Janine Shoffner jokingly refers to herself as a “gentleman” driver — or, in motorsport parlance, an amateur.
In many ways, she is. Janine grew up with a fiery adrenaline streak, but she wasn’t one of those people who hit the karting track every night after school to hone her skills. As Janine told me in a recent interview, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do and instead let the flow of life guide her into her next adventure. At various times in her life, that meant being a motorcycle dispatch rider in London, England or skydiving upwards of 10 times a day.
But Janine and her husband John found their stride in motorsport, and it’s paid off. Though she won’t get her big trophy until the end of the year, Janine and her co-driver Moritz Kranz have secured a championship in their class in the Nurburgring Endurance Series, a form of motorsport that takes place solely on the Nurburgring track in Germany, where races last anywhere from four to six hours. That’s not bad, considering there are still several races left in the season!
The Day It All Changed
Janine vividly remembers the day the trajectory of her life changed. When she was about 10, her older sister brought home a boyfriend with a motorcycle, and Janine desperately wanted to be as cool as her sister. That meant she was balancing on two wheels and learning how to ride at a young age. And one day, she remembers her sister saying to her, “Janine, you want to go down this hill here and jump over this thing at the end.”
“I remember looking down there, and half of my brain was like ‘do not do that, that is a really bad idea,'” Janine told me, laughing. “And the other half of my brain is saying, ‘well that’s really cool. My sister thinks it’s a good idea and everyone else will think you’re pretty cool.’
“At that point I could have probably tipped either way, but I said ‘Yeah, I’m going.'”
From there, it was game over. Janine saved up her own money to buy a motorcycle at age 14. And while she attended college to pursue a degree in film and photography, she always kept an eye out for the next thrilling adventure.
Falling into Skydiving
“A friend of mine introduced me to skydiving. As soon as I landed from that, that was it, I’m done, I’m hooked. I’m going to do that,” Janine said, smiling fondly.
“I spent a couple of years, two to three hundred jumps getting to know the business and stuff. I’d go to America during the winters and skydive through the winter.
“I realized I had to make some money at the sport, otherwise it’s all money out no money in. So I strapped the cameras to my head because I knew my trade very well and started taking photographs and videos. I worked for teams, I worked for individuals, and I started getting pretty creative. I started getting covers, centers, back pages in all the skydiving publications and it was back in the day when I was shooting film, 2000, 2001. At one point I had all the covers of all the skydiving magazines.”
Janine had established herself in her own right in extreme sports when she met her husband, John. The two of them fell for one another as they bonded over the excitement of an adrenaline rush, and they were soon married.
Hitting the Track
Two adrenaline fiends won’t be able to give up their thrills quite so easily, and that’s what inspired John to buy a Ford GT and a Porsche GT3-RS. And that’s also why John and Janine took their cars to the Nürburgring for the first time with a few photographer friend — somewhere they could really let the cars fly.
There, Janine met the iconic Sabine Schmitz, known as “Queen of the Nürburgring.” Sabine grew up at the track and had likely clocked more laps there than anyone else in history at the time of her death earlier this year.
“[Sabine] took me on a lap of the ring in her car,” Janine remembered. “We got on like a house on fire. I did a couple of laps in a street car and she said, ‘Come back, I’ll teach you have to drive the ‘Ring.’ We made some good friends there and went back, Sabine and some other people took me under their wing and taught us how to drive the track.”
After several trips to the Nürburgring, Janine and John decided to form their own team, J2 Racing, and take on some actual competition at the track. Their team is more a collection of racers than anything else; they don’t own a workspace or tools, but J2 Racing has found success time and again — culminating now with a championship for Janine and her co-driver.
Coping with Sexism
Of course, Janine has run into some naysayers in her day, the people who seem to believe that no woman can race as well as a man — and she’s successfully proved them wrong. But she also feels that the lot for women in motorsport could be much better.
“I think that I’m pro the concept of an all-girls team,” Janine mused when I brought up the fact that teams composed solely of female drivers have become a regular occurrence in endurance GT racing. “I don’t know that those girls would get seats if it wasn’t for somebody sponsoring an all girls team. I think right now we’re in that element of there’s some support, you can raise money for a team, for an all-girls team, and then we’ll take that and us girls will get better. As time goes on, women will be on teams in their own right.”
She raises a great point; motorsport is one of the few sports in the world where men and women can compete on equal terms, but there’s still a strong sense of gender segregation. Women are either sectioned off into their own teams or their own series.
“We need to wait for these young girls that are also karting now to come through,” Janine said, referring to go-karting, which is now one of the initial steps on the motorsport ladder for ambitious racers. “Then we’ll see some side by side action.”
What’s Next for Janine Shoffner?
One of the most fascinating things about Janine is that, as much as she loves racing, she doesn’t treat it the same way as many younger drivers do; this is a highly enjoyable pastime for her, not something that’s going to make or break her life. Because of that, she gets to soak up everything she does and focus on the moment. So, instead of aiming for an overall victory at a race as iconic as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Janine thinks in terms of the next few months.
“One thing I have for the end of this season is I want to do one of the races, the four hour races, completely on my own,” she said. “This has never been done before in a GT3 car. No-one’s attempted it, and it’s one of the few FIA races where they allow over two hour driving time.
“I would like to win the six hour race which is the next race coming up. Apart from that, as for next season, I just don’t know… Maybe next year I break away from the Nürburgring. Maybe I’ll do a different series.”
Apart from that, John will he heading into space with Axiom in 2022, so she’s been spending time with her horses and acclimating to the fact that her husband will be piloting a space craft in just a few short months.