on this post.
  • Comment or share my Facebook or Twitter posts.

I'll announce and contact the winners by the end of the week. Thanks so much for entering this and other weeks. I hope you'll check out Kiss The Bricks!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Milka Duno: #4 and The First Hispanic Woman

Venezuelan Milka Duno, the fourth woman to take the green flag in the Indy 500, is almost a throwback to Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James, in that she came to racing later in life—at 24. Before that, she was in school, racking up an undergraduate degree and four (FOUR!) master's degrees, in Organizational Development, Naval Architecture, Maritime Business, and Marine Biology. She also worked as a naval engineer for a time.

In addition, she's a former model, and her voluptuous looks earned her a lot of attention in the paddock. So did not always being the fastest driver, especially in IndyCar racing. But she was always well sponsored—by CITGO, a Venezuelan-owned American oil refiner—so she got a lot of opportunities that equally (or more) talented drivers didn't get.

That sounds harsh, so let me be clear: the woman is smart and she can drive. Duno won races and placed well in Venezuelan series championships (GT and Porsche Supercup) before coming to America, and once here, she won a Ferrari Challenge race and the Panoz GT Series championship. She went on to win races in the American Le Mans Series and the Grand Am Series—the first woman to do so—in which she shared the cars with another driver. From 2007 to 2010, she ran partial IndyCar seasons, competing in 43 races overall and qualifying for the Indy 500 three times.

"I started the season, as I always do, with the goal doing my absolute best—not as a female driver—but as a driver. The point is to always try and do the best that you can do. By doing that, many other things happen along the way that are very special and rewarding."

Between 2010 and 2014, Duno drove some races in lower-level NASCAR series, and since then, she's focused her efforts on her Milka Way program, whose mission is to encourage children to "reach for the stars" and achieve academic excellence. In 2014, she was elected to the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) Women & Motor Sport Commission (WMC).

A lot of people have slammed Duno for being slow and blocking other drivers (including Danica, after one memorable practice session at Mid Ohio). Some have made her the punchline to jokes (myself included). But I think we've got to give her some credit. She found sponsorship that would let her chase her dreams. Who can blame her for that? The way the racing business works these days is that money is often more important than talent—you've got to have some talent, but then you've got to come with money, whether it's your own or a sponsor's. And there are plenty of really excellent drivers languishing at home because they can't find sponsorship money, like Duno did. Is that her fault? Nope.

So I say kudos to Milka Duno for discovering her passion and taking it as far as she could. For trying everything and trying her best. It's a good reminder that the point is often the journey, not just the destination.

(Photo from