It’s probably safe to say more women are involved in the world of motorsports than ever, but starting grids are still largely dominated by male racers. Pippa Mann, currently an IndyCar racer and one who finished 17th in last year’s Indy 500, is actively seeking to change that by building a community for female drivers through a scholarship at the Lucas Oil School of Racing.
The Lucas Oil School of Racing teaches you how to properly drive an open-wheel race car. Last year, it partnered with Mann to create the Pippa Mann Scholarship, where their goal is to find talented female drivers and help them hone their driving skills, prepare to win races and championships and foster their relationships with the racing community.
Based on their level, drivers who have been picked for the scholarship will be offered a seat in either the basic two-day class or the advanced two-day lapping program.
Mann clarified that all kinds of racing experience is welcome, anywhere from karting to dirt racing, and is open to anyone who wants to give road racing a shot. Ages typically range from 14 to 24.
As a seasoned professional driver herself, Mann has made no secret of her derision for women-only racing series in the past. Being put in a segregated series helps nobody, she says. In response to women-only series, she started the #WeRaceAsEquals hashtag on social media.
Mann wants to use her experience and help shepherd in a new generation of women race car drivers and aid them in becoming the best drivers they can. With her efforts, we could very well start to see the ratio of men to women on the starting grid finally start to equal out.
This is how she plans to do it.
(Note: this conversation has been edited for grammar, brevity and flow purposes.)
Kristen: After all the work you’ve done in racing, what’s something you’ve noticed about working with young female drivers?
Pippa: So, I do work in lower-level, drag street-level and karting. And it’s always amazed me how many female racers we lose specifically from karting to open-wheel. Really front running female racers who never even make it into the open-wheel ladder.
And you look right now at the state of the current open wheel ladder here in the U.S., there are so few female racers even on the ladder trying to make their way up to Indy Cup. I ask myself, “What can I do, what can we do to try and help this scenario?” And that’s where the Lucas Oil School of Racing came in.
Kristen: Why do you think that happens, that drop-off between karting and open-wheel?
Pippa: I think there’s a lot to be said for the fact that girls do lose confidence right at that age when they’re going through puberty, when they’re 14, 15, 16 years old. And that’s the age that so many of them need to be pushing harder with their families to make the transition. So, I think there’s a little bit of that lack of confidence involved. I think many just don’t know where the opportunity is, especially if their families haven’t been as involved in racing. It’s about trying to get those racers that opportunity to continue on their path.
Even though we have these girls coming through individually as part of the big school, it’s not a contest where we’re trying to find one person. The idea behind the scholarship is we’re trying to help more female racers take that step. Then they actually have the opportunity to not only get connected through the Lucas Oil School of Racing, but actually get connected to me, personally. And through me, I can then try and connect them to other female racers where appropriate and where it works with what they’re doing. We’re trying to build a network of female racers.
So many guys in racing become friends, everybody kind of helps one another. Often, as a female racer, you can feel pretty left out with that. And for years and years, there was this attitude of, “Oh, you can only have one female racer, and everybody else needs to go away.” So we were sort of pitched against each other in a very different way, instead of working on that solidarity and sisterhood between each other.
Slowly and slowly, I think we’re starting to see that emerge more in the next generation of female racers. That’s really something that I’m working hard to foster, and that was one of the reasons why we didn’t want this to be a search for one driver. We wanted this to be an opportunity to help more female racers take the step.
Kristen: What are some issues that you’re currently trying to overcome?
Pippa: Whenever you have any singular female racer, you tend to think that she represents all female racers in a way that we really don’t do when it’s male racing drivers. One American racing driver does something, we don’t come around and say that he represents all American racing drivers.
So that’s sort of something that I’m trying to get away from. We’re coming up to 2020, it’s about time we started treating female racers as individual human beings, the same way we treat male racers.
Kristen: Like calling another female racecar driver “the next Danica Patrick.”
Pippa: You do see that very occasionally for male racers, but you’re right. With any up-and-coming female racer, it’s much more prolific, and they specifically want to model you after somebody who has come before you. And maybe you do or don’t have similarities to that person. That can often be much more to do with your personality, how you work, to how you go about racing, what you do on the race track, and not as much about your gender, but you tend to get grouped together.
Kristen: What are your thoughts about the Formula One drama with the grid girls?
Pippa: There’s a saying, in racing especially, about being quite careful about the battles you choose to pick. And for me, personally... Is it my favorite part of racing? No. Is it something that’s going to make me stop racing tomorrow? No. As far as I’m concerned, they’re models, they’re doing a job and they are paid to be there. Maybe it does foster an image. It’s not my favorite image of racing, but I sort of feel like I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
I’m focused on how I can help get more female racers into racing, through the scholarship program, either coming from dirt, or coming from karting, so we can get more female racers populating the ladder, all the way up to the Indy 500.
Kristen: And how did you get into racing?
Pippa: My dad was a race fan, so I grew up watching racing on TV as a little girl, playing with cars in the hall of our house, my father taking me to watch racing when I was about eight years old, which you probably know is the age most kids actually start racing, but we had no idea. When I was 11 years old, we moved house. New house, new friends. One of the new friends had a birthday party at the local indoor go-kart track, and that for me, that was the beginning of the end.
I’d always loved cars. I was always encouraging my dad to drive me faster. He was just a race fan. We have no background in racing. No family in racing, no friends in racing. We didn’t know. We had no idea.
Kristen: You moved to the U.S. in 2009. Are women and girls in karting and racing perceived differently in the UK?
Pippa: That is a really interesting question. The answer is yes, but it’s not necessarily the perception. It’s more how you’re treated. So, when I was racing in Europe, there was still this consistent, low level disapproval. “You don’t really belong here, etc.” But you just learned to ignore, rise above, whatever. But there’d be times on the race track when you’re racing people, and you’re trying to pass somebody, you actually are able to have a clean race with somebody. That would stand out to you, you’d really notice it. Or a team would treat you a certain way, and it would stand out to you.
Here in the U.S., when somebody actually races me dirty on the race track, it stands out to me, and I pay attention to it, because for nearly all of the other drivers out there, they don’t care what gender I am, or what color my helmet is. All they care about is where I’m putting my car on the race track and what I’m doing with my racing car.
That was a really interesting transition to me, that it went from the people who actually raced me clean who stood out, to being in the U.S., with pioneers for women in racing, such as Janet Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, we mentioned Danica earlier. Because of all of those racers who came before me, I’m just another racer on the race track, and to my team, I’m just another racing driver for them, too. And I love being able to fit into that atlas there.
It would be very difficult for me now to want to go back and race in the UK, or really even race in Europe, knowing how the attitude shifted when I was here in the U.S. I hope it’s gotten better since I’ve been gone, but seeing recent events in Europe, I don’t think it has. So I’m very happy living here, racing here, and I’ve lived at Indianapolis long enough that I actually call myself an honorary Hoosier.
The other thing that’s very interesting is the different attitudes. I used to find that racing in Europe, nine times out of 10, the only way to get things done was to be extremely hard, pointed and, quite frankly, fairly aggressive about them. That was the only way to get anywhere. When I first moved here, I actually struggled my first season not only with learning all of the new tracks and new style of driving, and new car, and new theories, et cetera, but also with the fact that I had to change how I went about doing things.
Because that sort of attitude in the U.S. actually just kind of gets people’s backs up against you. I find that you do much, much better working with people here in the U.S. when you’re speaking that cooperation, collaboration and the goal of trying to work together. That was a really interesting adjustment for me, too.
Kristen: So what’s your dream car?
Pippa: Well, obviously my dream racing car is an Indy car at the Indianapolis 500, followed by any racing car that I can get my hands on that has my name on it. And then for a dream road car, that’s actually much more difficult than you would think for me to be able to answer. I currently drive a second-hand Honda Civic that’s coming up to 100,000 miles.
So, I think my dream road car wouldn’t be something too out there. It would be nice to be able to have just a really nice, modern, fairly expensive car that I could cruise the long distances I drive if I have to go to work, out on the highways without any issues. And not to have to worry about the maintenance costs of it. Unfortunately, I work with too many different brands, so I don’t want to put a specific brand out there, because that will get me in trouble with everyone else whom I work with!
Kristen: Totally get that. And as a final question, do you have any advice for a young female driver who is thinking about pursuing a career in racing? What would you tell her?
Pippa: I think the first thing is you have to be really, really determined in this field—whether you’re male or female. You have to have a level of determination to do this that almost goes beyond anything else. That’s partly because racing is such a tough sport, because so much is dependent not only on you as a driver but also the car you’re in, the equipment you have, and the funding you’re able to bring to the table. There are so many hurdles and obstacles to overcome.
The second piece of advice I would give is to be really smart about the people whom you’re surrounding yourself with. I think it’s very easy as a racing driver, whether male or female, to only surround yourself with people who only want to build you up and only tell you the good things and only want to create hype around you for the results you have.
As a female racer, when you have a tough day at the race track, you tend to come in for so much criticism than a male driver who has the same kind of day. When you have a good day, if you let things run away with it, you can pretend that your good day was much better than it actually was.
I would say surround yourself with people who are really honest with you and keep you grounded, and that’s the most important thing. If you have a good day, you can celebrate that things went well. But this does not mean you are the female reincarnation of Mario Andretti. It means we had a good day, and things are looking up. If you have a good attitude and stay grounded, people tend to be much more understanding when you have the tough days out there on the racetrack.
Finally, don’t be scared to try and connect with other female racers. Look for the resources that are out there. Whether it’s female racers like myself who may be further down the line, whether it’s female racers of the same age as you, racing with you out there. Don’t view your other female competitors as your main competition. View everyone as your competition, and try and make allies. Lift each other up. Support each other, and as an entire group, by doing that, I think we’ll grow stronger.
You find out more about Mann, the Lucas Oil School of Racing and the Pippa Mann Scholarship here.