Women of V8s
By Sam Squiers
It’s in the blokeyest sports that you find the most inspiring women.
And in the V8 Supercar series, women are making louder noises than that of the deafening thunder of a Holden engine down Mount Panorama’s Conrod Straight.
Ever seen the pits on race day? Hectic, stressful, intense are three words that come to mind. A tyre has to be changed, the car refuelled, any mechanical issues identified and repaired and all under 4 seconds time. I know what many of you are thinking and I too would like my local mechanic to work at such a speed. But it’s in amongst all this organised chaos in the Erebus Motorsport Mercedes pit that you’ll find Janelle Navarro – the number 2 mechanic and only female in the garage.
27-year-old Janelle was a Ford fan from a young age and as a little girl told her dad defiantly while watching the motor racing one weekend, “I’ll be there one day, you’ll see”.
She grew up in an era where the main female presence in the sport was that of the grid girls in leather bikinis and knee-high boots. Sigh, yes they’re still there, but comfortingly, in a lesser capacity. Regardless, Janelle’s goal remained the same.
So after completing year 12 at an all girls school, she was straight into a mechanics apprenticeship. Seven years working in motor racing garages, including four years with Ford, she’s earned her place at Erebus Motorsport working on the Mercedes.
“This is everything I’ve ever wanted to do, I’ve never wanted to do anything else and I’ve worked really hard to get here. People say I’ve been lucky, but you make your own luck as well.“
Naturally shy, put a spanner in Janelle’s hand and she’s the life of the garage. Talk to her about the pace and demands of her role and you soon see how she’s been so successful at what she does. Janelle keeps a clear head, focus and remains calm under pressure.
“It’s a very methodical job, it’s one step to another and a very detailed process and you can’t miss anything because everything on the car is just as important as anything else, so every little bit counts,”
“I’m a little bit stubborn and I’ve always wanted to do this and I’ve never let anything get in my way. So if this is what you want to do, don’t let anything stop you, work hard, volunteer and do what ever you can.“
You don’t have to go too far to find our next V8s star, the owner of Erebus Motorsport, Betty Klimenko. With her short platinum hair with purple streaks and heavily tattooed arms, Betty’s story makes for compelling reading.
The Westfield heiress, she’s one of Australia’s richest women. But Betty’s start to life wasn’t all luxury. Conceived in a Kings Cross jail cell to a drug addicted prostitute and a policeman who did more than bail her out, Betty was adopted out to the would-be Westfield partner John Saunders and his wife Eta.
Betty’s life has had many twists and turns but for all the pomp and privilege in her upbringing, she says her father taught her the value of a dollar.
And her dollars are now spent on the Erebus Motorsport team, a passion for motor sports that is far removed from the millionaires’ mile that is the Sydney suburb of Vaucluse where she lives. Betty has a hands-on approach to running the team and her profile in this sport continues to grow. Waiting outside the pits at every race is a bunch of fans with pen and camera in hand for…not the drivers…but for Betty. Fans flock to her, eager to have their photo taken, get her autograph or just to chat about racing. Betty has a way with people, no matter what their background.
A way with people is certainly needed for Sarah Schofield’s job. Sarah is in the safety car for the V8s, is involved in writing the rules for the whole Supercar Series and also manages the Dunlop Series (like the reserve grade for V8s).
Her rise in this sport came from humble beginnings as the work experience kid.
“I always thought the sport was interesting and really fun and I thought why can’t I have a career in something I find interesting and so I pursued it.”
Ironically sometimes the safety car can feel anything but in a race. Called in when there’s a big crash or an obstruction on the track, the safety car has to slow the pace of the drivers until the coast is clear. Having dozens of adrenalin and testosterone fuelled V8 cars tailgating you can be quite the intimidating experience.
So too can the job of managing the Dunlop Series. Sarah’s role is to make sure all the teams are sticking to the rules and has to make sure they’re all in the right place at the right time. At 26, Sarah is a pint-sized pocket rocket who knows how to stand her ground.
“I feel like I’ve earned the respect of the teams and that’s what helps me do my job successfully. It’s only natural that they try to push the rules a bit but I know what the rule is and I like to make sure they know what it is as well.”
Now you don’t see too many 18 year olds driving a Porsche, but for Queensland teenager Renee Gracie, they’re her wheels of choice every single weekend.
Renee competes in the support category, the Porsche Carrera Cup, and is the only girl in the competition.
The love of the track started at 13 for Renee when things got competitive between her and her Dad on a casual visit to the Go-Kart Track.
“We were hire karting together and were having a bit of fun and he couldn’t beat me and he was getting really annoyed. And it was something that I just got hooked on because I was good at it and was beating my dad.“
She was a natural and started to race competitively. Five years later she received the call up of a lifetime to race in the Carrera Cup.
Renee’s Porsche hits speeds of 270 km/h over three times the legal limit of someone her age out on the road.
Renee’s nails are painted pink to match the black and pink of her car. Along with her long dark hair and stunning looks the articulate teenager is a marketers dream. But the sponsorship money isn’t flowing in and Renee juggles racing with two jobs (including one at McDonalds). But this hasn’t deterred Renee’s passion and her overall goal.
“I would love to in the next couple of years to become the first full time female driver in the V8 Championship, that would be the ultimate dream.“
Motor racing has come a long way and it’s women like these who are driving the change.