ProSolo in Toledo

After a winter in which I worked on other things, I restarted the women and autocross project. I had attended some local autocross events last fall, and was able to speak with and interview a few of the women in attendance. The event leaders were very helpful in explaining the basics to me as well as introducing me to some of the female autocrossers. The women I encountered ranged in age as well as experience. One of the older women I spoke with has 11 SCCA National Championships and was the number one female in 2014. Others were just beginning and looked up to the more senior participants for advice and inspiration. While these local events provided a good introduction to the autocross experience, I felt I needed more input from female autocrossers as well as additional observation at autocross events in order to better understand the sport of autocross, particularly as experienced by women.

After completing a number of projects over the winter and spring, I decided to make another attempt at contacting women about their autocross experiences. I was allowed to post a request for project participants on the SCCA Women on Track Facebook page, and was overwhelmed with responses. I am currently in the process of conducting and transcribing interviews with the goal of presenting preliminary findings at the Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History this November at Watkins Glen International. I also desired to attend autocross events in which there would be a larger number of female participants. That opportunity came on July 24 at the SCCA ProSolo championship series in Toledo, Ohio.

ProSolo differs from the local events I attended not only in the number of participants but also in the way the series is conducted. As noted on the event page, “The TireRack SCCA® ProSolo® Series is an adrenaline-pumping autocross format where solo isn’t solo. Drivers still run a course by themselves, but start off side-by-side drag racing style and attack mirror-image courses to see who gets back to their respective finish lines first.” Drivers get three sets of runs to put together the best run from each side. Class winners participate in the single-elimination rounds on the last day. There is a special Ladies Challenge for the top performing ladies class drivers. Most of the women that day competed in the Ladies classes, while others chose to participate in open.

I arrived Sunday morning in the middle of the ladies competition which was the first event of the day. The ladies runs were preceded by what has become a traditional ‘ladies’ dance.’ Pumping music on the grid before the event begins, dancing provides the opportunity for the women to relax, get loose, and have some fun before getting down to the serious business of competing. It is also a form of bonding, as it helps to make each participant feel like an important part of the group. While I wasn’t able to get close enough to watch the individual runs, I was able to see the women gathered in what is called the ‘impound’ after they finished. There was a lot of chatting, high-fiving, checking out each others’ cars, discussing results, and general camaraderie. I heard a lot of participants – women and men – offering support, with comments like ‘great job’ or ‘you’ll do better next time; it’s all about learning, right?’ There is a lot of waiting around at autocross events – only six minutes of driving over the entire weekend – so socialization is an important component of the experience. Competitors also take the downtime as an opportunity to work on their cars, commiserate with other autocrossers, have something to eat, take a nap, and develop strategies for the next run. 

I was able to speak with a few of the competitors after their runs – which included those who made the final round as well as some who experienced car issues and were eliminated. There was a great sense of fellowship among the women in attendance – it is obvious they provide each other with mutual support, team spirit, and fraternity in an endeavor that is overwhelmingly male [at least 90% by my unofficial estimations].

All are required to work at autocross events, and as the women ran in the morning, the afternoon found them in various positions in the booth or on the track. After observing for a bit longer, I headed home, grateful I was able to attend the event and in the process, gain a little more insight into the world of women and autocross. 

Women and Motorsports at the Automotive Hall of Fame

Panel of Laura Wontrop Klauser, Beth Paretta, Taylor Ferns, and [virtually] Lyn St. James.

On June 1, 2022 I had the pleasure of attending the “Racing at the Automotive Hall of Fame: Barrier Breakers” event. In attendance was a sold out crowd of [mostly] women connected to motorsports or the automotive industry in some capacity. I was particularly impressed with how many young professionals were in the audience, which speaks well to the future of women in automotive in general and motorsports in particular. 

After an introduction by AHF CEO Sarah Cook, the main event commenced. The event was divided into two sections; the first was a screening of the new documentary “Boundless: Betty Skelton,” which focuses on the remarkable career of an earlier pioneer of women’s motorsports. The viewing was followed by a panel discussion composed of three involved with the making of the film: Pam Miller – producer of FOX NASCAR Cup races, Cindy Sisson – CEO of GSEvents, and legendary racer and 2022 AHF Inductee Lyn St. James. Because of a COVID outbreak, the panel was unable to attend in person, but participated virtually. Carol Cain, well known to local residents as the host of “Michigan Matters,” moderated the panel from the AHF auditorium.

The second section was an overview of a new organization and website “Women in Motorsports NA,” described as “a community of professionals devoted to supporting opportunities for women across all disciplines of motorsports by creating an inclusive, resourceful environment to foster mentorship, advocacy, education, and growth, thereby ensuring the continued strength and successful future of our sport.” The panel included Beth Paretta – cofounder of WIMNA and CEO of Paretta Autosports, Taylor Ferns – a young up-and-coming race car driver and WSU law student, Laura Wontrop Klauser – Sports Car Racing Program Manager at General Motors, and cofounder of WIMNA Lyn St. James. Amanda Busick – host of the Women Shifting Gears podcast – served as moderator.

While I am not a motorsports enthusiast nor expert, the event was remarkable not only for the knowledge and enthusiasm on display from the participants, but by the general atmosphere of encouragement, support, and empowerment that filled the auditorium. Lyn St James is a marvel; she is whip smart, courageous, truthful, unpretentious, and inspirational. Her dedication to the future of women in motorsports is undeniable and infectious. Her fellow panel members each brought something new to the conversation so that one could not help but leave with a renewed sense of hope for women in the sport.

The two sessions were followed by an afterglow with food and drinks. I found myself at a table with a GM mechanical engineer/motorcycle racer, the CEO of IWMA [International Women’s Motorsports Association], and a producer of women’s flame retardant underwear. It was a fun follow up to a memorable afternoon. I left the AHF with a “Boundless” poster and a copy of Lyn St. James’s book An Incredible Journey. “Barrier Breakers” is an event I won’t soon forget. 

2021 [Virtual] PCA Conference

Pink Power Presentation

As the 2020 Popular Culture Association [PCA] was canceled due to COVID, the decision was made to go virtual in 2021. Despite my lack of confidence in all things technological, I decided to put aside my fears and submit a presentation to this year’s event. Since the PCA is one of the few conferences with sessions dedicated to vehicle culture, I always try to prepare something to present. Having a date in place provides me with the impetus to develop and map out a project for the conference; in turn, the input from conference attendees serves as encouragement to proceed with publication as the eventual goal.

This year there were three sessions with a wide variety of topics and perspectives. The first session, focused on Vehicle History and Business, featured presentations on vehicle dwellers, an analysis of conflicting representations of the automobile in its earliest years, and a look at how the Korean automobile and gaming industry influence the global market. Vehicle Culture Across Industries – the second session – included an excursion to non-fictional motor racing through Grafton graphic publications, an examination of driving lyrics in the songs of Taylor Swift, and an argument dispelling the origin myth of the 1950s automobile fin design. Finally, the third session – Social Perspectives of Vehicle Culture, offered an investigation of the 1967 Impala as female in the Winchesters series, a lawyer’s perspective on the case for banning human-driven vehicles, and my own presentation, which looked at the influence of Barbie cars on the auto awareness of young girls.

While there were a few technical glitches in my presentation – it’s what happens when you ask a 72-year-old woman to serve as session chair – the talk went pretty well. I received a number of positive comments, helpful suggestions, as well as questions that provided me the opportunity to reconsider some of my arguments and revise some of my thinking. Although the presentation was stressful – in both preparation and execution – I always welcome the opportunity to present my work to a group of interested, informed, and curious auto enthusiasts and scholars. Next year – Seattle!

Holiday Party @ the Automotive Hall of Fame

The Annual Holiday Gathering of the SAH [Society of Automotive Historians] Leland Chapter was held this year at the Automotive Hall of Fame on the Henry Ford campus in Dearborn, Michigan. Author, motorsports expert, and former Autoweek editor George Levy was on hand to give his impressions of the recent Ford vs Ferrari motion picture release, doing his best to separate fact from fiction. It was a fun afternoon spent with fellow car enthusiasts and the pictured hall of famers in the museum. In the holiday spirit there was a small gift exchange; I received an antique Oakland Motor Car hubcap. As I discovered, the Oakland Motor Car Company was a division of General Motors from 1909 until 1931 when it was replaced by Pontiac. It was very cool to receive a little piece of automotive history in such appropriate surroundings.