Shea Holbrook remembers her first ride in a racecar. She was 15, and her father took her for a spin around the track at an event at Daytona International Speedway.
“I fell in love in the passenger seat,” recalled the Florida native, now 21.
A nationally ranked water skier, Holbrook gave it up to focus on motorsports. But she quickly found out that, unlike competitive sports like tennis or baseball, there was no defined path to the big leagues. “Because I was so unfamiliar about the industry, the first year that I was in motorsports like I really thought you were kind of a zero or a hero,” she said.
Glass Hammer Racing was founded in Indianapolis two years ago to help young women like Holbrook who want to become competitive drivers.
Greg Gaich said he initially created GHR to introduce his three daughters to racing. “I just recently had started doing performance-driving events and found a tremendous amount of joy in it, and I wanted to find a way to share that with my daughters,” he said.
Glass Hammer Racing has two main components: The GHR Experience, a training program for girls ages 10 to 16 taught by professional female drivers, and Team GHR, which supports young women pursuing motorsports careers.
The goal of Team GHR is to help women become competitive professionally. “We’d like to build a network of, primarily female, successful businesspeople who our racers can call on for guidance and advice and mentoring,” Gaich said.
Team GHR establishes relationships with young female drivers like Holbrook and Collete Davis, 18, another professional driver who works with GHR. “To be a racecar driver, you spend a little bit of time at the racetrack and a lot of time talking to people to get the funding that you need in order to be able to race,” Gaich said.
Motor racing is an expensive and time-consuming sport. It is difficult for male drivers to break into, and even more so for women who usually come into the sport later than males and often have no role models to follow.
Many drivers start out at an early age (often before they can drive on the road), typically racing in go-karts or midget cars. For example, NASCAR star Jeff Gordon started racing quarter-midgets (the smallest midget car) at age 5. Others, like Davis and Holbrook, start out in their teens — Davis in karting, and Holbrook in club racing and amateur rallying, which sometimes requires drivers to use their own road cars. The goal for everyone is to land a ride in a top-tier series, which requires talent and money.
Sponsorship is key in order to finance a racing career. This is the first year that Holbrook has had full sponsorship thanks to TrueCar, a car-buying website that sponsors her Honda Civic in the SCCA Pirelli World Challenge, a professional series that features modified road cars with full rollcages.
While finding a sponsor is rewarding, it’s the racing experience that drives Holbrook. “It’s exhilarating,” she said. “You can’t just go out there and know that you’re fast, your car is fast, and your car is reliable. There’s a lot of thinking going on, on the driver’s end and the crew’s end, during the professional race.”
It’s this same experience that Gaich is hoping to replicate in his program for girls. The GHR Experience takes place about once a month at Fastimes Indoor Karting at Keystone Avenue and 96th Street. It has three levels – beginner, intermediate and competitive, though the latter is still in the planning stages. All levels involve interaction with professional female drivers and instruction in car mechanics and assessing track conditions as well as in driving strategies.
“We put the girls interested in getting started with someone who’s already doing it so that they can have a mentor, someone who can show them the ropes and take them out to the track and help them get started,” Gaich explained.
Josi Miller, 14, Ella Zumbaugh, 11, and Zoe Zumbaugh, 14, have enrolled multiple times in the GHR Experience. Like Holbrook, they love the speed and strategy. “I love how fast you can go. It just clears your mind and your mind is just blank and all you’re focused on is racing,” said Zoe.
Racing is as much a mental sport as a physical one. “It’s super intense,” Holbrook said. “As soon as you let your brain think off track, things can change and it could really affect your results.”
But racing involves more than the driver. There is the car and the track, both of which can spell success, failure or danger.
“The first day they really pushed us to know everything about the car and safety and the track because since it was your first time, most people were a little scared, like I was,” Zoe said.
But knowledge helped Zoe and her fellow drivers get over their fears. “I was just ready to race and beat everybody,” Ella said.
All three hope to continue their training. “I think the most unique thing about Glass Hammer Racing is that girls get the experience of learning how to race and how a car works, not just guys. They’re not the only ones who can race and get dirty, so it’s fun,” Josie said.
Holbrook and Davis are happy not only to share their experiences with the girls but also their enthusiasm for the sport. “What I’m there to do is not only teach them, but to also make sure they have a good time. Being able to expose them to the motorsports industry and be a role model for them is something that I absolutely love,” Davis said.
The professional drivers are role models in another way – Davis and Holbrook are also working on college degrees – Davis in engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, and Holbrook in communications and marketing at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Both majors have applications in racing. “What I really have come to love about the motorsports industry as a whole is it’s just about every industry crammed into one,” Davis said. “Obviously I’m interested in how the car works and racing as well, but I love the marketing and being able to connect with people through racing.”
Everyone at GHR Racing emphasized the importance of women seizing more opportunities in the racing world. “Female racecar drivers, we’re still not the norm … motorsports still really needs that extra oomph to make women really want to come and race,” Holbrook said.
Gaich explained that GHR’s goal is to increase the number of females in racing by showing girls that they can do anything that they want.
Even the name Glass Hammer Racing reflects this commitment, he said. “It reflects what we’d like to do for girls in racing, and that is to break the glass ceiling. And if you want to break something that’s glass, what better way to do it than with a hammer?”
Assistant editors Jade Poynter, 14, and Jessica Wang, 14, contributed to this story.
For more information on Glass Hammer Racing, visit www.beatbyagirl.org
Copyright 2012 Y-Press