Accelerating Change: Women’s Track Day at Buttonwillow

Accelerating Change: Women’s Track Day at Buttonwillow

Group shot of the participants. Photo credit:
Group shot of the participants. Photo credit: Mo Satarzadeh

Author: Erika Lin

We are in a time where gender equality sensitivity is at an all-time high. While even beauty pageants are eliminating swim suit competitions, the automobile industry seems to be one of the last areas where women are mainly present as scantily-clad eye-candy. Where are the females competing and winning races? Where are the strong female role models? Slowly, but surely, change is occurring.

When the BMW CCA Golden Gate Chapter held a Women’s Motorsport Day in 2016 (editor’s note: it’s back this July 14, 2019!), I jumped at the opportunity. After a day of car control drills and an autocross session, I was hooked. But unfortunately, these events are few and far between. I had to wait 3 years before another womens-oriented event would be held—this time on a race track.

Mariana Small, Scott Mann, and Christina Nielsen. Photo credit: Mo Satarzadeh

Accelerating Change was founded in 2018 with the single purpose of encouraging women to embrace the automotive world and everything it has to offer. Christina Nielsen’s, three-time racing champion, hope is to take women out of the passenger’s seat and into the driver’s seat. Joining forces with Mariana Small, President of Porsche Club of America Los Angeles, the duo set out to create a track experience exclusively for women. Sponsored by Porsche Fresno and Michelin, 46 women joined Christina at Buttonwillow Raceway on March 7th, 2019 in celebration of women in a unique Drivers Education experience.

The event began with a Safety Orientation at a nearby hotel the night before track day. Christina greeted us with a welcome speech and Scott Mann, Chief Driving Instructor of Porsche Club of America, went over basic safety rules. For the next 90 minutes, Scott reviewed safety flags, hand gestures, and basic track etiquette while a team of volunteers performed technical inspections on our cars. Around 9 PM, we were free to retire to our respective hotels and rest up for the big day.

The next day followed a typical track day format. We had breakfast and a mandatory Drivers Meeting first thing in the morning, where students met their instructors. The students and instructors were divided into 3 run groups, with 4 30-minute sessions for each group. Interestingly, the instructors ran their own cars with the advanced students. Then, they coached the remaining 2 sessions, switching between 2 student cars.

Porsches on the track. Photo credit: Mo Satarzadeh

The first session was as expected, with students driving a bit on the slow side, feeling out the track, and learning how to give point-bys. Safe to say, none of the novices were driving the proper race line during the first session. However, as our confidence and comfort level increased with each session, we all got significantly faster.

My instructor was Eric Monroe, an instructor at the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles. We spent the first two sessions learning the racing line and learning patience for a late apex turn. By the fourth session, however, we were working on speed. I was resisting the urge to brake unnecessarily, and it was eye-opening to see how much faster I was, compared to others who weren’t following the line. For the first time on a track, the pieces fell into place and I really understood the rhythm of the track—all thanks to the fantastic coaching from Eric.

The author and Natasha, her 2016 F87 M2. Photo credit: Mo Satarzadeh

But I wasn’t the only one feeling exhilarated at the end of the day. As I talked to other women after the last session, we all had the same sense of accomplishment. For many of us, it was our first time on the track. We pushed ourselves far out of our comfort zones and accomplished things we didn’t think were possible with our cars. I don’t doubt that many, if not all, of us will be returning to the track in the near future, doing our part to accelerate the change.

Author: Erika Lin. You can follow her on Instagram @hungry_m2

You can follow Accelarting Change on Instagram here: @accelartingchange

Christina Nielsen on Instagram: @christinaracing

Mariana Small on Instagram: @marianasmall

Mo Satarzadeh (photographer) on Instagram: @theonetruemo

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