Women in Motorsport: Ruth Nugent

My very first memory to do with Motorsport would be sitting on a windy but sunny Gormanston beach watching my dad (Chris) tearing up and down the sandy cliffs on his Yamaha TY250 trials bike and thinking “WOW”.

There was always the sound of engines surrounding our house as the Gormanston Motocross course was nearby as well as our local quarry was often used for loose surface time attacks. Along with this, my Dad was constantly watching Top Gear or RPM on the TV. After a while it started to dawn on me, where were the girls in this sport?

Dad met Des Ryan through work and through the mutual love for Motorsport and was soon invited to come help out with the preparation of the cars and organisation of events and was also invited to be his navigator for a single stage rally in his Corsa.

Through Des we were introduced to Mondello and his two very talented daughters Denise & Jenny Ryan. I remember first seeing Denise in her race gear at an event in Mondello when I was about 11 years old and my heart melting at the site of a woman in Motorsport.

The following year I was introduced to marshalling in Mondello Park and absolutely adored being in the middle of the action. At the age of 12 I was hooking up broken down cars to my dads jeep for towing, marshalling down at the hole in the hedge or helping out around the paddock and in pit lane.

Motorsport became something that I looked to for excitement and adrenaline that I couldn’t seem to get from any other sport or hobby. I was 14 when I first saw the junior Rallycross and to say I watched with a fierce envy would be an understatement! I would egg on Megan Kessie and Sophie Byrne with huge pride as they whizzed by me on the banks.

As I began to open up a little and socialise more I met more marshals, officials and drivers. Most males were friendly but there were the odd few that dropped comments here or there that soon made me realise I stood out more than I thought. One of the most common comments I got from the age of 15 onwards was “What are you doing marshalling when someone like you could be a grid girl out there?” Yes because as a woman, all I’m good for is standing there with less clothes on holding an umbrella over a man? Not a chance.

As we all know, Motorsport is a very expensive sport and as much as I’ve always dreamed of racing, I just couldn’t afford it. Luckily I’ve secured myself a job after 4 long years in college so I’ve decided 2018 is going to be the year I’ll take a whack at it and I am beyond excited!

The closest I’ve ever gotten to racing is convincing a group of friends to come go karting locally with me whenever I can. The last time I went karting I went with one other female and six males, it was great craic as expected and I couldn’t wait to see the time sheets. All the males had gathered in a circle congratulating each other on who came first, second etc. and I hadn’t seen my times yet. So I politely asked for mine and it turns out I held the quickest lap.

Once I pointed this out to them, they fell into an awkward silence while I stood there beaming until the someone said “Well, anyway. Who got second place?” and the banter between them continued. In other words, my quickest lap overall didn’t count as I was female. They only cared about who got the quickest lap out of the lads. I was a little crushed but mostly furious. How hard can it be to accept a female beating a male in a particular sport or skill? Turns out for some, it’s pretty damn hard.

Motorsport is typically a male dominated sport. But it doesn’t always have to be. After some research in anticipation for my upcoming first ever race season I met many females who are serious petrol heads and who have attempted to break the stigma in their own way. It’s women like these who influence women like myself to step into this “typically” male sport with enthusiasm and courage.

I’ve always seen myself as a human rather than a gender. I think it’s only fair to say that as a female I am equal to any man and should never feel like a gender. In general so far I have had huge support and encouragement from the Motorsport community, both male and female.

I was hugely disappointed the first time I read of Carmen Jorda’s support of segregation in Motorsport. Why should women race women and men race men? In my opinion, this is taking huge steps backwards in what women have been fighting for for years. Segregation would not be of any benefit to any females in Motorsport or encourage females into the sport. This would also cause many more disadvantages including the fact that in reality, a women-only class would be on average very, very small. This would mean that the circuits used would be reluctant to add the female only class to the weekends events due to small grids.

It’s understandable that women need more encouragement and support in Motorsport and women representatives are needed. However, the representatives will need to encourage gender inclusion rather than support a divide between genders. Motorsport has been promoted as a sport that embraces diversity. It would be a shame for it not to be seen as this.

A goal of mine in the next year (apart loving every minute of my long awaited first race season, of course!) is to try and encourage girls and women to also become involved in Motorsport and to change the perception that this is a male-only sport. Whether it’s a new female marshal or a secret self confessed female F1 fanatic who has always dreamed of starting out racing, I would be delighted to see one more female join this beautifully crazy sport!