News & Multimedia

Fuel The Female Event at IMS Opens Eyes, Starts Motorsports Dreams for Women

A group of 11 female students from Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis were crowned winners of the second annual Fuel the Female event May 14 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While a woman driver hasn’t yet won the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, Fuel the Female hopes to be a catalyst for that to happen.

This year, over 100 Indianapolis-area high school girls took part in Fuel the Female, a non-profit organization started by INDYCAR reporter Katie Hargitt last year. Fuel the Female strives to empower young women to pursue a career in motorsports through the various science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related jobs.

Participants came from all Indianapolis Public Schools, as well as Monrovia High School, Speedway High School and the International School.

The event started with keynote speaker Lyn St. James, the 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and Indy car veteran. She spoke about how she learned her passion for racing, as well as how she came through the ranks of motorsports when it was a male-dominated industry.

Afterward, the high school students teamed with female Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) engineering students to build functioning model cars from recycled materials such as CD’s and boxes. From there, they raced their cars in the infield of IMS to see who created the best machine.

This year’s event was powered by Honda Performance Development, and the girls had the chance to watch the first day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge during lunch at the Firestone suite.

St. James said one of the best parts of the event is that girls were invited to something. She said she believes that very often, women are not invited to participate in aspects of motorsports, which leads to many women feeling like they don’t belong.

“I wish we could do this every day and to have these young girls come here, because one opportunity, one child isn't always enough, but it's a start,” St. James said. “That's why it's important. I want to do whatever I can to help, and I think this is the right way to go about not only bringing them out and just walking around in the garage, but they had to do something.”

This event grew from last year’s inaugural Fuel the Female event. Last year, several women in motorsports spoke to the group, including women in leadership positions at Bridgestone, INDYCAR, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport. Danica Patrick, who was competing in her final race, also spoke to the group.

Hargitt said the addition of a hands-on aspect was a goal. She said hearing women speak about their experiences is one thing, but giving young girls the chance to create their story is much more impactful.

“What I'm hoping is they build these model race cars out of all these recycled parts and think, ‘Wow, I could do this with a real race car and watch it go over 200 miles an hour,’” she said. “That's an empowering feeling.”

In just the second year, Fuel the Female has impacted 200 women, Hargitt said. Her goal is to reach 10,000 girls in the next five years and open opportunities for women in motorsports beyond the racetrack or the media center. She is hoping this will inspire women to pursue a career as a race engineer or mechanic.

To make her dream a reality, Hargitt hopes to expand Fuel the Female to more racetracks and more cities across the United States. Along with expanding its footprint, part of her short-term plan is to create a scholarship for women who are a part of Fuel the Female. She hopes that a scholarship fund can help women go to college for a degree in one of many STEM fields.

“If we can establish that scholarship program, girls can come to Fuel the Female day at a track across the country, they can apply for a scholarship program, and they begin working in motorsports,” she said. “So we've got that pipeline going, and that's what's really important.”

Both Hargitt and St. James pointed out the lack of mentors is an issue when trying to get women into motorsports careers related to STEM. Women striving to be race car drivers have people like St. James. Women striving to be in the media have Hargitt. Mentors for women striving to be engineers or mechanics are increasing, such as reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon having two female engineers on his Chip Ganassi Racing. But Hargitt and St. James want those numbers to grow.

St. James added sometimes it takes people with access to get the ball rolling. Hargitt had that access and found people in INDYCAR and at IMS to help promote the program.

For more information on Fuel the Female, visit fuelthefemale.org.

Show More Show Less
Items 1 - 5 of 3,492