By Erin Vogel
“VIR is a serious track.”
“GT3: Now that’s a serious car.”
“It takes real strength to drive a car like that.”
“That’s where the big boys run.”
These are all things I’ve heard in an attempt to discourage me from chasing my dreams. And this is just in recent years – I can’t even recall all the things I was told coming up through grassroots racing. Maybe these people thought they were preparing me, but I also think some part of them doubted my capability.
I’ve always been very honest with myself – and others – about my skill level. It allows me to find opportunities for growth and it usually keeps me safe. But this doesn’t seem to be a typical trait in drivers, at least outwardly.
I don’t know if it’s a trait more inherent to females, either by culture or by nature, but what I see as humility is sometimes perceived as a lack of confidence in a world full of male ego. In seeking to become a complete driver, it’s imperative for me to grow my skills first before taking a next step; however, this has sometimes been viewed as me being slow to learn, or simply just incapable of getting there.
Under the surface, I’m unlearning eight years of bad habits picked up in High Performance Driver Education (HPDE) and grassroots racing, where I mostly tried to teach myself how to race through reading and watching YouTube videos, and not really having a goal in mind. Meanwhile, the men I race against mostly jumped right into full racing gear because that’s what they always wanted to do.
When I first took my streetcar to HPDE, the idea of driving on a racetrack was not related to any thought of going racing. Perhaps that mindset had more to do with my age and understanding my own lack of experience, paired with natural timidity and an intimidation factor acquired via social media. As far as I knew at the time, women didn’t race.
Fortunately, I did find some incredible female role models and friends, both male and female, along the way. I’m consistently encountering things in racing that make me ask why things are done a certain way, and I think my curiosity about why has endeared me to a handful of great people. I’ve built a network of others who, like me, love to ask why and always want to keep improving.
I may not ever be the fastest, most celebrated, most decorated, or even much remembered as a racer. But I think the work I’m doing is important. I’m showing a handful of people that this “girl” who didn’t know her camber from her toe in the beginning is a driver who should be taken seriously. I smile a lot and I don’t always have the answer, but that’s specific to my own character and experiences, and not because of my gender.
I’m proving to a small circle of people that women are strong, capable, hard-working, focused athletes who can endure, adapt, and compete with the best. We’re not so different from our male counterparts after all, except maybe a little less afraid to show our emotions – occasionally.
The best part is to find that I’m not alone in this roll. Organizations like Shift Up Now start out as one person – and not always a woman – who wants to see a change. That evolves into a network of drivers of all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities, localities, ages, and skill-levels coming together for support and visibility. People start to recognize that there are more and more women succeeding in so many ways, at so many levels, and a network of success grows.
I used to hear that visibility was important only if we (women) were going to get the results. Yes, winners get the most attention and that helps to spread the message, but the women and men of Shift Up Now have agreed not to let us forget how often the small impacts are just important as the great ones. They add up slowly over time, and perhaps they’re less apt to fade quickly away. Which is why I got on board.
And I want to thank you for being here with us too.