SONOMA — The new generation of women in auto racing is out in force at the Sonoma Raceway this weekend, making it clear that they will muscle their way into the IndyCar Series and anywhere else they decide they might want to go.
"Tell me that I can't do something and I'll show you that I can do it," said Shea Holbrook, racing this weekend as part of the TrueCar Racing Women Empowered Initiative program.
TrueCar Racing's Katherine Legge headlines the team in today's GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at 1:45 p.m. Holbrook is on hand for the Pirelli World Challenge Cadillac Grand Prix of Sonoma. Four other drivers involved in TrueCar Racing's Women Empowered Initiative are in Sonoma to promote women's push into the motorsports spotlight.
Holbrook's story is far from the standard tale of a little girl following dad to the track. She's a woman with a drive to succeed in a male-dominated sport after spending an earlier career in another sport.
"For the first 10 years of my prior life I was a competitive water skier," said Holbrook, a Florida native. "I just started racing six years ago."
What would prompt a move from water ski champion to race car driver?
"Adrenaline," Holbrook said. "I'm super competitive and I'm an adrenaline junkie. It took mad hustle on my part to get into racing. I called and wrote to anybody and everybody I could. I went out to the track. I was determined to drive race cars."
Holbrook ran into the obstacles one would expect a woman might face trying to get into motorsports.
"People told me women don't have what it takes ... you just can't do it ... I heard everything you can imagine," she said. "But, when somebody finally believed in me and I got just a little bit of money, a tiny bit, for tires as a sponsorship, that empowered me to do more and to try to become a champion."
Holbrook became the first woman to win a Pirelli World Challenge race, a victory in Long Beach in 2011. She dreams of winning the 24 Hours of LeMans.
Shannon McIntosh, 23, drives in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series, where she's 20th in points.
"My dad was a race fan and I started racing when I was 5 years old because of that," she said. "Nobody pushed me to race. I've always had a drive to compete."
McIntosh worked her way through various racing series until, "it became less like Saturday night racing and more of a career."
She immediately ran into a familiar stereotype.
"People started saying I looked like a girl but drive like a guy," she said. "It was hard to take that as a compliment. It boils down to what you do when you get behind the wheel. I think we're getting to the point where what's on the inside is what really counts. It doesn't matter if you're a boy or a girl if you finish at the top."
Still, McIntosh knows that her intelligence and good looks play a role in getting sponsors and, eventually, endorsements from companies not initially as open to empowering women as is TrueCar Racing.
"My appearance is part of it," she said. "It's just part of the business. I understand that how I present myself, my appearance, is important. But, sponsors want drivers who will compete well."