Women took the wheel for a crucial Arizona conference last month. And of course, ProFormance was there.
Early this November a meeting was held to celebrate what some 51 percent of the human population has been doing – and wants to do more of – in the world of motorsports. Women With Drive III, a much-heralded conference, took place in Avondale, Arizona.
The gathering, part of NASCAR Cup Series Championship Weekend, highlighted the impact that women have had on motorsport, and served as a springboard for the people and ideas that will help racing become more welcoming to women.
Representing ProFormance Racing School and Pacific Raceways was ProFormance’s Chief of Operations Donna Porada-Kitch. The Northwest also showed up in the form of Head of Strategy/Women’s Sports Coordinator Josie Rimmer and Senior Instructor Michelle Miller from Dirtfish.
The topic of conversation was women and how motorsport can do a better job serving that half of humanity.
Women With Drive III hails a sport in transformation
“It wasn’t only women,” says Donna. “Men are part of the story as well – they want to bring more people into the sport, because that’s good for everybody. At the conference there were maybe a hundred guys who were interested in promoting women in the sport.”
Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR, spoke stirringly about how the push for diversity and inclusion has helped the organization move forward. IMSA president John Doonan also spoke about achieving equity in a sport that has traditionally overlooked women.
Just as NASCAR is moving to a new generation of cars – more like sports car – so is the sport reinventing itself across the globe. And part of that is bringing more diverse people into motorsport, and empowering them to greater achievements. Women With Drive III is a nexus of that transformation — it’s where the industry is being challenged to fulfil its responsibility and make motorsport participants look more like the people that love and follow the sport.
Celebrating, inspiring, mentoring
The themes of the conference, though, were not concerned with registering complaints. They were “Celebrating, Inspiring, and Mentoring,” a lot of which was done during the days of the event.
Celebrating. Drivers, general managers, track owners, and racing school owners all came together to celebrate the sport they love and want to thrive.
Inspiring. Accomplished women from all over the world came to spread their enthusiasm and knowledge. “There were women from Azerbaijan, England, South Africa,” says Donna. “Girls too, engineering kids, all with the same goal of driving hard and succeeding.”
Mentoring. As a ProFormance founder, Donna was on the receiving end of attention in this category. “So many people came up wanting to talk!” she says. “That blew my mind. We wanted to create more seats at the table, and invite more people to the table. I didn’t realize that we were also mentoring the next generation.”
A changing industry
At the event Donna met many racetrack managers, a surprising number of whom are women. Yet one thing she learned was that 90 percent of sports marketing is for men’s sports. These days some organizations are looking to reallocate some of those resources. “When you do that,” Donna says, “your market grows. Look at the WNBA.”
While there were drivers at Women With Drive III – most notably Indy 500 competitor, author and speaker Lyn St. James – the majority of participants weren’t race car drivers – they came from all over the industry, including communications, marketing, tech, and team owners. “It’s not just about female drivers; it’s the whole industry coming together. Lyn St. James and her co-chair Cindy Sisson brought so many experts in the field. And they all showed up!”
Women With Drive III was also an opportunity to network and make valuable connections with a view toward bringing more women up in the industry. Business cards were flying. “So many young people were looking for sponsorships, trying to break into things.” One woman Donna spoke with, who was around 22, was part of the over-the-wall pit crew for a male-dominated Indycar team.
“She talked about how she worked out every day to stay in shape for her job, follow a strict diet, and get tons of sleep to be mentally ready for the events. She invited her [male] crew to train with her, but they politely declined.”
The upshot is that like many women in the sport, she had to work harder to prove herself to “the guys,” both because she’s female, and because she’s the only female, and thus has to represent all women. The good news is that she has proved herself and has worked up into other positions.
“People were saying they’ve had a High Performance “Sport Driving” Day for the first time, or for three years. I told them ProFormance has been been doing them for 22 years, and why. No one knew that, because we hadn’t come together. That’s why this event is so important.”
The road ahead
Next year’s conference – Women With Drive IV – will take place at Indy, an appropriate venue for a historic motorsport event. This year had 500 participants, and the goal for next year is 800. ProFormance and Pacific Raceways are planning on playing a part in that milestone. “We never think we’re special, or pioneers, we just do what we do. But when you bring everyone together, it’s inspiring. It’s good to be well represented.”
The cause of women in motorsport hasn’t reach the finish line yet. But everyone seems to agree that one team is moving up, and both should soon be neck-and-neck.
Note: Save the date! If the idea of Women in Motorsports has caught your interest, ProFormance Racing School’s Women’s Days 2024 will take place June 26 and 27. Details TBA. Subscribe to the ProFormance newsletter (below) to make sure you don’t miss any important updates.