Behind The Wheel: How Mercedes-Benz Is Using Motorsports To Empower Women
This time last week, I had one of those “OMG am I really about to do this?” moments. I was behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3 race car at the notorious Laguna Seca Raceway in Northern California. To celebrate Women of the Year, Glamour partnered with Mercedes-Benz to continue the conversation of female empowerment with an AMG Driving Academy Experience. The goal was to encourage attendees to face their fears (you know, like driving 190 mph!) and tap into their full potential by getting out of their comfort zones.
They no doubt succeeded at getting me out of my comfort zone. As someone who considers herself a not-bad-but-not-the-best driver (thankfully, I live in NYC where driving isn’t necessary), I would’ve never set out to do something like this on my own. But here I was, in a $250,000 car, on one of the world’s most famous racetracks, about to be driving a race car for the first time. What an opportunity. So, with shaky hands, I slipped on a racing helmet and buckled up. What I was feeling can only be described with one word: fear. The kind of gut-wrenching fear I imagine people get before skydiving for the first time or swimming with sharks.
Then, the instructor’s voice came over the radio, telling us it was time to make our way onto the racetrack. A group of us were lined up, one after the other, so there was really no turning back. (How’s that for herd mentality?) We followed her – yes, her, and more on that later – onto the track and took off. As we started to speed up, my fear began to fade. With every climb, with every turn, with every lap, I began feeling more confident and, soon enough, in complete control as we roared around the track.
The whole time our instructor was coaching and cheering us on. Empowered women empower women, they say – and it’s true. My instructor has been racing cars since she was a teenager, racing go-karts for years before that. She’s won races that were co-ed, races in the rain, and if I recall correctly, a race that lasted 24 hours. Needless to say, her confidence behind the wheel was contagious, and I felt safe in her guidance – safe enough that I could let go of my fears and focus on the ride.
Soon enough, I was following the “racing line” laid down by my instructor and forcing my eyes to look ahead, finding the next point at which I wanted the car to arrive. I wasn’t thinking about how fast I was going or even the idea of wrecking. And in this moment, it clicked. As women, we should be painting paths for other women to come up behind us, allowing them to focus on that next point they wish to achieve while worrying less about bumps in the road ahead. We should be guiding each other to the finish line.
This takes work, admittedly, since finding success as a women can often feel like a race. But as Shea Holbrook, a professional driver, Mercedes-Benz spokesperson, and host of the AMG event, told me: In order to infiltrate an industry, we have to support each other. “I was able to get some pretty reputable mentors on my side, and those mentors really guided me in navigating this path to excelling in my career,” she said, specifically calling out Lyn St. James, who spearheads a number of women initiatives in motorsports. “Being a female in this industry, especially on the business side, is a tough thing.”
Holbrook now owns Shea Racing, a professional touring car team. “Hopefully, with my success and experience, I can be on a national platform to encourage more women to seek and follow their dreams. I’m a big believer in supporting other women,” she said. This, of course, seemed to be a common theme at the AMG Driving Academy, and it was certainly my biggest takeaway of the day. In full disclosure, I did not go 190 mph – I probably tapped out at around 100 mph. But I left feeling a little more fearless. And with a few new female friends who inspire me.
Mercedes-Benz is dedicated to empowering women by fostering strength, encouraging them to follow their intuition, and helping them overcome their fears. I encourage you to grab your daughters or your girlfriends and head to the racetrack. For me, driving a race car for the first time was truly a life-changing experience. (Though, you still won’t catch me skydiving anytime soon.)