Monday, April 21, 2014

Going to the Source

The story of my ride with Mario Andretti behind the wheel is only half the story of my incredible Long Beach Grand Prix experience. The other half has to do with going to the source for information about the racing world. Or maybe it's partly being immersed in the source and partly talking to the source. The being immersed int he world is the easy part: go to a race, walk around, and see what teams, drivers, and fans are engaged in.

Talking to the source seems like it'd be a little more difficult—until being at the races reminds me how nice people in the racing world are and how willing they are to talk about what they do for a living. (Usually the only catch is if they have the time to do so.)

The first person to sit and chat with us was Martin Plowman, or Plowey, a young driver who's racing anything he can get his hands on—including the Indy 500 this year with Foyt Racing. Plowey's long been a favorite of my friends Barb and Mary, and to Barb's delight, he was the driver for her two-seater ride! (That's the two of them pictured.) He was gracious enough to chat with us after our rides and tell us a bit about the difference between open-wheel cars and sportscars, since he's driven both. And he was kind enough to say he'd answer questions down the line for me, when I'm ready to transition Kate.

But the most amazing and incredible conversation was the hour I got to spend with Pippa Mann. A real-life, honest-to-goodness female racecar driver. The first female driver I've actually gotten to talk to who's a current competitor in the highest ranks. (It's kind of embarrassing to admit it's taken me this long to be able to get to one.)

The best compliment she paid me was telling me I'd gotten a lot of what it's like to be a female in the world correct (yes, I about fell over with relief).

Of course, what I learned from her is how much of the story I'm missing, primarily about the struggle for current drivers (of either gender; Plowey had similar stories) to put together deals to get themselves in a racecar. It's not what we might think, most pros don't sit at home waiting for the phone to ring, a team on the other end waiting to pay them to drive a car. No. Most pros are out hustling, pitching deals to multiple sponsors (and probably dozens of potential sponsors) and working with teams and corporations to assemble funding for a season. For a partial season. For a race.

I've sidestepped those issues for Kate so far. But I might need to reflect reality a bit more in a future book ... we might have to see Kate struggle with being assertive (but not aggressive) and direct (without being a bitch). To see her try to balance being tough, pushy about her needs and wants, and businesslike, while still being feminine. (To be clear, those weren't Pippa's words. That's my evaluation based on the role of women in the business world in general and from watching what seems like the tightrope that all female racers walk.)

Pippa is a lovely, warm human being. She's incredibly savvy about marketing herself, especially through social media, where she's built an enormous following—something she's done because she's genuine and personal with her fans. I'm enormously grateful for the time she spent with me, as well as for her offer to help me in the future. I'm really hoping that her absence (so far) this year from IndyCar's lineup is just a minor blip in her resume. I believe it will be.

Because of her (and others who are strongly encouraging me), I'm seriously considering two actions: heading to Indy for the 500 this year to see what that whirlwind of awesomeness is all about and getting Kate into open-wheel cars sooner, rather than later. I'll keep you all posted....

In the meantime, thank you to Pippa for the time, encouragement, and information (past and future). As much as we see and hear and talk about more and more women in the racing world, Pippa is one of the few who's working hard to make it happen. I'm always moved by someone working to fulfill a dream, and to see a woman doing so in a world populated mostly by men (drivers, at least) makes me want to support and cheer her on with everything I've got. 

Part of why I created Kate was to provide another instance of "racecar driver" as a normal, possible occupation for a female. So you go, girl. All of you, and Pippa in particular. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice read and glad you had a grand time. One thing you missed on Pippa is how much she is a complete ambassador for IndyCar. I am really hardpressed to think of a single event (big or small) or fan (big or small) that she has not done all she can to accommodate. For a driver working to get a ride there are just not enough hours in a day. I, along with you, had always taken that side of it for granted and am looking forward to seeing how Kate fights that part of the sport she loves.


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