Undercurrent Masthead
Motor sport girls feature

Passion is the key driver for girls in motorsports

Lizzie Dodd

For the past few decades, motorsports have been a male driven sport – but there is change just around the corner.

In a recent interview with Vogue, Claire Williams – a deputy team principal of Williams (a major team within Formula One) – stated that there is a “seismic shift” in the number of women coming into the sport as well as changing attitudes surrounding women regarding the sport.

This shift has landed right here in Canberra and we need to look no further than the new generation of drivers to showcase the talent and passion that are rising in the ranks. James Ordish, President of Canberra Kart Racing Club, expressed his delight in the increased number of girls joining the club and the sport over the past year and the success that they are achieving on the track. Out of 40-50 competitors, the number of female drivers has increased to almost 25% of all competitors within most age-groups.

“A number of our girls are achieving great results in their races and that is due to the level of passion that they put into their training”, says James.

Jason Jones, a member of the club and father of Kiarra, 12, believes that motorsports are a great alterative sport for girls to consider as it builds confidence, self-motivation and drive.

“As a father, it is great to see our daughter excel in a sport where there is no gender imbalance or other levels of disadvantage. It’s great seeing her compete with all those in her age group and working hard to achieve her best results. These girls are out there breaking stereotypes in a male-dominated sport and succeeding, with many of the girls placing first, second, or third in most races”, says Jason.

These days, there are a plethora of female role models within the Australian sporting arena such as Cathy Freeman, Susie O’Neill, Liz Ellis, Layne Beachley or Lauren Jackson to name a few. However, there are not as many female role models within motorsports.

So what encouraged some of these girls to join a non-conventional sport? I chatted with seven members of the Canberra Kart Racing Club to see why they love this sport.

“I was encouraged to try karting after my brother started it. Once I started I loved it and for the past eight years have continued to race. I think it is important that we make the sport more well known to females whether they are participating, watching or being involved within the events”, says Taylah, 15.

And whilst these girls may not yet be role models to the rest of Australia, the older girls are fantastic mentors to the younger competitors coming through the club and the sport as a whole. Upon meeting this group of girls, it was easy to see the connection and camaraderie between the group, something you don’t always witness when it comes to competitive sports. The encouragement within the club is heart-warming and certainly noticed by the girls and their families.

Drivers

“I enjoy karting because of the support you get from the rest of the group. Before the race people will walk around, shake your hand and wish you good luck and after the race, they’ll say good job”, expresses Kiarra.

“I love everything about karting. The competitive side but also making life-long friends and the social side of it is really awesome”, adds Beck, 23.

However, unlike other sports – there is a level playing field for all competitors and stereotypes don’t exist, gender any other stereotypes. Competitions are age-based and all drivers race the exact same kart – there is no allowance for larger engines or other kart alterations which can give a driver an edge, it comes down to pure driving skill.

This is a highlight for all of the girls who expressed that they “love beating the boys” or “giving the boys a run for their money”. There are not many sports that can boast this sport of competition between boys and girls within the same competition – and this is something that certainly gives the girls the passion and drive to succeed.

“Beck is a fantastic role model for our younger girls as she has seen great success in her time competing in the sport. Last year, she was the sole recipient of one of the largest sponsorships available to women within the sport and she also was the NSW state champion. This result brought her some sponsorship opportunities”, says Jason.

“This was a huge achievement for her, however Beck has set her eyes higher this year competing predominately in the Australian Championships where she is currently ranked 8th.”.

Whilst these girls are certainly making waves within motorsports, there are a few factors that need to be managed for progression in the sport for women such as more sponsorship opportunities, lack of time, stronger advertising towards women and access to better amenities. Sponsorship is another area that the girls indicated was an initial barrier with some organisations as there is a level of disbelief that these girls could be achieving such impressive results in a sport dominated by boys. For most of these girls, school can be a barrier to progress further in the sport.

“Managing time with school, school work and time away for competitions can be a challenge and is hard when majority of the meets are interstate”, says Mia, 13.

With the sport being dominated by males, a lot of the track facilities do not have changing facilities for female competitors – this is something the Canberra Kart Racing is looking to achieve at the Mark Weber Circuit, ACT. The Canberra Kart Racing Club has received support here locally by Labor MLA, Bec Cody who believes that there should be an emphasis on encouraging all kids to try sports, especially those outside of the box.

“It’s great to see these girls having a go, we should do everything we can to support them…”, says Bec.

Strong

From left to right: Lizzie, Kiarra, Maddie, Beck, Mia, Bec Cody MLA, Taylor H, Michelle, Taylor C.

However, motorsports aren’t just for those looking for competition but also for the hobbyists, particularly here in Canberra with the arrival of the Power Kart Raceway in Fyshwick – an F1 style indoor circuit which opened in 2014, complete with a Ladies Night on Thursdays (Um, where do we sign up?). In fact – bucking traditions, for my hens night earlier this year, my bridesmaids organised an afternoon of racing here and it was an absolute blast!

This track has opened up opportunities for many people to experience karting for themselves in a safe, yet adrenaline-fuelled environment. Greta, 15, who’s dad Roger opened Power Kart Raceway, held the fastest lap. Although she isn’t involved in competitive kart racing, she thoroughly enjoys her time on the track and believes it has helped her be confidence on the road, especially now as she has got her L Plates. She expressed that her experience on the track has helped her with the confidence and transition to the road – knowing the power and the parts of cars.

The future looks bright for these girls and for women in motorsports generally. Whilst it will take some patience, the girls are sure of their future in the sports. “I would love to be racing cars in the next five years, in particular my father’s car. He is the reason I got into the sport as he also races cars and also used to race Go Karts. I knew as soon as I drove my first kart that I loved it”, says Madisson.

“I agree, I also want to be driving cars in the next few years. Although I have done many other sports – Soccer, OzTag, Softball, AFL, it is karting that gives me the adrenaline rush to continue competing in the sport”, says Tayla.

From knowing nothing about this sport, to being completely intrigued and impressed by these girls, Canberra has its next set of homegrown heros within motorsports growing in its midst. It is their passion, conviction, strength and competitive nature that keeps these girls competing but more importantly, keeps them bonded for life.

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Lizzie Dodd

Since arriving to Canberra at 4 months of age, Lizzie has never left. A true Canberran in every sense growing up amongst the distinct seasons and travelling constantly to the South Coast on holidays. Like most Gen Y’s, Lizzie loves everything technology-based and has just finished a post-grad in Social Media and Public Engagement. In her down time, Lizzie is surfing at the coast, training at the gym, playing piano, having a glass (or two) with friends or sitting on the couch binge watching Chicago PD/Fire/Med. More about the Author