When Jackie Heinricher and Michael Shank announced they would be teaming up to form an all-female racing team ahead of the 2019 IMSA season, it was hard not to be excited. Great drivers like Katherine Legge and Simona de Silvestro had signed on to race the Acura NSX GT3, and the whole operation was going to compete in the Rolex 24. Maybe they’d even go to Le Mans. Except that everything fell apart long before it happened.
A recent article in the New York Times describes the breathless excitement and bitter failure of a team that held so much promise. Perhaps more importantly, the story opens with sponsorship. That is to say, it starts with a problem that still plagues many female riders looking to break into the racing world:
She knew it would take millions of dollars to properly lead a team, but she said she was confident that companies owned by women, or run by women, or interested in marketing their products to women, would provide quickly all the sponsorships his team would need. .
“By now I would have thought the car would be covered in ads for tampons and Massengill and the like,” she said. “I haven’t had any bites.”
Instead, the team found its main support from Caterpillar, the construction equipment manufacturer. This funding was enough to fulfill his dream, and in late January 2019, Heinricher Racing debuted in the GT Daytona class of sports car racing within the International Motor Sports Association. In the association’s 50-year racing history, the team was the first to complete a season with all-female drivers – and it finished the season in October in the top 10.
When Heinricher visited Caterpillar in September to discuss plans for this season, however, he was told the company had decided to no longer fund his team. As the 2020 season began, Heinricher raced against time to find a sponsor to keep his team together.
Story writer Roy Furchgott does a great job of following the historical trajectory of women in motorsport. I’m not going to summarize what he wrote because you should all go read it. It refers to the incredible exploits of Janet Guthrie in the 1960s and 1970s, the rampant misogyny of motorsport. At the end of the article, you really get the impression that this kind of motorsport does not to want women.
Basically, the concept of an all-female team in an otherwise entirely male-dominated sport is still seen as a gimmick. It didn’t matter that Katherine Legge was IMSA runner-up in 2018, that Christina Nielsen finished first in her class in IMSA in 2016 and 2017. It didn’t matter that Simona de Silvestro and Bia Figueiredo had experience in just about every imaginable disciplines of motorsport. It didn’t matter that IMSA was a series full of gentleman drivers who compete because they have more money than they deserve, that there are a lot of men with long careers who just haven’t accomplished much.
It’s the women who are the gimmick. It is women who have no place on the racetrack. And it’s the outdated state of mind that we still have to deal with, even in the middle of the 21st century.