“Yes I’m a girl in motorsport, but why should it matter if it’s a girl under a helmet?”
We often talk about how important it is for girls to get into perceived ‘male sports’ like Football or Cricket, but how often do you hear about trying to get girls into car racing? Emily Linscott is the 17-year old seeking to change perceptions about what racing is – not a sport you tend to try in your weekly PE lesson…
A latecomer to the sport, Emily started racing at the age of 13, back in 2016. A sport that is mostly undertaken by children at a very young age, whose family have some kind of prior association with the sport, Emily went along with her dad to the local track. Her dad used to race World and British super bike, but the world of Karting and cars was far away from that. As soon as she stepped on the track, she knew it was the sport for her – no questions asked! From then on, constant nagging of her dad allowed Emily to pursue her new-found passion.
Within a year of Karting, Emily had quickly moved straight into racing cars. To say her welcome into this male sporting sphere was hostile would be to overstate it. However, to say she was welcomed with confusion and surprise would be wholly accurate.
Emily regaled a story of one her first races that her parents came to watch. A group of guys stood next to her dad and referring to Emily they said “this guy is really quick.” At the end of the race, Emily took off her helmet, and obviously was a girl. Her dad turned to the group of guys and said “that guy is my daughter.” It feels like a scene out of a Noughties movie, but nonetheless, it exemplifies exactly how alien it was to have a girl competing to such a high level.
Emily has never professed to being oblivious to her ‘difference’ and the unique position she’s in, but her response to people that question her place in the sport? “Yes I’m a girl in motorsport, but why should it matter if it’s a girl under a helmet?”
Emily found herself quickly in an academy but as soon as you’re driving cars, the prices begin to ramp up. It’s perhaps pointing out the obvious that motor racing is an expensive sport, and as such is dominated by wealthier people who can afford to ‘self-fund’ in the early days at least.
“My family isn’t particularly wealthy and we have to work extremely hard to get sponsorship” says Emily. Finding sponsorship is obviously essential, and Emily describes what a tireless job it is, being faced with 99 no’s from companies she contacts.
A commonly held misconception about the sport, whether you’re male or female, is that in terms of physicality, it’s incomparable to the likes of Rugby or Hockey. Having just come back from a gym session, Emily was keen to debunk that myth.
“I have to train my whole body, including cardio,” she says, “more specifically I have to train my neck because the G-forces on the neck are extreme.” The obvious idea that your reactions have to be quick as well as your arms being strong, persist. However, what was interesting and a central factor to consider in Emily’s training was how she prepares for the cockpit environment itself – “the heat in the cockpit runs at about 40 degrees plus, which drains you so much,” she says. For us ‘non-racers’, it’s hard to envisage this prep that goes into a race beyond just the car.
For Emily, being more than just an elite sports person is extremely important. I recently did an article with The Mintridge Foundation, the organisation who harness the power of sporting role models to enact positive change. As an ambassador for Mintridge, Emily is keen to fulfil her role off the track.
“My aim is to work with Mintridge to go into schools and give inspirational talks to kids in primary and secondary schools to broaden their views on motorsport”, she says. The key to securing longevity in terms of women in motorsport is really to mobilise that next generation of young girls early. Emily has even begun to develop her own initiative based on this notion called Motorsport in Education. Although Covid-19 has put a halt to it, she’s looking to provide children with the opportunity to try racing through actively working with schools.
Although she assures me that it’s normal to be competing at the top level at the young age of 17, I wonder what kind of impact that pressure and separation from normal life has on the teenager. “The lows are so much more frequent than the highs, but the highs are so worth it,” admits Emily.
We hear a lot about the likes of Golf or Tennis, which can be extremely lonely and difficult sports to compete in when you’re a professional, but not quite Serena Williams or Tiger Woods. Motor racing appears to be no different. “There are teams, but when you’re in the car, it’s a very lonely feeling. Only in the top levels, do you even have connections back to the garages during a race,” says Emily.
As with any sport at elite level, the sacrifices are huge, but the amount of travel and money required at such a young age for Emily’s sport appears somewhat unique. “You have to be a strong person to be able to perform because the travel is so solitary and nomadic,” says Emily.
Similarly, balancing a school career with her sporting career hasn’t been easy, but Emily displays remarkable perspective and maturity regarding her ‘work-life balance’. She began racing competitively at the beginning of her secondary school experience, when she was just starting mock exams. Finding herself stretched a bit thin Emily says, “I decided if I wanted to do both I had to really organise my life”.
However, as the GCSE exams crept up, no amount of organisation or ‘catching up’ could allow Emily to do her academic studies to the ability she knew she was capable of. Ultimately, she put a pause on the racing and focused on her GCSEs, knowing she needed a backup plan from racing. As soon as that was done, she went back to racing, and seamlessly slid right back in where she left off, albeit with an array of GCSEs under her belt.
I actually spoke to Emily whilst she was in America, living and being sponsored by Pippa Mann, her mentor and coach, in Indianapolis. An ex-racer and competitor in the Indy500 (Emily’s personal goal), Mann is coming to the end of her motorsport career and wants to make sure there’s a visible and mobilised path of females behind her in the sport. Pippa is a mentor for the organisation, Shift Up Now, set up by Lynn Schultz Kehoe, who are currently funding Emily’s journey. They are a group of female racers who aim to empower the next generation of women in the sport, debunking the myth that racing is ‘a man’s world’.
Emily is due to return to the UK shortly to do the unrelenting job that is securing sponsorship, with a view to returning to the US and continue her training. “America seem to be more accepting of females in the sport,” Emily says. Certainly, the support and sponsorship within the sport seem to be more readily accessible than their European counterparts.
I asked Emily if the eventual aim was to compete alongside the men, or whether it was to recruit enough women to be able to launch their own circuit. “What’s unique about motorsport is that it doesn’t have to be split. Everyone can compete at the same level because it doesn’t have that much of an affect,” she says.
This feels almost contradictory to everything we’re trying to do with regards to women’s sport currently – ‘levelling the playing field’ in terms of bringing the investment, exposure and indeed public opinion in line with the men’s game. However, for motorsport the goal is to keep men and women competing together because that’s how it’s always been. Men completely dominate the sport in terms of numbers. But for a sport that is not solely based on physical strength, rather endurance strength, the only explanation for this inequality is how the game is perceived in terms of gender difference.
With only 1.5% of racing license holders being female, and Emily stating how it’s the norm for her to be the only woman competing in a race, you can’t help but speculate why this is. So much hard work is being done to build ‘women’s cricket’, ‘women’s football’, ‘women’s rugby’. However, have we ever considered a sport where men and women can compete on an equal level? Motorsport offers a uniqueness, and it is so exciting to see how young, talented individuals like Emily, are showing the world what a great sport it can be for all.