Teams are preparing for this weekend’s Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Simona De Silvestro drives for Paretta Autosport and will be the only woman driver in the field of 33 cars. But that’s not the only unique aspect of Paretta. The team is made up of mostly women, about 70 percent.
For the first time, a majority-women’s team is competing in the Indy 500 this weekend. The team is a part of a broader effort to bring more diversity to motor sports. Only nine women and only two Black drivers have ever competed in the so-called “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
That includes pit crew member Caitlyn Brown. Brown is responsible for the inside front tire. Having worked as a mechanic for Team Penske in the NASCAR series, she said it hasn’t hit her quite yet how much of an impact the team is having.
“I'm so used to working with all men, mostly now that to work with all women,” Brown said. “Again, it's been really cool. It's not everyday, you can do that, especially in racing. So the opportunity to do this is really awesome.”
Team owner Beth Paretta said there are women in motor sports, just not as many as she’d like to see.
“I've worked in automotive and racing for many years,” Paretta said. “And it was obvious to me that this is something where women could not only belong, but thrive. And there weren't a lot of women throughout the paddock, you know, most of us know each other because there aren't that many. And I just saw it as really an opportunity.”
She said the team will make history at what is considered the Super Bowl of racing. But she is quick to credit the women who got them here.
Women like Maude Yagle, the first woman owner of an Indy 500 team, and Janet Guthrie, the first woman to race in the Indy 500.
“There is absolutely no doubt that we wouldn't be here without the hard work of the women before us and we stand on their shoulders,” said Paretta, “and each pushed doors open in different ways for us.”
Paretta Autosport is allied with Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske’s team. With that comes guidance and crossover employees like Caitlyn Brown with the pit crew.
The support is a part of Penske’s Race for Equality and Change initiative. It’s a $1 million effort to diversify IndyCar and IMS.
“We looked inward at things and said the time is really now to do something we can't live in denial that we can do better,” said Jimmie McMillian, Penske Entertainment Corp. chief diversity officer .
He hopes by finding ways to engage underrepresented communities, the track can become more diverse and inclusive – from the employees to the teams to the fans.
"I think one day people are going to turn off the TV and not say to me, 'you know what, when I turn on TV, it looks very white,'" said McMillian. “I think people are going to turn on TV – just like they do the NBA, or the NFL – and say it looks very American. And I think all of us who are Americans know what that means. That means you look out and you see what is the fabric of this country and what makes us great. And that's our diversity.”
Rod Reid owns Force Indy, another team receiving support from Penske to bring more diversity into the sport. He says this is a much needed start to confront issues that stem from the early days of the track.
“If you look back in history, and the early 1900s, when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway started, the AAA – the current, you know, Automobile Association of America that exists today – very blatantly did not allow women,” said Reid. “And they never wrote about not allowing blacks, but it just didn't do it.”
Force Indy is working to bring in more Black drivers, mechanics and other staff. The team competes right now in the entry-level league with an eventual goal of competing in the Indy 500. Reid said he sees his team as a talent pipeline.
“My primary goal is that the individuals that are in Force Indy can move up through the ranks,” he said. “So I'm actually trying to design this so we become that foundational experience for them.”
Beth Paretta has a similar goal for her team and hopes competing on a large stage sparks interest for future generations to get involved in motor sports.
“The best thing for me is if there is a young girl watching at home, and she sees herself,” said Paretta. “That's all we want to do. And maybe 10 years from now, she'll be on pit lane.”
The Paretta team will be starting in the 33rd spot for the Indy 500.