As I mentioned briefly in my first article karting is an incredibly unique sport. It is one of very few activities out there that lets us females and males compete against each other on a level playing fi eld. Motorsport began as primarily a male dominated arena where males would flaunt their new vehicles and take part in lengthy ‘staged time trials’ around main roads.
The first time women were introduced into this exclusive fold was when the chaps decided they were worthy of sitting in the passenger seat and giving directions, although I do wonder if there were many arguments over whose fault it was for missing the left turn ahead. However, now it’s a completely different story altogether with women such as Danica Patrick in the forefront of NASCAR racing. Perhaps because of the increase in women succeeding and dominating in the higher ranks of motorsport this is spurring on more females to step into racing.
I remember my first experience of the karting world aged nine. Like many others I started off at what I originally believed to be the largest kart circuit in Essex. However I was soon to fi nd out that this ‘epic’ 250 metre track was probably about the same length as the straight at Kimbolton! After being shown the ropes for a while I was ready to go. Obviously on my first go out I spun… a lot, and I hadn’t quite grasped the concept of needing to brake for a corner. Nonetheless I was enjoying myself and that’s all that matters right? Well, apparently not. Once I’d had my little ‘test session’, seven other arrive-and-drive racers were let out on the track, all boys. I was determined to prove I knew what I was doing.
In the end I turned out to be faster than them. Expecting some kind of warm welcome I greeted them and was told that, “Girls aren’t meant to come here, go and buy a doll’s house”. Fortunately I saw the funny side, and decided from that point onward I would make it my aim to continue to prove my worth in this male dominated sport.
In the eleven years I’ve been racing I have come across some nasty stereotypical insults about my driving, but as I’ve matured I’ve grown to ignore it and realise the best way to silence a chauvinistic pig is to just go out and there and beat him! Having said this, I wouldn’t do karting if I didn’t enjoy it, and I’d say the majority of the males I race or have raced with have no issues with me being a female, and because of this we have a mutual respect for one another. I’ve made some amazing friends over the years. This, however, is merely my view and my experience, so I headed down to my local track (Shenington) to find some male and female karters and see what their views were on this whole issue. Fortunately I found two willing male and female participants, Dean Patrick and Sarah Drew, and decided to interrogate them. They both race Junior Rotax, but only at Shenington club rounds.
How long have you guys been racing? Have you experienced any hostility from other racers in this time?Dean: I’ve been competing since I was 10 and when I first started I was quite nervous and felt the guys with painted lids were like Gods or something. I’d literally let them past, and when I started getting good they didn’t like it. That’s the only hostility I’ve ever had.
Sarah: I’ve only been racing for three years, since I was 12. I think a lot of people welcomed me after I’d been doing it for a while, but to start with I don’t think the guys liked the fact I was there because we were all young and a bit immature. I remember getting knocked off the track a lot at the beginning.
Dean, what are your views on ‘girl racers’?
Dean: Personally I’ve never had a problem with it, although I can see why some guys get frustrated when a girl is quicker than them because other racers could tease them. It’s probably harder I think for girls to gain respect on the track, because I know a lot of guys that aren’t that quick and still don’t get punted around as much as some girls I know. Motorsport is seen as a male thing, but so many girls do it now it shouldn’t be an issue any more.
What do you think, if anything, could be altered to change some people’s attitudes?
Sarah: I don’t think anything in the sport itself could be altered as it’s all down to the person’s views. I think it’s encouraging for girls to see loads of other women competing and winning in motorsport.
Dean: Like Sarah said, it’s hard to change a person’s opinion. I think karting is a great sport and, compared to a lot of others, people are more open and accepting to girls. If a guy can’t handle a girl beating him then he probably shouldn’t be racing! Sexism in any sport is always going to be a tough issue. In the 21st century we’d like to think it would be non-existent by now and we’d all be holding hands under a rainbow. However, despite the distinct lack of any rainbow, once you have your helmet on it doesn’t matter who you are. Just what you can do.