The world is changing, and motorsport needs to reflect that change. And yet for some, the change seems to be happening at a glacial pace which is why there has been a concerted push by a number of people and organizations to take the bull by the horns and make things happen faster. Tami Powers is one such person. People need advocates who are passionate about what needs to be changed and Tami is just such an advocate. Quite simply she believes women deserve an equal chance in life and in motorsport. And she has a plan to make that happen.
Recently I chatted with Tami via Zoom to get her take on the issues facing women in motorsport and how her organization, PowerDrive Motorsport Futures is going to change things for the better.
Motorsport Prospects: Hi Tami. Who are you and what do you do?
Tami Powers: I am the founder of PowerDrive Motorsport Futures. I created PMF to connect corporate brands to the next best in class female racing drivers, but it is not only limited to that. It is also air racing. I have a client who is an air racer. She is the only female in the world competing in the the highest class, Elite XR/1 in The Air Race (formerly the Red Bull Air Race) set to debut in 2022. Motorsport is motorsport and I cover it from the ground up into the air.
Why do we need a company like PMF?
PMF is an essential entity because there isn’t any connection right now between corporate brands and females competing in motorsport. It is about building that bridge to the brands and really having an authentic and meaningful conversation with corporate brands because currently, there aren’t any competing in the highest of classes. There aren’t women in F1 or IndyCar for example. We have one girl going into the Road to Indy and in NASCAR there are some women in the ARCA series and a couple going into the Xfinity series next year, but they are all struggling for finances.
Now I understand that it doesn’t matter your gender or your skin color as it is always a struggle as a racer to find those financial resources but there are some unnecessary roadblocks for women and people with diverse backgrounds. What I want to do is begin a conversation with corporate brands about these athletes and connect them and tell their stories.
Even if there is a female racer who isn’t quite ready for Indycar for example, there are women ready for the Road to Indy. Why not tell those stories with a brand and follow that athlete through her journey into the IndyCar series as well as NASCAR?
How confident are you that you can make this happen?
I feel very confident in being able to normalize women in other series because in the last 20 years I’ve seen women normalized competing alongside men in the NHRA, which is a very large motorsport series here in the United States. It is side by side racing all day every day and its pretty spectacular and we have had women competing alongside men for decades. These women are formidable racers and prove that women can handle whatever is thrown at them on the track.
Aren’t men and women equal in a race car?
Yes, we all know that women and men are equal in a race car. The one area where they are not equal is in the opportunity for seat time and therefore experience. The studies show us that women are about 10 years behind men in seat time or experience and that is what we must work on. We must get these women who are coming up fast tracked into those opportunities where they have the means to be able to get that seat time to catch up with the guys because that’s the only place where they are not equal.
When you approach corporate brands, are you targeting any type of brand, for example a brand targeted specifically at women?
Targeting a particular type of brand is too limited because when you look at economics globally, what you are seeing is that women make or influence 85% of the household spending decisions. Trillions of dollars in the global economy have this “woman factor.” A lot of the corporate brands are seeing this data, but they just don’t know how quite to engage the pulse of it, to figure out how to navigate the fact that women have such a huge influence on the global economy. So yes, I would go after Proctor and Gamble and say “Hey let’s talk about your feminine brands and my racer” but I think it is equally important to attach myself to the male-driven brands.
The reason is that men are visual and if I am selling razors or men’s focused products why not have a woman who is connected to that brand and an advocate for that brand promote that brand? I think it goes both ways.
There is a lot of cross-pollination going on. You have men in NSACAR driving cars sponsored by Tide and Clorox and M&Ms and I think “wait a minute,” if they can do it, we can do it. I will give you an example.
I have a driver I am developing named Ashley Sanford who is a Top Fuel driver and I always try to authentically connect the driver with a brand because we want to tell authentic and meaningful stories. People can tell if something is contrived or if it’s not authentic as it’s a turn off and it is not beneficial to the brand. So, for someone like Ashley, whom I’ve gotten to know over the years, I have learned that she likes to drink beer on the weekends when she is not racing, that she likes to eat a steak and drive her Polaris out in the dessert, she likes to shoot the guns, these are the things that she loves doing. That’s her authentic brand so that’s why you’ll see her alongside 805 Beer a lot. But then there are times when she goes to talk to girls about STEM studies because she is a Girl Scout alumnus, so we go to Girls Scouts events. The key is that it is all authentic.
What we can’t do is paint a female driver into a corner because “women are not supposed to have a beer on the weekend” for example. We have to be authentic, but we also have to realize that some women like to have a cold beer with their steak on Saturdays and ride their Polaris the next day. We have to bring that authenticity to the table that women like all sorts of things like men and we are not just into makeup and the bikini by the car. There are so many types of female racers and I really stress to them to be authentic and be who you are.
So, what is the main problem as to why corporate brands are not supporting female racers?
The reason why I started PowerDrive Motorsport Futures was because during the pandemic I looked outside the bubble that I am in, which is the NHRA, and I was finding that, despite getting meetings for Ashlee and even though everybody loves her, companies were reluctant to write the big check for the primary sponsorship. They love the idea of her, and they love having her speak at their events. I mean, one brand has a mural of her at their headquarters. We would get contracts for digital posts on Instagram as well as a lot of speaking engagements, but they weren’t really writing the cheques for the team, for her to be out there full-time racing. So, I thought, let’s investigate this a bit further and see what’s going on outside the NHRA and let’s look at other forms of racing.
I talked to a lot of the open wheel drivers across the country and across the globe and there was a common denominator with most of them. Brands want to use them as a gimmick, but they don’t want to write a sponsorship deal for their car.
The driver is doing all these other things for the brand like speaking engagements, but they are not really racing. They are putting their name up on a marquee as a racer, but they are not sponsoring them to race. So, there was this push pull but there was this problem with getting brands to really lean in and support them monetarily as a race car driver and not just as a speaker or Instagram poster.
So that is the problem that all the girls have. Brands want to use them to get eyes onto their brand, but they don’t want to “risk” supporting them as drivers. They don’t want to risk partnering with a female race car driver. Janet Guthrie had the same problem over 40 years ago when she was competing in IndyCar and then NASCAR. She was a great driver, she was marketable, super smart and capable and a great performer on the track but as Dick Simon stated in Qualified, the Janet Guthrie Story, the corporate brands weren’t quite ready yet to support a woman race car driver. Because of this she had to retire due to a lack of funding.
When I saw that I had a very heavy feeling about it as it really hasn’t changed much in 40 years, so I thought that I needed to create PowerDrive and bridge this gap so that there is not another lost generation of female athletes in motorsport that are either going to age out or give up trying because the money is not there.
Obviously, these companies are not looking strictly at performance. There has to be some companies that have “bought in” to the idea regardless of what might be said or written about the program?
We had Danica Patrick in IndyCar and then NASCAR and how was Danica Patrick successful? She has one IndyCar win, she was a decent, above-average race car driver but there was a CMO at Go Daddy, a company that nobody knew before Danica Patrick and that CMO had this vision and pushed this vision through and supported her and they did well, and she did well. It just takes that one person.
But when you only have one of one in a series that is a problem. To normalize women in motorsport, you can’t just have one or two you have got to have at least 3 or 4 competing full time. Then it’s not “oh the girl” or it’s the one girl with all the attention on her which tends to get all the guys riled up because she is getting all the eyes. So, to normalize women with men we have to have at least a handful of women in a series and that’s the way it’s got to go, or the cycle is just going to keep going and going and there will not be any progress.
Women racers seem to get a disproportionate amount of criticism when things go wrong, something that social media seem to amplify. Is this part of the problem that women face? That corporations don’t want to be part of that social media negativity train.
It could float through their mind for sure but if you look at Bubba Wallace, the only man of color in NASCAR, there is a microscope on him because of that plus the pressure of Michael Jordan being a team owner and I see a lot of criticism of him online when he does not do well. The public does not do that to anyone else in that capacity. Ultimately, I think that people need to chill out and look at what is happening in motorsport and just embrace it because that is what you are going to need to sustain it. Everyone who is in a NASCAR Cup series seat has earned the right to be there no matter what gender or color or where they come from. I am optimistic. There is a bubble that is popping and that this is going to be a better motorsport world in 3-5 years. I really do believe that.
So how does a brand develop that vision?
They must ask themselves “What do we stand for?” They can embrace this new world and corporations can be pioneers in this, in standing up for something worthwhile.
Here is an example. Clorox is pumping a lot of money into motorsport, a sport which is a 6 billion dollar a year industry. Women see none of that money. If you look at women in sports globally, in all sports, women see only .04% of that spend. The numbers don’t lie. There is something missing here. I have a lot of people in my network that have organizations elevating women sports but with motorsport it is like an equal but not inclusive 6-billion-dollar space. And it is layered. There are so many things and layers keeping things the way they are like teams and series that it’s not just brands. But if you have access to these financial assets to bring to the table then teams are willing to have a conversation with you. If you take 3-5 million dollars to a team, they are not going to shut the door in your face. They will say “let’s see how good you are, let’s see what you can do” so at least you are getting a seat at the table.
I often here the argument when it comes to women racing programs along the lines of “what about the guys? Don’t they deserve an opportunity?”
Not one woman that I have ever met wants a gimme for anything! They don’t want to be there because they are female, they just want an opportunity to showcase all the twenty years of work they have put into their career so far. You have girls that have been racing in karts since they were 6 and they have put 2 decades into what they are doing so far so it’s not a gimmick, it’s not a show. They have put their entire life into this, so they deserve a seat at the table at least, that is all we are asking for. We are not asking for any handouts. They have done the work.
It’s not an easy seat to get for anyone. But imagine this. I have an open wheel racer and I said “tell me about your seat time. How much seat time did you have last year?” She said, “I got 23 days of racing, my counterparts got 200.” And that was because of the funding and the opportunity that gives you. So, we are seeing in the data why women are 10 years behind the men in experience. I see it all around me. I read these reports that come out and I ask the questions.
I always say women and men are the same in the race car, but we are different and that is good! That’s really good because you want to be different. Men and women are biologically different, but they are equal in a race car but when you are going out and talking about brand stories and connecting to corporate brands, women have a different story than men. Just imagine all the diverse storytelling we can do within the racing platform with more females involved. It will get more eyes on the sport; it will connect to more diverse crowds of people, and it will be getting more fans because of it. It’s good for business!
If you don’t know these women are here and that they are honing their skills and they are working hard every day, then you don’t know what you don’t know. So, what PowerDrive does is educate people. I have a deck that I send out and it shows “This is what is happening in IndyCar, NASCAR, NHRA, and The Air Race” so at least they know what is going on. They can delete it after they look at it if they want but at least they will know who is doing what. They are going to know that these women are out there and coming up in the ranks and that they can get to know them, and I can get a conversation going with brands about these women and the fact that they are so incredible.
When F1 decided to eliminate grid girls that set off a big debate about whether girls should be in the car or beside the car.
I think women should be both in the car and beside the car! When Brittany Force had Monster Energy as a sponsor for instance, she won the world title and there were Monster Girls there and that’s what diversity and inclusion is. It is about not excluding anyone. I love, and this might not be a popular opinion, but I am authentic in what I believe but if we have grid girls, I think it is great. I think it is awesome. You can be a grid girl, or you can be a race car driver. Being a grid girl is a wonderful tradition. I said to Brittany once “wouldn’t it make more sense to have Monster Energy Guys on the track?” and she said, “who cares it’s just fun!” I don’t have a problem with any of that. If that is what a girl chooses to do, and she has fun doing it and she wants to take the job as a grid girl I say go for it.
That’s what feminism really is. It’s being able to choose what you choose to do and be great at it and not have any barriers around you. A lot of girls were bummed at that decision by F1 because they could not do what they enjoy doing. I am open to everything, and I am non-judgemental about what women want to do with their life.
The women who are on the grid are there not only because they belong but because they have persevered.
Absolutely. Pippa Mann is a perfect example. You will not meet a more resilient person than Pippa Mann. She has gotten her butt kicked for the last decade at least and let me tell you it just makes her push harder. She would enter herself in the Indy 500 every year just so there would be a female there. Even though she had no money and no chance in hell of winning let alone the difficulty of qualifying but she went in there with nothing just so people would know there was a female racing. In 2020 there were no women racing in the 500 and it was all over the papers, so people knew they had to do something so Beth Paretta (an incredible individual as well) stepped up and she and Simona ran the Indy 500 in 2021. But you know what Pippa did yesterday? (This interview was conducted in mid-August 2021) She went to the IMS and she stood out front and she met her fans after announcing it on social media, not even inside the building. She told her fans she wanted to hang out with them and talk and sign autographs and just be together. She did that all day. That’s perseverance.
Pippa Mann also has highlighted this issue with the disparity of seat time, and it is truly shocking. I don’t think many people in motorsport are truly aware of this. It is a lack of education as much as anything.
It is shocking. The W Series is taking their approach and saying that this will help women get to F1. There are pros and cons to the W Series. I am not a fan because in my opinion segregation is not inclusion. These women race under-powered cars for a whole 30 minutes and open for F1. F1 does not need an opening act. F1 needs an opening that allows women an opportunity to race in F1. Period.
But on the other hand, I wouldn’t know who a lot of these women were if not for the W Series. With what I am doing, the whole world will know who these racers are. As they should. And the world wants to know! They are intrigued. They want to get to know these women because they are so incredible and have incredible stories to tell. Formula 1 won’t do it so I will.
What should a young female racer do first? And how would a female racer connect with you?
The first thing a young racer should do is engage with Pippa Mann’s Shift Up Now organization. It is a great resource, and she could become a member in that community and have that support. What PowerDrive does is elevates the women who are ready to go to either to the Road to Indy or are going into the Xfinity Series in NASCAR so it’s more on the semi-pro, “going to turn pro soon” level because that’s the kind of money I am going after for the racer.
Shift Up Now is a great organization and Pippa and the women involved are doing incredible things and it’s a great resource for someone just starting out or someone who has got a few years in.
You are a very dynamic person who is obviously passionate about what you do.
I am. And let’s not forget that this is all about having fun! I don’t want to go into a boardroom and bark orders at people. Let’s have fun! Let’s go build your business. Let’s create incremental growth for the next generations to come. That’s what’s fun for me. I see it clearly. I just need to transfer that over to the people who make the decisions and when I do, there are no limits.
For more information on PowerDrive Motorsport Futures please refer to their listing here.