LEXINGTON — The all-female sports car racing team of Katherine Legge and Christina Nielsen doesn’t want special treatment.
They don’t want to be known as the girls on the track. They don’t want anyone to make it easy for them because they’re girls. They also don’t want to hear excuses when they go out on the track and kick things.
Legge and Nielsen team up for Heinricher Racing with Meyer-Shank Racing, of Pataskala, Ohio, to form the only all-female team at this weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge in Mid-Ohio as part of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series .
Even if they don’t want it to be special, it really is.
“It’s interesting for sure because it’s something much bigger than us,” Legge said. “We’ve both been in a situation where we were the only woman on a team. We’ve all always said we’re no different and just because I’m a woman, don’t treat me any different and now we’re saying “Look at us now”. We are girls and we are on the same team. We want to draw attention to this, but we also want to say that we are not different. For the first time, it’s a believable effort. They are the best race car drivers in the world.
The duo will race in the Caterpillar Acura NSX GT3 this weekend at Mid-Ohio and have already put on a good show early in the season with a 12th-place finish at the Daytona Rolex 24 and an eighth-place finish at Sebring.
Legge and Neilsen have already pieced together successful careers that would make most male drivers jealous. Legge finished in second place in the GT Daytona class points standings last season, including a win at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Belle Isle Park. She finished in the Top 8 in every race and also collected four second places.
Neilsen finished seventh in the standings, winning at Road America and finishing in the Top 20 in every race and in the Top 10 in all but two. Needless to say, these ladies can fly.
“Kat and I have been championship contenders for the past two years,” Neilsen said. “We want to be treated like drivers because that’s what we do and that’s how we race. A great opportunity came along and of course our gender was part of it. But when we drive we are on par with men and I think that’s what a company like Caterpillar wants to represent.
Their success proved what they already knew: they deserve to be named one of the best runners in the world. It is an honor they have justly and squarely deserved.
“We never set out to be role models,” Legge said. “We just wanted to take advantage of all the racing opportunities. The simple fact is that it comes with a few spotlights. We can use it to help young girls break into anything they want to do in racing. If young people in general can see this, maybe it will open more doors.
“There are always people doing studies to try to prove that men have an advantage over women,” Neilsen said. “Racing is something where if you do it enough and work hard enough, no matter who you are, you can be successful.”
Legge and Nielsen started their racing careers in a very traditional way.
Legge was a tomboy who just wanted to go fast, loved to compete and always wanted to see progress against herself. The adrenaline rush was hard to avoid and at the age of 9 she didn’t see boys against girls. She just saw herself as another kid going karting.
Neilsen’s father, Lars-Erik Nielsen, who raced the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 2000s, introduced Nielsen to the racing world early on. It might not be the most traditional way for a girl to be introduced to the sport, but Nielsen is anything but traditional. In 2016 and 2017, she became the first woman to win a WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series title when she won the GT Daytona Series for Scuderia Corsa.
Regardless of their success, Legge and Nielsen always give credit to true pioneers.
“We had trailblazers long before us like Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, Janet Guthrie,” Legge said. “They opened the doors for me and Christina. They were the first, so we just open the door a little further.
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Not only do they open the door, but they rip it off the hinges and leave destruction in their path as they set the stage for women to step in and dominate the sport.
“The car doesn’t know the difference and I don’t think there’s a reason why it should be special, but it is,” Legge said. “Until that becomes the norm, we have a responsibility to prove that we can go out there and race with the best of them.”
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But more than wins and championships, Legge and Nielsen would like to see women in racing become the norm and not be a big deal.
“I don’t think that will happen in our lifetime,” Legge said. “It’s further down the line. More young girls need to enter the race and stay in the race. It’s a long process. Now there are women who run countries and who are CEOs of big companies. It’s a progressive thing and I would like to see more and more young girls getting into the sport.
With championship-caliber riders like Legge and Nielsen, that moment may be sooner than they think.
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This weekend they are racing for Heinricher Racing with Meyer-Shank Racing. Meyer-Shank is located in Pataskala, Ohio and has 10 drivers in the IMSA and Indy Car series. Mid-Ohio is the race team’s home course, but Nielsen doesn’t believe in the added pressure of racing at home because she wants to race well whenever she’s on the track.
“I don’t think it’s a home race so much, but of course having Acura and the team here makes me want to do a good job, but there’s not a place where I don’t want to do a good job,” Nielsen said. “If a good job is done, it’s going to be a little bit more special for the team owners.”
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Home racing or not, Legge and Nielsen are about to put on a show that will inspire every young girl in the racing world.