Abbie Eaton never realized she might be treated differently as an LGBTQ+ woman competing in motorsport.
In fact, having grown up at the track with a family deeply invested in racing, Abbie says she developed quite the tomboy attitude. It was only when she came out as gay that she had any reservations about how she might be treated—but in her personal life, not so much at the track.
“I was quite scared about [coming out],” Abbie said in a recent interview with A Girls Guide to Cars. “I was really worried. I had it in my head that companies… well, being a female in a male-dominated sport, if you’re fast and you’re good looking, you’re more marketable. I was really worried that, if I came out, sponsors would look at me and be like, “Well, we can’t market her because, ideally, we want the Danica Patrick-type stuff from back in the day, where all the men want to date her.”
But that hasn’t stopped Abbie. In fact, she’s won two championships, one in the Production Touring Car Championship and another in Mazda MX-5 Supercup with her family-run team. Today, she’s leading the GT Cup Championship in the GTO class, and she’s about to embark on her first-ever open-wheel championship with the all-female W Series.
Not bad for someone who worried that her identity at 17 might be a detriment to her career.
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Growing up at the Race Track
Abbie grew up surrounded by racing, so it seemed natural to her that she might start racing herself one day. Her father competed, and Abbie began racing go-karts when she was 10. As she told me, “I was at racing circuits in my mum’s tummy. It’s all I’ve ever known.”
So, it was never a question about whether or not she would race herself; it was almost destined to happen. Instead, it was a question of how she would handle it and where it would take her.
“When you’re competing professionally and taking it seriously, it teaches you a lot of life lessons,” Abbie mused. “You know, the kart might break and it’s something out of your control, and you have to deal with that loss. You might be winning like Max Verstappen [at the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where he led much of the race only to suffer tire failure]. He was awesome. He controlled the race, it was a done deal, but something out of his control ended his race. And it’s how you deal with those setbacks.
“Equally, you might win, you’ve got to learn how not to gloat. Which, like, as a 10 or 12 year old kid, it’s tough. I loved it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I couldn’t imagine not growing up in that atmosphere.”
That being said, it wasn’t an easy balance. Racing is a very demanding career, and Abbie knew she wanted to do it when she was incredibly young. That meant she was tackling a full load of schoolwork while also spending every other moment of her life focusing on motorsport.
“Racing always came first,” she said with a smile. “It probably shouldn’t have, but it did. My parents said I had to get an education first to fall back on. Yes, you’re good at racing, but you have to think logically about things, and if you haven’t gotten anything left to fall back on, you’re screwed.”
Born and raised in England, Abbie’s education was formatted slightly different than what we expect in the United States. She said, “I found it really, really hard to focus on and put everything into doing my A-levels, the exams you have to take before university, because I was like, I need to look at this data, I need to do this for the track, I’m racing this weekend. I remember, one of my races, I had an A-level test on the Friday, so I missed the testing for racing. I just turned up on the Saturday. And I remember, that whole time during testing, I was thinking about being on track.
“I didn’t do too bad in my exams,” she added. Then, she broke out in a massive smile. “But yeah, I’ve not needed them so far.” She knew her passion rested in racing, and she’s pursued it with a passion ever since.
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A Unique Perspective
Abbie has been open about the fact that she’s gay since she was 17 years old. As mentioned above, she was worried about what her admission would mean, but she’s found that people have been supportive.
“I’m not defined by my sexuality or by the fact that I’m a girl in motorsport. I’m all those things, lots of different things, and as long as I’m fast, then that’s all I care about,” she said. And it sounds as though other people recognize at as well. “I haven’t experienced any homophobia, full stop, in motorsport. But I know from other people’s experiences that I’ve just been really lucky.”
Sharing the positive intersection of her identity and her career is what drew her to Racing Pride, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the LGBTQ+ community within motorsport, be they racers, journalists, engineers, or fans—and, crucially, to offer support.
“My initial response was, I don’t want to be part of it if I’m being forced to say, oh, there’s all this homophobia and this and that, because I’ve been lucky,” Abbie said about being asked to serve as a Racing Pride ambassador. “I didn’t want be associated with stories that I haven’t experienced myself. I said to Matt [Bishop, founder of Racing Pride], if I can be part of it with my little profile that I have, if me just being authentic and living who I am—if that helps someone, then of course I want to be part of Racing Pride.”
And that’s exactly what Abbie has done. Indeed, Racing Pride is designed to spread awareness and provide a safe place for the queer community in racing, which has only required Abbie to be authentic. As she told me, she’s been lucky in that her experiences at the track have always been fair, but she does recognize it’s not been that way for everybody. But by providing her perspective, Abbie illustrates the multifaceted ways the LGBTQ+ community is represented in motorsport—and in life. It’s more difficult for some people than others, and it’s important to represent every experience.
Interestingly, Abbie’s girlfriend, Jess Hawkins, is also a racer—something that’s pretty rare in the racing world. And while the two have taken on different forms of motorsport, they’ll be competing against each other for the first time during the 2021 W Series championship.
“Motorsport is very niche,” Abbie said as I asked her about how she and Jess have balanced their careers and their personal lives. “It’s very demanding, as you said. But you don’t really understand the workings of it unless you’re in motorsport, so previous relationships I’ve had have ended because they just can’t wrap their head around the fact that it is my life and my life revolves around motorsport.
“Whereas with Jess, she’s doing the exact same thing as me, pretty much. We both get it. We’ll be at different race tracks, and I won’t hear from her most of the day, but because I know she’s doing this and that. Whereas other people I’ve dated that have been out of the industry, they’re like, why aren’t you responding? It’s just understanding and trusting each other. So far, it’s been awesome. We’ve really been enjoying how it’s all working.”
Abbie is looking forward to her opportunity to race against Jess at the first race of the W Series championship this year on June 26.
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Ready to Win
When I asked Abbie about her proudest moment in racing, she knew her answer immediately: her Mazda MX-5 Supercup Championship win, which she won with her family-run team.
“It was a real nail-biter of a year. It was highs and lows all season,” she said. My dad basically built the car and engineered it along with my mechanic Chris and was there supporting all the time. My uncle Matt was team manager, and it was all a family-run thing. We ended up winning the championship. It was so nice being able to sign off that kind of era of family-run stuff with something so special. I was the only girl on the grid, and there was 38 in total, I think. So, it was something really cool and special to do. So being able to share that with my family is something I’ll always treasure. If I could bottle up the feeling I had at the end of it, I’d be a millionaire.”
It’s something she’s looking to replicate on a different level. She focuses predominately on sports cars and touring cars, which are high-speed versions of the cars you see on the road. So, she aims to come to America in the future to compete in the variety of the sportscar championships we offer on U.S. soil. But her big item is competing at Bathurst in Australia, which features a challenging track built into the twists of Mount Panorama and Wahluu, which features a ton of features you don’t find at modern-day tracks, like steep grades, massive elevation changes, and narrow track surfaces. But it always puts on some damn good racing, and that’s why Abbie wants to compete there.