I have always been impressed with people who walk the proverbial walk, especially on issues that are supposedly contentious in society like diversity and sustainability. Carol Glenn is one of those people that walk the walk. She understood that diversity is an issue and that it affects a sport and community that she is passionate about, so she decided to do something about it. Recently I chatted to Carol via Facetime across the pond to find out what her organization Next Racing Generation is all about. Not only is this a great idea whose time has come but I learned a lot about the issue of diversity at the same time. As she explains in the interview, it all starts with education. And make no mistake about it, this is as much a story about motorsport as it is about diversity, a sport that is fueled not by gas or ethanol or battery power but by pure passion, a passion that Carol has in abundance.
Motorsport Prospects: What is your background and how did you get involved in motorsport?
Carol Glenn: I have been in love with motorsport since I was 11 or 12. I vividly remember watching RAC rallies when I was young and absolutely wanting an Audi Quatro because of it. I also remember watching Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in the James Hunt era and it just captivated me. The funny part is that my family was never interested in motorsport! For a while my interest lay dormant until 1988 when my partner at the time invited me to go to Brands Hatch where he was marshalling. I set up my deck chair at Druids Corner and once that first car screamed by, I was hooked. It has been a love affair ever since.
MP: Diversity and Sustainability in sport are two huge issues that are finally being addressed. Why is diversity in motorsport important?
CG: Diversity is important because the landscape of the world is changing. The world has moved on since the way it was 30 or 40 years ago. We are a more diverse society and yet in motorsport that diversity is not reflected. People that compete in sport want to be around people where at least some of them represent their background and their reality. Change is happening in sport all around us whether it be football, basketball, the NFL and cricket to some extent yet motorsport is the one sport where change has been extremely slow. It is still 97% male and white and that is not at all reflective of the world off the track. Youth competing in sport need heroes and sheroes, somebody that they can look up to that looks and sounds like them. While black youth now have Lewis Hamilton to look up to, percentage wise that is just not enough.
MP: Why do you think that some people consider diversity in motorsport a problem? Is it perceived jealousy, or do they really not want different people in the sport? They say when you are in the car it does not matter whether you are male or female, black or white.
CG: It does matter precisely because when you are out of the car you need to battle perceptions, whether consciously or unconsciously held by some people that other drivers do not. You have unconscious bias to deal with if you are a woman or a person of color. Drivers want to be around people that they know can talk to them, that they can interact with naturally. Sometimes what happens is that if a person does not understand a driver’s diverse background, they are unsure how to communicate with them. They assume that the person conforms to some preconceived stereotype making it very difficult to understand who that person is and what they are saying leaving them poles apart. You often see that happening in schools where people will assume that a black youth is perhaps in a gang and it puts up barriers on how they are perceive and understand that person. It sometimes prevents people from understanding who they really are, what their background is and what they are trying to achieve.
Also, sometimes the fear to offend prevents a person from truly and honestly engaging with a person from a background different from their own. The biggest barrier to understanding somebody from a different background than your own is not taking the time to get to know them and understand their issues, their concerns and their feelings towards things. Uneducated opinions are a huge barrier to understanding. This is why it is a problem.
MP: You are both a person of color and a woman. Have you seen any real progress in how both groups are treated over the last 5 years or so?
CG: Certainly, over the last 5 years there have been changes and just not in motorsport, but the interesting thing is that gender is becoming easier in a way to deal with in the sport than diversity. This is resulting in women and girls’ programs being pushed to the top with diversity programs struggling to get traction. Diversity is becoming the “new uncomfortable” whereas previously it was women’s issues.
MP: The program you are setting up is called Next Racing Generation. Who is the program aimed at and why?
CG: Inspired by last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement and Lewis Hamilton speaking out about diversity and myself being a person of color in the sport I thought, hold on, I have been involved in the sport as an official and in fact was the first woman of color to do so in 1988. I wanted to demonstrate to him that while it might be lonely at the top the problem exists at the bottom as well and it would be nice if the two extremes could meet in the middle. In my experience in the UK there are definitely a minority of officials who are from diverse backgrounds and less than 20 kids of color in karting and even less moving on to cars, so I wanted to help. I have been thinking about this for a long time, but the impetus came from what happened last year plus the pandemic. I had wanted to help youngsters and had been talking to a few parents since 2015 and did try to help one young driver but it was not a formal program per se.
Why? I often saw kids in karting and their parents would meet people in the sport and they would be paying their fair share to have their kid race, but they never seemed to be moving up the motorsport ladder compared to other kids. And what frustrated me the most is these parents were often not getting the right information and the parents did not know any better because they were new to the whole sport. With my background as a championship coordinator and clerk of the course I see these things, I see them occurring all the time. But at the same time there are people in the sport that are extremely helpful and eager to guide kids in the sport and wanted to help get kids on the right ladder and were available to give good advice. So, I felt that if I could be the conduit that connects these kids from diverse backgrounds to those people who could be helpful to their motorsport career that would be positive, and more kids would have a legitimate chance to advance, and the market would be flooded with more drivers from a diverse background. I then organized a zoom call last July with about 14 parents and children and discussed what I have discussed with you and as a result of that call I decided to form an entity called Next Racing Generation which seemed to be the perfect name for what I want to do.
MP: How would the program work?
CG: I don’t want this organization to be just about being black or of color. I want this organization to be about racing and encouraging and supporting the next generation of racers. There will be the race team part of it and the academy part of it, each complementing the other and giving the kids a well-rounded motorsport education both on and off the track.
The race team will be just like any other in the paddock, professionally run and will take our drivers through the process that we are setting up. We will start with entry level formula and move our way up to higher levels when it makes sense to do so.
The Academy arm will cover all training needs and skills that are important for drivers to know and understand such as:
- Driver coaching
- Media training & PR
- Nutrition and fitness
- Mental conditioning (extremely important and not often taught in other teams. How to deal with adversity is hugely important both in sport and in life)
- Sponsorship acquisition (key for when the driver moves on from our program)
- Career choices – help to choose subject for exams and university.
We will also place a huge emphasis on education because it is important for these kids to have a Plan B if the driving does not work out. It is extremely tough to make it to become a professional racing driver so education is key, and it will cover both traditional and non-traditional topics. For example, there will be online courses on black history and other diverse cultures, something not normally taught in schools, bite-sized bits of education so these kids can appreciate their culture and history. We also want to focus on education so there will be courses covering things like how to choose their subjects in school as they prepare for their A levels and O levels. If they want to be an engineer or a designer in motorsport this could guide them towards that goal, something that schools sometimes do a poor job with, especially for students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Sometimes schools do more to dampen a student’s dreams than encourage them, so we want to both encourage and support our academy members’ motorsport and educational dreams. We want to help them choose both courses and universities and colleges and make sure they understand the full scope of what they can do, where they can go and how they can get there. Further down the line NRG Academy will hope to forge links with colleges and universities around the country to help get more students from a diverse background to take courses.
The NRG Academy will also be about mentoring. I have a lot of contacts in the community who have businesses and they will come to talk to the kids and tell them their stories of how they got where they are and encourage them to do the same. Finally, we are also looking at possibly setting up apprenticeship programs or partnering with existing apprenticeship programs. This will allow Academy members to work in an apprentice program and for example work on the race team cars so that they will get both the theoretical experience as well as the practical.
MP: What about budget? Who pays for all of this?
CG: We have formed a company called Next Racing Generation Motorsports which will be the corporate arm of the business, to do the trackside racing stuff so we can start pitching to sponsors and hopefully bring in revenue that way. I have also been lucky that I have had a lot of professional people contributing pro bono which reduces my expenses and elevates the whole company with professional advice. We are also working on a collaboration with Red Bull which is exciting. On the Academy side we will be most probably set up as a charitable entity as that is our educational side and there is funding available for that for things like diversity training and apprenticeship programs which we are hoping to tap into.
As it is very difficult to get funding for a driver budget, I am hoping to build partnerships with people and companies that buy in to the whole concept of what the program is about and with that funding I will be able to spread it out to the drivers in our program to help them with their race budgets. We still want parents to contribute as much as they can to their child’s racing budget as that is important but not essential. What we hope to then do is basically make up the difference in funding between what the parents can contribute and what we can contribute to complete their child’s racing budget.
Another thing that will help will be that in time we will have our own cars and support equipment, we will arrange for our own track days and do a lot of inhouse training ourselves so we are hoping that that will help bring the costs of racing down dramatically.
So, we are hoping that those entities that buy in to what we are doing both literally and figuratively by having their contribution be part of their diversity activities will make our program both sustainable and will allow it to grow. They will not just be supporting one driver or one team but a whole program that benefits many.
MP: Is this program available in the UK only?
CG: While we are based in the UK, I have had conversations with people in France, South Africa and the United States so this could branch out international quite quickly, but I want to make sure that I get the template correct here in the UK before I look to expand the idea internationally. This is also where my collaboration with Red Bull comes in. We will be working on a number of projects that are focused on urban youth here in the UK and hopefully once we get that format well established, we can apply it elsewhere.
MP: Lewis Hamilton has made no secret of his interest in this issue and has set up a commission to address the lack of diversity in motorsport. Have you had any interaction with him? Is he aware of the program?
CG: I have not had direct contact with Lewis, but I have had contact with his management team just before they launched the Hamilton Commission. We keep in touch via email, and they are supportive of what I am doing, and we are looking for some opportunities where what I am doing meshes with what he is doing, especially when it comes to esports. I am also in touch with the Royal Academy of Engineers who are also very supportive of our efforts. While I have not had any contact since Lewis set up his foundation proper it is early days yet.
MP: When does this all go live?
CG: NRG will launch formally in March and that is when we can start pursuing commercial opportunities. Because of Covid we hope to enter some championships later in the year, but we would like to organize some track days in the May, June, July timeframe. We also have those Red Bull events coming as well as hopefully which will include sim racing events. We are also looking at grassroots motorsport as well as the more professional levels because some kids may just want to do this as a hobby so things like sprinting and auto solos.
MP: Anything further you would like to add?
CG: My USP is that I am involved in motorsport. I understand the sport, the personalities and where I can add value. I am on the inside, not from the outside. We will be a black owned company in motorsport which is unique, but we will be a professionally run motorsport team, make no doubt about it.
Motorsport is expensive but not unachievable. It is possible with the right support and opportunities. It is not just about money it is about knowledge. We want to impart the right knowledge to these kids and literally help them make their motorsport dreams a reality.
For more information on Next Racing Generation, you can access their website here. You can also view their Motorsport Prospects listing here.