Meet Hannah Grisham, Pirelli Tires First – and Only – Female Test Track Driver

It takes a badass to test Pirelli Tires on a track all day, then, compete on the track against other cars and drivers. But it's what drives 23 year old Hannah Grisham.

Hanna Grisham Is Pirelli Tires First Female Test Track Driver. Photo: Hannah Grisham
Hanna Grisham is Pirelli Tires first female test track driver. Photo: Hannah Grisham

Someone has to test out all those tires.

Her job sounds badass and at the same time, super scary: driving cars equipped with new tires at high speeds, through different conditions, accelerating, cornering, braking and making notes, all on a track. Hannah Grisham‘s job is to help Pirelli assess and refine the performance of its tires, not just those for sale, but also, the ones paired with cars that carry them as original equipment. Think, the tires that come with a new BMW or a Lamborghini.

But for someone who doesn’t mind driving 160 miles per hour just a couple of inches from another car,  life as a test track driver for Pirelli, assessing tire performance, is the stuff that life is made of.

If You Can See Her, You Can Be Her

Hannah was inspired by other female race car drivers like Lyn St. James (former IndyCar racer). Lyn St. James had quite a few roadblocks in her own career, but Hannah sums it up nicely, “Lyn just has such a strong will and is such a determined person, I respect that a lot. And she has helped out a lot of young, upcoming and current female drivers.” Hannah has adopted that same spirit and ‘never give up’ attitude.

Apparently it has served her well. At barely 23 years old, she already has numerous wins to her name.

Hannah is no stranger to hard work. Her days on the track can be long and grueling, but she meets the challenges head-on. “I know it’s cliché to say, but don’t give up. There’s a lot of ups and downs, and sometimes there’s some really low lows, but you have to have the lows so that you can have the highs. You gotta just keep trying.” She went on to say that this way of thinking is exactly what she would tell any young women drivers aspiring for a place in this industry.

Related: Why not give track driving a try?

A Day at the Track

So just how grueling are those days at the track? According to Hannah, that answer can vary. “It depends on the task, whether it be Motorsports or an auto manufacturer test, you usually have a program that you’ll work on for a day or so.” She gave an example of working with a manufacturer. “You would have like, six sets of tires. Then there’s the engineers that design the tires and you have certain submissions you give them, depending on your feedback, they will tweak the tires to do different things. You do soft handling, which is the steering, the ride, the comfort, and then next you’ll do wet handling; and from there, we rate in categories and provide detailed feedback with that tire. You’re pretty much on repeat until you find what you’re looking for.”

Pirelli’s first and only female test track driver is a title she is proud of. I asked her about the challenges she may face in the job. “It was definitely a learning curve for me in a lot of ways, but it feels good. I bring a different perspective to a male dominated industry, but it will be cool to hopefully get more women into not only racing, but male dominated careers in general.”

Were there obstacles in breaking into a career as a test track driver? Hannah answered with sheer satisfaction: “No, for the most part, the people who I work with at Pirelli are very welcoming and have done whatever they can to help me succeed,” she said. “They have given me the training I need and so there was not a big roadblock, or anything of the sort.”

Related: The art of racing in the rain

Being A Test Track Driver For Pirelli Means A Lot Of Tire Testing. Photo: Hannah Grisham

Being on the Pirelli staff means a lot of tire testing. Photo: Hannah Grisham

Where It All Began- At Home, Of Course!

When you have an energetic, super competitive toddler, most would look for places to spend that energy. At age three, Hannah says her dad, who raced motorcycles, wanted to get her into ‘some kind of racing.’ Her parents opted for something a bit safer than motorcycles and so on her sixth birthday, they gifted her with a go-kart. The race was on!

Karting quickly became her sport and by age 15, she had shifted her way to the top with two national championships (pun intended!). I paused and circled back to Hannah’s earlier comment regarding driving at a speed of 160 MPH, inches away from another car, she elaborated, “There’s just something about when you’re driving a race car and you’re going 160 miles per hour and you’re an inch away from another car and you get into this zone, this subconscious state of mind. And I think to me, that’s really my favorite part of racing. It’s almost therapeutic in a way and everything else just goes quiet.”

Related: the Iron Dames love racing, and they are good at it

Father knows best

Hannah credits her dad for getting her into racing, as well as a few other things…. luck, competitive spirit, knowing the right people, and her nickname, “Hannah-Zillah.” While this term of endearment came from dear old dad, she says another nickname she is asked about is “The Closer,” given to her by an announcer at the racetrack when she was a kid. Hannah says that she would “come alive” the latter part of the race and that’s when she performed her best, earning the nickname.

Hannah went on to race and win the 2019 and 2020 Southern California Teen Mazda Challenge Championship and become the Southern California Regional National Auto Sport Association Spec Miata Champion in 2019. I asked her if there were ever any pre-race jitters? “Of course you always get pre-race jitters,” she said. “But once that helmet goes on, once I’m driving, it all kind of fades away into the background.”

Home sweet home

Home is currently Rome, Georgia, (Pirelli’s U.S.-based headquarters), but home sweet home is Southern California. When Hannah isn’t on the racetrack, she can be found with her family doing something outdoors, such as hiking or camping, swimming and going to the beach.

Another piece of home? City of Hope. This is a world class treatment center that Hannah works with that helps raise funds and awareness of childhood cancers and is based near her hometown of Glendora, California. “I am very interested in childhood cancers because it seems under represented. I want to bring some excitement and smiles to kids who may never get to do the things I am doing,” Hannah said.

This Is About Hannah. Photo:

The California native enjoys giving back to the community. Photo: Hannah Grisham

For the Good of Others

No matter if she is training or competing in a race, test driving new tires or using her platform to be an ambassador of hope for pediatric cancer, Hannah is a winner. What ‘drives her’ on and off the track should be an inspiration to us all.

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I teach 6th grade social studies, travel the world in the summer, write auto/moto news between grading papers and... More about Tabatha Chovanetz