The Missing Women of Motorsport

Last weekend I attended the Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History at the legendary Watkins Glen International Media Center, hosted by the IMRRC [International Motor Racing Research Center] and SAH [Society of Automotive Historians]. It was my third time in attendance – although I was a presenter last year I was invited to attend this year in my new role as Vice President of the Society of Automotive Historians [more on that in a future blog]. The conference attracts academics and historians presenting papers on a wide variety of topics related to the history and culture of motorsport. The goal of the conference, as noted on the IMRRC website, is to provide an opportunity for scholars, researchers, and writers ‘to present their work related to the history of automotive competition and the cultural impact of motor racing to their peers and the motor racing community in general.’

‘An Overview of Motorsport Podcasts Focused on Women’ presented by Mike Stocz

Last year’s conference, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX, featured a number of female presenters as well as a roundtable discussion focused on the state of women in motorsport scholarship. While there were notable gaps in the conversation, the panel represented an effort by symposium organizers to consider women as both motorsport participants and researchers. However the 2023 conference reverted to past gatherings in which women were notably absent as both presenters and subjects of research. The sole female participant was a member of the contingent from MacPherson College and as an archivist spoke on the automotive resources available to students at that institution. The only presentation which addressed women in some capacity was a quantitative study on the subjects most often discussed on motorsport podcasts focused on women. While the presentation was certainly academically sound, it was numbers based, and as a study presented by a male academic, it was lacking any understanding or explanation of women’s actual experience in the motorsport arena. 

‘Cruising Through the Stacks’ presented by Kristie Sojka

As noted in the roundtable discussion held a year ago, there is a dearth of automotive scholarship focused on women in motorsport history and culture. This is not surprising; although women’s automotive histories have slowly been incorporated into the canon, there are simply not enough scholars with an interest in exploring the topic of women’s participation in various automotive cultures, including motorsport. Although I have briefly touched on the subject in my own research, motorsport is a subject in which my own knowledge is limited. However, that being said, I came away from the conference with both motivation and determination to develop a paper with women as the focus for next year’s symposium at Watkins Glen.

This is not to say the conference was a bust. The long weekend began with the screening of a number of motorsport documentaries, followed by two days of presentations on a variety of subjects from researchers and historians from all over the world. I was able to connect with a number of scholars in the field and was perhaps awarded a small modicum of respect on my new VP status. While I have a number of project in the works, I will endeavor to develop a presentation over the next year that will hopefully bring attention to women’s absence as well as participation in the masculine world of motorsport.

The Road to Cooperstown

National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum

I am not one for fancy vacations; I haven’t been out of the country [with the exception of our nearby neighbor Canada] in decades and warm weather escapes are not my thing. When I escape from everyday life for a week or two I am not seeking pricey hotels or gourmet meals; I would rather spend that time going somewhere exciting or new or fun. In my mind, the best type of vacation is the road trip; more specifically, a baseball road trip. One of my favorite pastimes is to visit ballparks in all parts of the country. Since my husband and I have been to every current [and many past] major league ballparks, we had a wonderful time this past summer heading east and stopping at seven minor league parks and the mecca of baseball fans, the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Me in my goofy “Christmas in July” cap in Erie PA

The first stop of our trip was UPMC Park in Erie, Pennsylvania, home of the Erie SeaHawks. As it happened to be ‘Christmas in July’ night, we received nifty snow hats before the game was rained out. The next day found us at Sahlen Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons. After a day off in Buffalo to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House – and Niagara Falls – we made our way to Innovative Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings.

Catching the Rochester Red Wings

Our next stop was Cooperstown where we spent an immersive day in the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame. Our trip continued to the Maribito Stadium in Binghamton, home to the Rumble Ponies, to the Joseph Bruno Stadium to watch the Tri-City Valley Cats, to NBT Bank Stadium, home to the Syracuse Mets, and lastly to Canal Park to cheer on the Akron Rubber Ducks. With the exception of the first day, the weather was perfect and we were treated to some good baseball in minor leagues parks of all descriptions.

Road trips are not only about the destinations, but also the interesting and often fascination regional attractions along the way. In Rochester we stopped at the Eastman Photography Museum and Susan B. Anthony House. In Binghamton we took a tour of the Phelps Museum and rode on one of the many public carousels in the surrounding area. [Binghamton, as it turns out, is the country’s carousel capital. Who knew?] We went a little out of our way to Saratoga Springs to visit its impressive car museum; the Schuyler Museum and USS Slater destroyer [as well as Gannon’s Ice Cream Shoppe] were part of our Syracuse stop. While these attractions would hardly make anyone’s Top Ten list, they offer fascinating insights into an area, its history, and its people. And they are the kind of places places – a little quirky, so fun and so interesting – you can only come across on a road trip. The trip was made in our new 2023 VW GTI which was an enjoyable way to travel down small town roads as well as speedier highways. When the mood struck us we opened the sunroof and took in the summer sunlight bouncing off our heads. It was a great trip – good baseball, interesting attractions, and a great way for my husband I to spend some time together on the road to – and from – Cooperstown.

Sahlan Field, home to the Buffalo Bisons