It’s easy to talk about improving diversity in motorsport, harder to make any lasting change. Hang out at the track, any track (although some shapes do better than others) and it becomes clear that there aren’t too many women working in the garages or adjusting for the hot pits. Now, I can say from personal experience—nearly 20 years covering various forms of racing—that it’s noticeably better than it was when I was a baby motorsports reporter, and it’s not just me imagining things. Data charts on career website Zippia show that the balance between male and female motorsports techs has gone from 96.1 percent male in 2010 to 92.3 percent in 2021. So it’s improving, but at that rate it’s going to take almost a century to reach anything close to parity. This is not entirely due to the evils of sexism: there are not as many women as men applying for racing, and often young women studying engineering and mechanics do not even realize that motorsport work is an option. That’s why initiatives like the PNC Bank and Chip Ganassi Racing Women in Motorsport internships are so beneficial, and why it’s great news to hear that Ganassi Racing is repeating the program for 2023, with plans to continue it into the future.
The Women in Motorsport (WIM) program offers three paid internships working with the Chip Ganassi Racing Indycar teams. The goal is both to draw attention to the importance of diversity in motorsports hiring and to act as a pipeline for women in STEM studies to graduate into full-time positions. It worked out as planned for Rebecca Hutton, who was one of the 2022 interns, and who will join Ganassi Racing as a simulation engineer for 2023. Hutton told me she knew she wanted to work in racing but had no idea there were so many. different types of jobs in the high-tech world of modern motorsport.
“There’s definitely room for women anywhere on a race team,” Hutton said. “I think the obstacle comes watching races on TV and you see all these men going over the wall and you don’t see the women there. You don’t know what’s available or how to get involved. I think a lot of people think if you’re on a race team, you’re a mechanic.” She laughed and added, “I think some of my friends still think I’m a mechanic.” Hutton says she loves working in simulations because she is able to design and test different chassis designs and optimizations and see that the data her team provides make a measurable difference in the next weekend’s race. “Building these simulations and building the models is hugely heavy in vehicle dynamics, which was my favorite class in school. I just didn’t know that what I enjoyed in school related to the roles within a racing team, and I’m so glad I found something I love so much.”
If Hutton wanted to be a mechanic, she could have found mentorship there from Anna Chatten, transmission mechanic on the Scott Dixon #9 Indy car, and a 22-year veteran as a tire technician. “I came into this with little to no support,” Chatten said. “It’s been really cool for me to see the transition over the last 20 years, and there definitely has been one.” But, she says, while changes have been in the right direction, racing has not moved as quickly as she would have hoped. “If you would have told me when I was 20 that there would still be a few female mechanics in the paddock, I would have thought you were crazy. I would have thought there would have been a lot more by now.” She thinks programs like the Ganassi-PNC internship can make a big difference, and she is making an effort to be a part of it. “When I got into the business, there was no one really for me to rely on or look up to. I have two girls, they’re seven and eight, and if they grow up to work on race cars, I’ll definitely want it to be different for them. I have to participate in that act of change to make it better. Even if it’s emotional support for them on certain topics, it gets you through. You feel a lot less alone when there’s someone who says, ‘Oh yes, I “was there.”
It’s not just emotional support. Chatten also offers practical encouragement to interns who may feel intimidated by the practical aspect of turning keys. “We’re not necessarily exposed to it as young women. There’s a concern about whether you can physically do it. I always like to dispel that myth. I’m not a very physically large person, but there’s always a smarter way to do your job. You can always get a longer wrench or a bigger breaker bar.”
For Ganassi himself, a man whose Twitter account includes posts of race results with the hashtag #ilikewinners, the Women in Motorsports initiative isn’t about personal feelings, it’s about building a better race team. “Listen, Elana,” he said before I even finished the first question, “I’ve never been one to do things because I want to check the box. And I don’t do things because it’s the cool thing to do or the current thing to do. I am interested in one thing in our team, that is performance. The women who apply for this program are motivated, they bring innovation and influence and they just need the opportunity to shine. The women on my team, they were engineers on the car that won Sebring last year, that won the Indy 500. They’re here to win races and that’s what they bring to the team.”
He says he notices enough difference in team energy and performance that if he could keep his new hires a secret, he would. “In a way, I don’t want anyone to know these women’s names. I don’t want any of the other team owners to know because I don’t want them to take them away from me. They’re like good assets of the company. I’m kidding, but at the top levels of this business, everybody has everything, everybody has the same cars, technology, software. The only difference between our team and other teams is the people.” He hopes that programs like WIM will mean that future conversations don’t have to be about the male/female make-up of a team, because having a mix will be so normal that it won’t be worth discussing don’t speak
One place he does think needs more attention is in the race car itself. If women make up only about 8 percent of the motorsports workforce, the numbers behind the wheel are even worse, only 1 to 2 percent of professional drivers are women. Ganassi says this may have to do with when children are exposed to the sport. The internship program aims to attract women in college and grad school, as engineers and mechanics can make a switch to motorsports, even if they originally planned on something like aerospace or consumer products. Becoming a professional racer at the Indy or F1 level has to start much earlier. “Most of the drivers that are in the sport today all started racing when they were five years old, 20 years ago. There were very few women 20 years ago who were talking about motorsport. And there were even fewer at five years old. who had the father or the mother who talked about it. But you have a lot more of that today, so I think in the next 10 years we’ll see more women coming through the smaller range.”
Meanwhile, everyone on Ganassi’s team is excited to welcome the next batch of interns for 2023. “The goal is not just to get to a number of women we feel comfortable with,” said Angela Ashmore, engineer of the Marcus Ericsson No. 8 Indy car (pictured above). “The goal is to end up with the best team possible, and the best teams are diverse teams with unique backgrounds who can bring different viewpoints to problem solving.”
The three women coming in for the 2023 season are Hailey Hein, a mechanic from Arizona; Nicole Goodman, an IT specialist from Indiana; and Raegen Moody, an engineering student from Georgia. PNC Bank and Chip Ganassi Racing will accept 2024 season applications in the fall of 2023. Interested applicants can learn more at ChipGanassiRacing.com/WIM.
Senior Editor, Features
Like a sleeper agent activated late in the game, Elana Scherr didn’t know her calling at a young age. Like many girls, she planned to be a vet-astronaut-artist, and came closest to that last one by attending UCLA art school. She painted images of cars but did not own one. Reluctantly getting a driver’s license at age 21, Elana discovered that she not only loved cars and wanted to drive them, but that other people loved cars and wanted to read about them, which meant someone had to write about them. Since receiving activation codes, Elana has written for numerous car magazines and websites, covering classics, car culture, technology, motorsport and new car reviews.