Last week I was absolutely thrilled to be able to announce a partnership with the Lucas Oil School of Racing where we have launched a scholarship to help create more opportunities for talented female racers to get behind the wheel. As most of you know, this is a subject I’m pretty passionate about, as I’m keen to see more female racers competing at the top of our sport starting from the very beginning of the ladder. So when school founder Neil Enerson approached me with his idea I was ridiculously excited to be involved. Then the idea floated of having my name be the name associated with this scholarship… Quite frankly I’m still not really sure whether this is actually real life!
The reaction so far from the female racing community has been incredible – from the other racers and athletes who are already making their careers in this sport, and who have reached out to me personally, to the racers reaching out to me about how to submit their cover letter and racing resume to be considered for one of our placements. The fact that we’re going to be able to help so many talented racers get their first laps ever in a racing car, or on a road course, and that I’m going to have the opportunity to meet and interact with these racers personally is something that I’m so excited about on a personal, and professional level. I can’t wait for our first event with our first scholarship student this fall, and I can’t wait for 2018 to get here, when our second racer will take her first laps, followed by our third…
However this announcement was met with one particular question that did concern me. Why is a scholarship aimed at supporting female racers so different from the all-female championship idea that I so strongly abhor?
It would be easy to be dismissive of this question. To me the two things are so totally different that at first I struggled to even comprehend how anyone could even confuse the two. Yet when I took the time to try and answer, it quickly became apparent that this was a genuine question from someone just seeking to understand. I then realized that if one person was brave enough to ask the question (because let’s face it, if you’ve read about my response to the all-female championship, you would probably have to be pretty brave to ask me this!), then there might be other people out there wondering the same thing.
After thinking, and reflecting on this, I decided I wanted to use my next blog to give a long form answer. The inspiration for how to help people understand not only the difference, but why this scholarship could be so important for female racers actually stems from a long-form Twitter interaction I had with a fan who genuinely wanted to try and understand why the all-female championship was such a bad idea. As soon as I took my gender, and made it my nationality, it presented the circumstances in a way that helped him understand how he would feel. So that’s what I’m going to do here.
My name is now Philip, and I am an American racer. I’m a race winner in the feeder series to one of the top open-wheel series in the world, and top-five championship finisher in that series. While that was not quite enough to catapult me full-time into the top open-wheel series I was aiming to race in, it was enough to get me the opportunity to race in that championship’s biggest race of the year. I’ve now become a fixture at that race – sure I have to work hard to raise my budget to go and race each year, but I have a team that supports me and partners who want to help support an American athlete in this endeavor. I wear an American flag on my helmet, and when I set new records for American athletes in my sport, such as the first to ever go over 230mph, I have realized that while I still want to be the best overall, those records mean something to me, and to my supporters too.
Because you see, in this world where I am Philip, despite the fact I only race in this series once a year at this big race, I am currently the only American racer racing at the top of open-wheel. There are other Americans trying to find the funding to join me in the field of this one race each year, but for the past three years straight it’s been just me. Then I look at the ladder system that feeds towards the top of open-wheel, and right now there is only one other American even on that ladder, and that racer, despite being a championship- and race-winning driver, is also struggling to find the funding to keep racing.
For a long time, growing up and racing as Philip, I was not proud to be an American. I knew that whenever I had a tough day at the racetrack, people would say I was “driving like an American,” and as an American driver my social media mentions is often filled with people who want to remind me that an American’s place is not on the racetrack. I thought the best way to fight this image of American drivers was to make sure I had no stars and stripes that could identify me as such anywhere on my racing car, my racing suit or my helmet. For years I believed that identifying, and marking myself, as an American driver on the race track was the worst thing I could do.
I was wrong.
How can other young American drivers understand that their nationality does not preclude them from driving race cars, or following their dreams, if I deny the fact I am an American? How do I help other up and coming American racers if I refuse to be visible? How can I help do my tiny part to try and change the connotation of what “driving like an American” means unless I am willing to stand up and say I am one, and be proud to be one?
I started wearing the stars and stripes on my helmet at this big race in conjunction with an event I was doing with a major charity where they auctioned off my helmet after the race to raise funds for their cause. But then as I found all of these new, young, American race fans who could suddenly pick me out from the crowd, and who loved the stars and stripes helmet, I fell in love with it too, and I decided I wanted to keep it. As I made personal peace with this very important part of who I am, I became truly comfortable in my skin as a racing driver for the first time.
I started making connections and forming friendships with other American racers across different series, and I started to celebrate my achievements as an American on the race track more often. This lead to more opportunities for me personally, and it lead to more Americans reaching out and connecting with me. Earlier this year I got to race in a sports car series where I shared the car with another American racer making us an all-American team! I mean, how cool is that?
However against this backdrop of progress, there is still a real lack of American talent on the ladder coming up to the top of open wheel. Some people thought the solution to this might be to segregate American talent out, whatever their level of experience, whatever level on the ladder they should be racing at, and throw all of the Americans together in a separate, second tier championship. With there being so few American racers to start with, these racers would be coming from vastly different levels, and that not only would not foster good competition for the front running and more experienced American racers, but it could harm the reputations of, and discredit the younger racers who don’t have the skill-sets developed yet to compete in this type of car. Wouldn’t all this money be better spent helping American racers stay racing in general population series that are right for their current experience levels and skill-sets, and helping them develop in those series to become winners against drivers of every nationality?
At the Lucas Oil School of Racing, we firmly believe that the way to help more American racers climb the open wheel ladder is to get more American racers onto the open wheel ladder. We want to help kart racers take their first steps into professional open wheel, and to allow dirt racers the opportunity to take their first laps in a racing car on a road course. Our goal is to drive more American talent towards the ladder system, and to help create more opportunities for a currently under served demographic of racers.
Except my name is not Philip, and I am not an American racer. My name is Pippa, and I am a female racer. My gender is a big a part of who I am as being an American is to Philip, and both have an equal impact on our talent and ability behind a steering wheel: none.
Currently there are a host of talented American racers in IndyCar, and three of the most recent American racers to graduate to IndyCar – Conor Daly, Spencer Pigot and Josef Newgarden – all had support from the Team USA Scholarship program and/or Rising Star Racing initiative which helped launch their careers. These programs are also helping feed the next generation of American talent into the ladder system so that there are American racers competing right now at every level.
This is our ultimate goal for the Pippa Mann Scholarship at the Lucas Oil School of Racing. We want to help more female racers have the opportunity to launch themselves into the open-wheel ladder system. And as we help to launch more racers with this opportunity, more will make the leap, and more will go further, and as more racers go further, one day, we want to look at a female racer in Victory Lane at the top of our sport, and know that back in the beginning, we helped make that happen.
Watch out Josef. Josephine is following in your footsteps.
If you are a female racer who wants to find out more about the Pippa Mann Scholarship at the Lucas Oil School of Racing, please click here to learn more, and submit your cover letter and racing resume.