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  • Writer's pictureEster Fonseca-Patriarco

Over 200 Women Gather at the Charlotte Motor Speedway to Celebrate Diversity and Inclusion

Last week on October 5th and 6th, over two hundred women gathered at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, at the Women With Drive - Driven by Mobil 1 (WWD II). The event was inaugurated in 2021 and is now in its second year. Completely sold out, the event had 250 attendees. Among them were students, motorsports enthusiasts, female professional drivers, and some of the industry's most successful and influential people, especially in North America.

Last year's Women With Drive summit brought 115 attendees to the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee. They had discussed initiatives that are underway to empower women to the highest levels of professional motorsport. This year's summit brought environmental questions, current issues, and needs to advance opportunities for a more diverse and inclusive industry. Our founder Ester Fonseca-Patriarco was there and wrote about her experience participating in the event. Please keep reading to learn everything about it.

The Event

Six months ago, I moved to the United States. This move made me rethink my career goals and allowed me to explore my long-time passion for sustainability and motorsports. Due to that, I started attending online events about females in motorsport and soon learned about the work of Women in Motorsports North America (WIMNA) . WIMNA is a reasonably recent community of professionals devoted to supporting women in motorsports and was founded by Lyn St. James, former INDYCAR driver, and Beth Paretta, CEO and owner of a female-driven INDYCAR team. Through them, I learned about the event Women With Drive which would happen in October in North Carolina. I knew I had to attend this event so I immediately contacted Cindy Lasson, CEO of GSE Events, and made my registration.

The First Day of Women With Drive II

Pitstop practice at the Hendrick Motorsports' Pit Training Facility

I took an early flight from Syracuse, New York, to Concord, North Carolina. From there, I got in a taxi to the Hendrick Heritage Center, a museum dedicated to the heritage of Rick Hendrick, owner of NASCAR's team Hendrick Motorsports. At the museum, I had the great surprise of running into Faith Pickney, someone I had met at a previous WIMNA online event and had chatted on social media before! Faith graduated in Biology and aspires to have a medical career in motorsports. We toured the museum together and watched the Hendrick Motorsports team practice their pitstop. It was such a unique experience.

Sabré, Jen, me, and Faith

At the museum, we also met Jennifer Paul and Sabré Cook. Jen is originally from India and moved to the United States two years ago to do her master's degree in Motorsports Engineering. After landing a junior engineer job at NASCAR's Team Penske, she ended up staying. Sabré is a professional racing driver and mechanical engineer who's been racing for ten years and has previously competed in the all-female W Series. After the museum tour, we all had lunch together, and I rode with Jen to the Charlotte Motor Speedway for the big event opening.

Cindy Lasson and Lyn St. James led the event with the support of award-winning broadcast reporter Amanda Busick. A big shoutout to Cindy: she knows how to keep an event interesting and exciting!

At the beginning of the event: Amanda Busick welcomes us, and Cindy and Lyn make the opening remarks

We heard from the keynote speaker Linda Lindquist-Bishop about America's first all-female sailing team and how they achieved gender equity. One of Linda's memorable quotes was, "You can't be what you can't see." Linda believes that to attract more girls and young women to the sports industry, we must showcase more women in the media. We need to show to young women that they can also do it. A good thing that was clear during the event is that we already have a lot of talented women in the industry!

Linda's speech was followed by two more panels: one about maternity and life balance and the other about finding male allies in the industry. Though I couldn't relate to the maternity topic, seeing a woman of color as a moderator was refreshing. Amanda Oliver is the Senior Vice President and General Counselor at NASCAR and led the panel How Do You Do It All?. We reflected on being unable to do everything and saying more "nos."

Photo with Linda Lindquist-Bishop; and photos of the two following panels

The panel Allies: Who Are They/ Why Do We Need Them? highlighted that it's impossible to achieve equality for women without the support of men. Speaker Steve Phelps, President of NASCAR, pointed up that they are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

"We need to have the industry understand that it is unacceptable to not have women and people of color in the industry", Steve Phelps.

But how to find an ally among men unaware of the gap in the industry? Lyn St. James says women need to take the initiative, and they will find their allies. SCCA Sr. Director Heyward Wagner's advice is for women to be authentic and unapologetic and not say, "I'm sorry."

The Second Day of Women With Drive II

The second day of event started at 7.30 AM with a continental breakfast, followed by the presentation of keynote speaker's Mike Mooney. Mikey is the author of Reputation Shift and calls himself Chief Shift Office at his own consulting firm.


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