Shea Holbrook is different from most car racers. She doesn’t come from money. Nobody else in her family races. And she’s not, well, a dude.
However, none of that has kept her from becoming a professional racer or from being the first female driver to win a Touring Car race, at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Pirelli World Challenge, in 2011.
Shea currently races in the Pirelli World Challenge, which is a racing series that consists of four classes: Grand Touring, Grand Touring Sport, Touring Car and Touring Car B. Sanctioned by the Sports Car Clubs of America (SCCA), these races go alongside the IZOD IndyCar Series, the American
Le Mans Series (ALMS) and the V8 Supercars Series. In comparison to other car races, where drives go through lap after lap, these are high-energy sprints, each race lasting 30 minutes, with drivers in cars that are modified versions of the ones you see on the street every day.
Shea always had the need for speed. For most of her teen years, she was a competitive water skier, with a chance to go semi-pro. Her father knew she was a daredevil. One day, he pulled some strings to get her in the passenger seat of a race car. That changed everything.
At 16, Shea was in love. “I don’t ever recall looking out the front windshield, at all,” Shea says. “Because I was focused on what he was doing.”
Shea was on a mission to make racing her life. Her first step was to go to the Performance Racing Industry trade show to meet people in the industry and hand out business cards. Unfortunately, almost nobody wanted to talk to the 16-year-old “new girl,” and many turned away whenever she tried to talk to them. This was her first taste of the sexism in racing.
“In all honesty, I was shocked at the somewhat negative response I got,” says Shea.
But she kept working. The next day, she changed her approach and said exactly what she was thinking as an icebreaker. She said, “My name is Shea Holbrook. I’m a 16-year-old aspiring female race-car driver. I’m going to be a pro one day, so we should know each other. Here’s my business card.”
Good things happened from there. She actually landed her first major sponsor in Wine Country Motor Sports, which helped her get started. She now has multiple major sponsors, including TRUECar, Radium and Lucas Oil. Her experience at the trade show taught Shea how to overcome stereotypes and how to market herself.
She eventually learned how to present her gender to sponsors as an asset, not a reason for them to stay away. “Women, [we’re] immediately unique, just because we’re still such a small, small percentage of racing drivers in the world.”
However, she still feels that female racers are more heavily scrutinized. “Just because you’re the girl, you’re immediately under the magnifying
glass. People are watching your every move.”
Proving people wrong drives her (pun intended). Her favourite part of what she does is constantly pushing herself. “I really like the hustle,” Shea says. “In racing, a day that you’re on vacation is a day lost.”
She works out and hydrates like crazy. You can find her at the gym, about six days a week, for two hours at a time. “Because racing drivers aren’t able to just jump in a race car any time they please, it’s critical that we stay physically and mentally strong, to be fully prepared at any time.”
Shea also takes a tremendous amount of satisfaction from her charitable work with Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (www.endduchenne.org), which directly benefits Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
Duchenne is the form of muscular dystrophy that claimed the life of her cousin Matthew and currently afflicts another young cousin named Jordan. Using her racing career to further the cause is a promise she made to her family and herself.
“Unfortunately, Mathew wasn’t around to see any of this,” says Shea. “I’m not going to sit around and not do anything in Jordan’s lifetime.”
As for long-term goals, Shea has planned for a life after the track. One of her dreams was to get into the business end of racing and start her own racing team. She’s already achieved this by establishing Shea Racing as a respected team, with a strong group of other racers on the roster.
“If for some god-awful reason I wasn’t able to drive race cars one day, I wanted to have a business in racing, because I’m so passionate about the sport itself,” says Shea.
The biggest obstacle, according to Shea, is fear. Her personal motto is “Fear is a state of mind. Will is an action taken.”
“At some point in time, you’re going to come across fear,” she says. “At the end of the day, if you have the willpower to overcome that fear, and if you set your mind to it that you’re not allowing yourself to fail at all costs, you can get through it.”
Check out Shea’s racing site.
Photos by John Walker except for 2nd photo by Thomas Wirthensohn