She Always Prefers The Driver's Seat

February 5, 2024

By Ariel Ream

There's no better day than the Sunday before Memorial Day. Every year on race day, I wake up like a little kid on Christmas. I hurry my husband out of bed at 5:00am so we can beat traffic and get a great parking spot (one that allows us to get out of the Speedway and home in 20 minutes at the end of the day). And every year, I carry the same bag that my husband gifted to me ages ago. The bag, a Kate Spade stunner, depicts a red, open-wheeled race car and a driver. A female driver. And printed on the bag are the empowering words, "She always prefers the driver's seat."

The irony in carrying this particular bag to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing - The Indianapolis 500 - is that it’s rare to see a woman in the driver’s seat, and even more rare to find one that has a full-time ride in IndyCar.

Less than ten women have competed in the Indy 500, a few of which include Pippa Mann, Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz Figueredo and Katherine Legge. The last full season ride occupied by a female racer in IndyCar was Simona de Silvestro in 2013. Since then, women like Danica Patrick, Pippa Mann, and - most recently - Tatiana Calderón have only managed to put together partial seasons or one race deals for the Indy 500. If we look beyond IndyCar, the theme is the same. Women are constantly left behind. I want to change that, and the time for change is now.

I grew up in Bloomington, IN. My dad loved anything at a racetrack with an engine. On Friday nights, he'd take us down to the Bloomington Speedway (which our extended family owned for a short period) to watch good old-fashioned dirt racing.

Every May, I missed school because he was hellbent on taking me to see the racing at IMS. My father instilled the spirit of racing and competition in me. I have quite a few memories of walking through Gasoline Alley with him, telling him that I wanted to race there someday. He always encouraged me to go for it, never implying that racing was a 'boy sport.’ He was a true “girl-dad,” never allowing gender to get in the way of my dreams.

As I grew up, I started to realize that seeing women on a racetrack was, and would continue to be, incredibly rare. It wasn't just at Indy, but every single series and type of motorsport. The sad (and dishearteningly old-fashioned) part is that it's still rare. While it's just slightly less unusual than it was when I was growing up, or back when my father fell in love with the sport, it is still newsworthy when women get the shot that they deserve. But in a woman’s case, the PR is rarely as focused on the talent of the driver as it is on her gender. And while this may be a controversial opinion, it seems that positive press for the team or series is the priority for the announcement.

All of this brings me to my new role as Interim CEO with the Shift Up Now Foundation.

I met Pippa Mann one day while she was outrunning me on a treadmill at our gym. After complimenting her badassery, we started chatting about Shift Up Now and the exciting things she was planning, one of which was a non-profit arm of the organization. I was all in.

I am passionate about motorsport, and you won’t hear the end of it if you get me talking about giving women the chances they deserve.

My own background is in business development, specifically in tech. As you can probably imagine, it’s another industry where women struggle for recognition and opportunity. I have experienced gender discrimination on several occasions. I've been told I’m being bossy when I’m simply being straightforward. I’ve been passed over for promotions only to see younger, less-experienced men get placed into roles I was promised. And I’ve had male bosses say things to me like, “Your face looks aloof and annoyed, you should fix that." Maybe it’s not women’s faces that need fixing.

Quite simply, we deserve better. Not because we want what men have made themselves entitled to. Rather, we deserve better because we are just as good, and in some cases better, than the men we work beside. And now we have the data to prove it.

In a study done by Wassermann entitled ‘The New Economy of Sports,’ the numbers show that female athletes, on average, earn twenty-one times less than their male counterparts, and rely on endorsements and sponsorships twice as much as their male counterparts do. The data from the same study showed that while 90% of partnership dollars in professional sports are directed towards men, it is female athletes who are better at reaching intended audiences and impacting revenue. In fact, female athletes generate double the social media engagement of male athletes. Data showed that fans of female athletes are 54% more aware of her sponsors and partners, and 45% more likely to consider a purchase from those brands. Smart companies are beginning to understand that elevating and supporting women, and female athletes, is great for their brand and profits.

So, when I get the opportunity to tell people about my work with Shift Up Now, I tell them about our incredible female athletes and their stories. I tell them that we had not one, but two Champions during the 2023 season. I talk about how all our Athletes are winning races, competing for podiums, and posting top ten points finishes in some of the most competitive series in the U.S. And they’re outranking many of their male peers.

I talk about Erin Vogel, the President of Shift Up Now, who not only runs our corporate side of the house, but also owns and manages a racing team. Her team helps keep talented female racers behind the wheel of a race car when they don’t have the funding elsewhere.

I tell them about Ashley Freiberg, who, despite winning a Championship in 2023, is struggling to build the sponsorship support to race in 2024. The travel for her racing career prevents her from being able to keep up a “normal” job, and she has to take other work wherever she can find it. These women are out there doing it all, and they have earned the right to sit at the table of equal funding and support.

I hope that as Interim CEO, I can create positive impact for women in motorsport. I want to use my voice, passions and skills to not only drive donations that will allow us to write more grants, but also to share the mission loudly, helping everyone understand why this work is so important.

Serena Williams once said, "Every woman's success should be an inspiration to another. We’re stronger when we cheer each other on." It is my honor to cheer on my fellow Shift Up Now women, and to lead a team that is working to elevate all women in motorsport, through funding women into professional racing programs in the most competitive series in motorsports.

Maybe one day soon, when I take my son Harrison to his first Indy 500, the bag that I carry won't convey a dream. It'll be an image that reflects the new normal. Because she will be in the driver's seat.

I hope you'll join me on this incredible journey. Donate today to change the face of motorsport for the better.

You can donate to the Shift Up Now Foundation here, or you can become a member of The Inside Track by Shift Up Now here for $100 per year here.

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