Shea Holbrook, Verena Mei, and Emilee Tominovich are part of TrueCar's "Women Empowered" team, and they're at the Indy 500 this weekend to support teammate Katherine Legge, the ninth woman to compete in that famous race. They'll also be competing in their own races this year, including the Pirelli World Challenge, Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup SCCA Pro Series, and Rally America.
Have you faced any obstacles as female drivers?
Shea: I think whether you're male or female, you have obstacles, but I do think women have different ones that men will never have to face. It's harder to get sponsorship if you're a female racecar driver. Because we're the minority there's heightened attention, so people are either praising and loving us, or they're ripping us apart and hating us. There's pretty much no in-between. Half the world loves us and half the world hates us. And sometimes people say female racers are just sexy, or pretty, or they only finished tenth out of 20 so they're really not that good. But you know what? They are that good. Truecar is the first entity to ever recognize that and do something about it.
How did you get started in racing?
Emilee: I was a high school soccer player, but I got injured. My dad had been going to track days [events where the public can drive on racetracks], so I started going with him. That escalated to me getting my racing license.
Shea: I was a competitive water-skier who gave up the water for the road. I was about to go pro in water skiing, but the career path just isn't that lucrative. Then my dad got his club license, and he thought racing would be a nice family hobby, something I would enjoy too. I remember his first race, I leaned down into his window and said, "Why are you doing this?" He looked back at me and said, "What do you think about it?" And I said, "If you're going to do it, I want to do it too."
Motorsports can be tough on relationships. I don't want to say we have to sacrifice a lot, because we don't look at it as a sacrifice. We love it. But you do have to give up some things, and having your family's support is really important.
What kind of training do you do?
Emilee: A lot of people don't understand how hard you have to train to be a successful racecar driver. We're racing for 45 minutes to two hours, with no air conditioning in the car. Plus we're suited up in two to three layers of thick clothing, and it's usually hot outside when you race. You have to be in shape to withstand that heat.
Verena: I do rally racing, which is in a world of its own. It's off-road racing, and it's really hard on your body — you go over a lot of big bumps and things like that. Also, you have to be able to flip a car back if it flips over, so physically my co-driver and I have to be pretty fit.
Shea: It's also important to be physically fit, because if a wreck does happen, being fit will help with the recovery process. Racecar drivers also need to work on physical strength, and it's not about how much weight you can lift, it's how many times you can do it. With football players, they're lifting 200 pounds, because in their sport, each play is 10 seconds. But our races are up to two hours long, so we need to be able to maintain our strength over a long period of time. Depending on the track temperature, we could lose 2-3 inches off our waist in water weight during the race. People ask us how we go to the bathroom during a race, but we sweat so much we never have to go to the bathroom.
What do you think of Danica Patrick's controversial GoDaddy ads (which were criticized for being overly sexual)?
Shea: Danica's done really well for herself. Heck, of course we envy her a little bit, but she's opening doors for women. To be honest, I don't have anything to say about the sexualization. If the ads shed light on women in the industry, then it's a good thing.
Emilee: I don't think people understand that in racing, in order to get better you need money. What Danica Patrick did with GoDaddy was give them return on their investment so she could get more money and do more racing.
Verena: The ads don't take away from Danica being a respected driver, which she definitely is. The controversy is just another example of the fact that women in racing have to keep proving themselves over and over, even at the level she's at.