Competing in motorsport is inherently expensive—and many times, women are on the back foot.
It’s an age old conundrum: women have traditionally been passed over when it comes to motorsport, so very few women have had the chance to break the stereotype that women aren’t good racers. So, when it comes to sponsorships—which are necessary to competing—women can be on the back foot. After all, we know men can race; women are an unknown quantity.
As silly as it sounds, that’s part of the thought process. That means female drivers are generally left to hustle on her own to raise money. Of course, male drivers are left seeking sponsorships, too—but it’s generally been harder for women.
Enter: Shift Up Now.
— Shift Up Now (@ShiftUpNow) May 9, 2021
Shift Up Now’s Goals
Simply put, Shift Up Now is a coalition of female drivers and sponsors who have joined together to make it easier for women to access funding in order to race. They have a few different goals:
- Visibility: To show other women that a career in motorsport is within their grasp because other women have been successful.
- Funding: Shift Up Now seeks sponsorships and fan funding to help female racers or male allies who are in desperate need of money to bolster their careers.
- Coaching: The organization also offers coaching to women and male allies in order to pass on the lessons other women have learned. In our society, it’s pretty taboo to talk about money, and it’s the same way in racing; Shift Up Now want to demystify to process.
It’s all about sharing funding and sharing knowledge, two resources that are always in high demand in the racing world.
— Shift Up Now (@ShiftUpNow) April 28, 2021
Why Is Racing so Expensive?
In 2020, it cost the Mercedes Formula One team $459 million to secure a Formula One title, which is the highest-level form of racing in the world. And while most other divisions of racing don’t cost quite as much, even a low-budget operation in a lower tier of NASCAR needs tens of thousands of dollars to compete in a single race.
Those costs come from a variety of factors:
- The base race car itself, which can either be bought or fabricated by the team, depending on the series
- The changes made to meet the specifications of a specific race series
- Repairs done after each race
- Team staff, which includes paychecks, uniforms, at-track food, hotel reservations, etc.
- The equipment needed for the race: a car hauler, race-grade tires, spare parts, etc.
- Ongoing developments for future race cars
- And much more
It’s fairly common for teams to seek out corporate partners who will fund their racing program no matter who is driving, but if a driver can bring her own sponsors, she immediately becomes a stronger option for a team looking for someone to drive its car. More money makes her a safer bet than anyone else, since she’ll be able to cover the cost of more expenses than her competition. The more money you can spend in racing, generally, the better car you’ll have, since you can pay for expensive upgrades or the development of specific parts that will kick your car up a notch.
That’s where sponsors come in. Drivers generally pursue companies to provide them with money or services in exchange for that company’s logo on their car. The thought process is that the race will serve as a form of marketing—but many companies look at this as a gamble. If the car you’ve sponsored does poorly, doesn’t win, or crashes, that reflects poorly on your product. If a driver is pursuing a sponsorship for a backmarker team (which is the name given to teams who are underfunded and often run near the rear of the pack, out of contention for the win), then it’s definitely less appealing. Why give someone money when they won’t be able to hold up their end of the bargain?
But like I mentioned in the first paragraph, there are a lot of other factors that come into play against female drivers. Women in racing still face sexism, doubts, and outright harsher criticism than many of their male competitors—and they often do it more visibly, since everyone wants to know how the girl racer will do. If she crashes or loses her head, she often gets more criticism than male competitors of her same level. It makes it tough to grow, but it also makes it tough for a sponsor to want to give money. Then, you have compounded issues: women are relegated to backmarker teams because they don’t have tons of sponsorship money, but sponsors don’t want to provide more money for someone on a backmarker team.
It’s a vicious cycle, one that Shift Up Now is hoping to break by creating stronger networks that promote equality in motorsport and by bolstering the budgets of women who may otherwise be struggling.
Related: Off Road, All Electric, Women Required: Meet Extreme E, The Electric Racing Series That Will Change Motorsports
— Shea Holbrook (@SheaRacing) April 25, 2021
Who’s On Board?
Shift Up Now has a ton of badass female drivers on board who have been representing the organization and offering coaching to younger drivers. Some of these women have been in racing for ages. Some are just starting out. But trust me, these are names you need to know:
- Pippa Mann: 7-time Indy 500 competitor, the only woman with a lap of over 230 mph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and coach
- Shea Holbrook: Touring car racer, team owner and manager, mom
- Erin Vogel: Late-life touring car racer, part of the Rebelle Rally Rookie Team of the Year in 2020
- Sarah Montgomery: First woman to stand on the podium in Global MX-5 Cup, aspiring endurance racer
- Michele Abbate: Youngest woman to ever earn a GT1 SCCA podium, first female racer to stand on the podium in Trans Am TA 2
- Loni Unser: Open-wheel and touring car racer from the legendary Unser family
- Ayla Agren: W Series competitor, first female open-wheel champion in American history
- Sabré Cook: six-time karting champion in the USA, W Series competitor, first Female Team USA Scholarship finalist
- Amber Balcaen: First Canadian woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race
- Chloe Chambers: Guinness World Record holder of production car slalom, multiple championship and national championship wins in karting
- Emily Linscott: First woman to score a podium finish in the Lucas Oil School of Racing Formula Car Series
- Hannah Grisham: First ever female test driver for Pirelli North America, 2019 NASA So-Cal Spec Miata and TMC Championship winner
- Kelsey Rowlings: Only female competitor in Formula Drift Pro 2
- Syndey McKee: Raced her own self-built Spec Miata in high school, engineering and economics student at Brown, Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America class winner
- Kristina Esposito: Development driver, FARA USA Endurance Champion in class, studying mechanical engineering at the University of Miami
- Tegan Hammond: Professional stunt driver, holds two Bonneville Salt Flat lane speed records
- Cherie Storms: three-time Sports Car Club of BC Competitor of the year
- Mandy McGee: Late-life racer, finished second in class in 25 Hours of Thunderhill with Lynn Kehoe
- Lynn Kehoe: Founder of Shift Up Now, second-place finisher at 25 Hours of Thunderhill with Mandy McGee
Right now, Shift Up Now has also paired with corporate partners who either fund the organization, the athletes, the racing programs, or who will offer discounts to Shift Up Now members on certain racing-related products. So, some of those partners include Hagerty insurance, Bell racing helmets, Cooper tires, and Rowe Motor Oil. Having partnered with such big names in the racing world is awesome, since it gives Shift Up Now the legitimacy it needs to really establish a wonderful scholarship and coaching program for young female drivers.
Related: What Drives Her: For NASCAR Marketing Chief Jill Gregory, Remaking Racing and Finding New Fans
Olivia, mommy has a lot of history at this track. My first pro race. 11 years later we’re still at it! @SelinRollan was P1 in both practices. We missed the mark a little and ended up P4 in qualifying. So proud of @LoniUnser pushing for her best qualifying to date, P11. pic.twitter.com/mDHYstK2Vx
— Shea Holbrook (@SheaRacing) April 23, 2021
Become a Member
It costs $100 per year to become a member of Shift Up Now. If you’re a race fan, that means your money will be used to support female racers, and in return you’ll receive perks like meet-and-greets with the drivers, discounts, and access to forums to chat with the athletes. If you’re a driver, it costs the same amount, and you get access to webinars and coaching that will help you pursue your career, both on the track and on social media.
If you’ve been looking for a great way to support the future of women in racing: this is it.