The 2nd in the Women in Motorsport series is a Double Header, to see us into the new year, featuring Nicole Drought & Aimee Woods.
Growing up around cars and Motorsport, I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t have a huge love for both. I followed my Dad like a shadow, and always loved to go for a “spin” when he was buying and selling cars, especially Rally cars! Family, friends from school and locals from my town were well aware of this, but yet, I was never made feel different because of my gender. For Christmas’ and birthdays as a kid (and now!), I’d always ask for garages, race overalls, cars, tractors etc, and never once was I told that these were things a girl shouldn’t like. I followed many drivers as a kid, and now that I look back, I only realise now, that all of my heroes were male, but to me, they were just drivers. My dream was to be a driver…. and gender never ever came into it, not until I bought my first racing car.
I knew women were in the minority in this sport, but what I didn’t comprehend was that people were quite surprised when they found that I had actually bought a racing car and that I was going to compete. For me, this was a bit of a shock, and added a lot of pressure to perform well, but I was determined nonetheless.
I have had some not so nice moments however, and I do get the feeling that (some) men do not like being beaten by a woman. This is something I don’t really understand, because I have never ever felt ashamed when I have been beaten by a man. Gender does not define what you can and cannot do. It is a stigma that needs to be broken.
My goal remains the same, and that is to race in the Europen Le Mans Series. (ELMS) I was very lucky last year, to get to travel with Murphy Prototypes, for the 4hrs of Le Castellet, in France. To watch and experience a professional racing team operate, was absolutely amazing, and it was everything I ever dreamed about when I was that young kid rambling in diaries about how great the chips were and how warm the Subaru hats were at Service, when I’d follow my dad around the country, rallying.
So, what would I like to change…. I guess, thinking back, it would have been nice to have a female role model in the sport for me to aspire to. I think if I had a female role model, it would have certainly inspired and guided me to start my racing at a younger age. I’d have loved to have started out in Karting, to build up experience, but unfortunately, I didn’t realise until much later, that Karting is the training ground for a career in Motorsport.
Today, thankfully, I think there are a lot more women involved in Motorsport, be it as a driver or working behind the scenes of a racing team, which is pretty cool. I love to read about that. Encouraging girls, that are not as lucky as myself to grow up in a Motorsport/car family, to try something new and different, that is for both boys and girls, is something I believe is incredibly important. Organisations like Dare to Be Different (D2BD) are doing a superb job with this, and I am, myself, a proud member. This is exactly what we need, more support, to show that this is a sport for both genders.
I thought I was dreaming when I scrolled through Twitter a couple of weeks ago and found the comments that (Carmen) Jorda had made about women in Motorsport. I was completely horrified. Here, I thought, was a lady, at the pinnacle of this sport, an idol for myself and other ladies… Nope… (Deep breaths!) I actually happened to bump into her at Paul Ricard last year and I shyly asked for a quick snap before her race… Now there’s a photo that needs deletin’!!
My point is, disheartening, discouraging and segregating females from males on the grid is not the answer. Imagine, being a young girl, climbing the ranks in Karting, fighting for well earned podiums and moving to circuit racing to find that you are now only allowed to race against women because one person (who should be supportive of you) has stated that you are not good enough to race men. Crazy thought, huh?
I believe this is a gigantic step backwards, and is, in fact, pushing this sport into being scarily old-fashioned. There are so many talented lady drivers, and I’m hoping that their voices, will be heard. I have yet to see one person in support of a women’s only championship and this is why it should be asked why the idea is even being proposed? And while I type this, it has just come to my attention, that I have never actually raced another woman! But that is an issue of introducing more women to Motorsport, I digress.
Anyway, when an individual puts their helmet on, it does not matter whether they are male or female, you are racing for one reason, and that is to be at the top, gender is irrelevant. That goes for every aspect of life, regardless to whether you are male or female, it is not about gender- GO FOR IT!
My involvement in the sport began at the tender age of two weeks old when I attended my first rally. Some might be familiar with the racing career of my father, Sean Woods. In the 90’s he became a household name in the Fiat Uno, Punto and Abarth classes whether racing or preparing cars for his team, Sean Woods Racing. As a result, Mondello Park was a second home to the Woods clan and I spent the majority of my childhood as a devout spectator of the sport. Gender wasn’t something that regularly crossed my mind. I was consistently exposed to women in racing cars thanks to my Dad’s racing team – Michelle Graham, Hayley Rowley, Jeni McGreal and my cousin Pamela McConnell to name a few.
Following on in his footsteps, my own racing career was launched in 2010 when Leo Nulty very kindly provided me with a drive in his Fiat Uno. Unfortunately, the Fiat class was slowly but surely depleting after years of action-packed racing which resulted in the discontinuation of the championship. Having had a fairly successful taster in saloon racing managing a win and third position, I turned my hand to Rally Sprints run by the RallySport Association in my own Peugeot 205 which was developed and prepared by Sean Woods Racing. As a student then, being consistently on the track was almost impossible for me due to a lack of finances along with the hefty price tag attached to the sport.
In 2015 I had a crack at a full championship of single seater racing competing in a Formula Vee and ended up finishing in third position in the Novice Championship. I believe this could have been a better result had I just believed in myself more. It’s very easy to lose this belief when there are more than a few who are waiting on you to fail. It’s challenging to write this piece specifically focusing on the gender perspective because you try so hard to ignore it and maintain an even playing field. Put simply, it just is not equal. The very presence of this series should tell you this. Who is to know if focusing on it now and creating awareness of the subject will ever change things but the conversation is a necessary one.
It’s not my intention to portray myself as victim of some kind but the more you reflect upon your experiences, well, it’s a little disheartening. You can become extremely defensive, which isn’t helpful, but these experiences can sometimes take over your mind and distract from the task at hand – the racing! For example, I have been intentionally pushed off the circuit for the very fact of being a female. I was told by the Mother of another racing driver that I had no business in this world – this particular lady had been to Mondello on just two occasions I should tell you also.
My particular favourite was, after a serious incident that I was unlucky enough be involved in, the marshalls were told to stay away from me as I was “too emotional”. I had literally just requested to use a phone to let my Dad know I was OK (he’s a panicker!). There was just no basis in such a statement. As an instructor for Mondello Park it has been suggested that the only reason for my employment was my gender. I’ve been employed by Mondello on a part time basis around my own work for almost 5 years now so I’m fairly confident there are other reasons. These are just some of my experiences which, for me, changed my perspective within the sport.
On a more positive note, I have been privileged to contribute to wheelsforwomen.ie as a blogger and to review some fabulous cars at various European launches. Perhaps this would never have occurred if I were a male, but perhaps it might in a different capacity as gender doesn’t change the fact that I was capable of doing so. I have also had so many people supporting me and encouraging me every step of the way. Any victory was always that little bit sweeter because the odds are slightly against you statistically. If you dig deeper into the psychology and traditional roles of men and women, we aren’t expected to be aggressive or ruthless. When you demonstrate these characteristics, some people are uncomfortable with it. Why should men facilitate change if it doesn’t suit them or contribute to them positively? A question I ask, are you embarrassed when you are beaten by a female over a male? A question you should ask is why that might be?
The reality is that the people, whether male or female, who have helped me along the way have far outweighed any of these negative contributions to my Motorsport career. The belief and assistance provided by them has facilitated me to achieve what I have and continue to explore my passion. I live for racing and can’t imagine a world without it. Since I stole my brother’s go kart at 3 years of age, my dad began constructing little figure 8 circuits in the driveway for me. From that moment, I realised I love this world and want to be a part of it. I am not Aimee Woods without it.
Looking at the comments made by Carmen Jorda on the idea of a female only championship the cons far outweigh the pros. On the plus side I’d enjoy competing exclusively against women so I don’t have to consider the above nonsense that has just had no relevance to me. But it’s a lazy solution to a problem that could be changed if our approach was different. Personally, I need encouragement and support particularly when it comes to developing the car and providing feedback. I have destroyed so many races by convincing myself that the car was fine and that I must be useless. Once i was facilitated to explain my perspective and taken seriously, the results improved.
I would like to finish by saying thank you to all of the wonderful men and women in my life that have believed in me and helped me along the way. There are just too many to mention and I am so grateful. It won’t come as a surprise that my dad is my greatest inspiration. However, his team members, my Mam, my partner, my colleagues in Mondello and wonderful friends have listened to my dreams and helped me to continue with my passion. This is a wonderful community to be a part of and I have faith that these conversations will be a thing of the past once we see more women get out there and take control of the wheel. Don’t be silenced.
I’ll see you on the track in 2018!