“Women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves in this industry.” – Jamie Chadwick, professional race car driver.
It’s a known fact that the male to female ratio in motorsports leans heavily towards men. In this industry, women tend to face unconscious biases that create discrepancies between their gender and capabilities. As a part of the Marketing team at Xtreme Xperience, I had the opportunity to interview our three female driving instructors who shared their stories with me, and how their passion for racing superseded the microaggressions faced in motorsports. Simply put, I was blown away by the tenacity and courage of these women who created space for themselves in a male-dominated industry.
Hollie Heiser, Xtreme Xperience’s very first female racing instructor, grew up in South Haven, Michigan, near the world-famous Gingerman Raceway. She began her racing journey when her friend who had been instructing for Gingerman invited her to come out for a ride-along, followed by the chance to drive on track. Falling in love with the sport, she started training to become an instructor at the driving school that she now runs (talk about coming full circle)!
Hollie grew up loving all things cars, and with a father who was into drag racing, snowmobiling, tractor pulls, and all things motorsports, it was hard not to. “He’s an amazing man and he encouraged me my whole life to do whatever I wanted to do. He taught me how to stand up for myself and he raised me to be tough – and I’m still tough.”
As most women do, Hollie had to deal with difficult comments associated with being a woman in motorsports.
“I felt like I had to prove something as a woman because I was in the process of learning, and I wasn’t confident in my abilities enough to be questioned by others.”
As a woman in her field, she learned to let her skills on the track speak for herself when dealing with prejudiced comments. “When you’re entering motorsports, you’re stepping into a sea of masculinity and allowing yourself to be judged. That can be difficult and I think you have to want it pretty bad to be able to do that. Eventually it was all the positive comments from people that gave me the confidence to know I am good at what I do,” she said. Although there’s no controlling the array of comments that were associated with her gender, Hollie explained that you must grow a shell to the negative, take the high road, and learn to let it go.
We discussed the future of women in motorsports and luckily, we’re going through a revolutionary period where these women are being more recognized. “Once we’re doing the same things our male counterparts are doing, it opens the door to so many more opportunities, and much more acceptance. I get that it’s scary at first when the females come and start disrupting the system, but that needs to be normalized.”
“Hollie, just so you know, we have an elderly lady coming into your car.”
Her passion is exactly what led her to being a part of the Xtreme Xperience team. At an event, she was reminded of exactly why she started instructing when she had a woman in her 90’s hop into her car. “I’ve always wanted to sit in a Ferrari, I cannot believe I’m driving a Ferrari! This is one of my bucket list items,” the woman told her. “This lady never went over 45mph and the entire time, she was just woohoo-ing and hollering with just the biggest smile on her face! It was so wonderful watching her fulfill that dream she had – which is also a part of Xtreme Xperience’s mission of giving people the opportunity to do something that they normally wouldn’t be able to do.”
Although Hollie Heiser no longer instructs for Xtreme Xperience, her influence on our team has created a long-lasting legend for all female instructors who came after her.
Kailia Gramlich’s racing journey began like many other incredible racecar drivers – behind the steering wheel of a go-kart. At the age of 12, she saved up her allowance to take her father out to a nearby go-kart track, not yet knowing what series of events would lead to her racing career. As luck would have it, the track owner noticed her natural driving ability and invited her to the weekly rental kart league. After coming in second place amongst 20 to 30 other boys, the realization of her racing future became an inevitable reality.
After racing independently for about a year in regional races of Oregon and Washington, someone from the Italian Motors team asked to meet with Kailia. “He asked if I would join their team as one of the factory drivers, which was so exciting, especially since that was the team I was hoping to race for. I started racing for them that next season.”
Although Kailia’s skills on track were unmatched, she was still in an industry where adversity appeared in the form of gender.
“Back when I was racing in the SCCA, I really had to learn how to stand up for myself. There were times I’ve kicked people out of my pit area for very hateful comments. Some men don’t believe that women should be in racing, which is just awful.”
Kailia’s persistent personality shined through when asked what advice she would share for women interested in pursuing a career in motorsports, but were hesitant to take the first step. “Go full head on and surround yourself with people who are knowledgeable and willing to help. Keep pushing, finding resources, asking questions, and do all that you can to pursue what you want to do. I won’t sugarcoat it, it’s a tough field, but if you’re competitive and adventurous, it’s the best possible thing you could get into.”
Although the challenges women face nowadays are different from the past, there are parts of the motorsport community still learning to consciously accept the entry of women in the industry.
“Once more people start to see that women are just as welcome as men, the possibilities are endless. I think all sports are noticing the balance of men versus women is still so unbalanced. As more companies put their efforts towards investing in women and developing more females as instructors, it’ll only boost their confidence and turn them into that much stronger of a racer,” Kailia said.
“Before I hopped out of the car, he asked me to hang out a while so he could introduce me to some people, and he did. He introduced me as Xtreme Xperience’s next instructor.”
Kailia’s kind heart led her to Xtreme Xperience as she was gifted a supercar drive by someone whose life she had impacted greatly. Although her attempts of rejecting a generous gift failed, it placed her in the front seat of a supercar at an Xtreme Xperience event. “I hopped in the car and stayed quiet about my previous racing experience. As we were flying down one of the straightaways, my instructor told me I was the best driver of the weekend. I just had a huge grin on my face, to which he asked if I’ve done this before. It wasn’t until we pulled into pit lane that I told him I used to race in the SCCA,” she said.
Kailia’s humble skills brought her to the Xtreme Xperience family just a few weeks later, and we are grateful to have a woman as strong and encouraging as her on our team.
Who knew buying a car can unknowingly become the jump start of your career? When Jen Fuller purchased her BMW 425i M Sport, she was told it was an excellent car to take to the track – something she didn’t even know was possible. Up until that point, she had never driven on a racetrack, let alone instructed anyone. After a year of growing her skills, Jen became an instructor for Eagle’s Canyon Raceway, Edge Addicts, BMW CCA, local BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and Ferrari dealerships, as well as other HPDE organizations.
“I was really impressed that Xtreme Xperience not only welcomed female instructors, but they were actually actively seeking them out.”
With such a strong background in motorsports, it wasn’t long before Xtreme Xperience found her. “I had written a post on a Facebook instructor page about females driving at the racetrack. They were specifically trying to find qualified female instructors,” she explained.
Since joining the Xtreme Xperience, Jen has been challenging stereotypes by giving guests a new perspective regarding women’s abilities behind the wheel – simply by being her passenger.
When we discussed the struggles of hearing difficult comments she had faced throughout her career, she explained how she learned to reverse biased narratives into an opportunity to demonstrate what women are capable of. “I have the privilege of being a role model (or so I hope) for all the little girls who come to the track with their families. It always makes my day when a woman tells me how incredibly excited she is that there is a female instructor at an Xtreme Xperience event, “ Jen said. Both on and off the track, Jen advocates for the representation of women and their role in motorsports.
“Advertise women to help bring awareness to them. Provide the tools and opportunity for them to be visible to the public. I think that a lot of females want to go and do these sort of extreme things, but they may be more intimidated. Companies need to help create that comfortable and open environment.”
Recognizing that the automotive industry is slowly changing, she acknowledges that nevertheless, it is changing. There are ways that companies can show their support, just by letting go of how things used to be done and paving the way for how things should be done. “There’s people out there that don’t think women can manage pushing a car to its limits, but there are also people that wholeheartedly support it. It takes inspiration and support to continue the change. Women can sometimes underestimate their abilities and men can sometimes overestimate their abilities, but finding a middle ground would keep drivers confident, but also out of trouble.”
Jen was inspired and influenced by her first instructor, a woman who encouraged her to push her limits and never take no for an answer. She stated that it’s important to find people that support you, as well as finding people you look up to that can help ease your mind and develop a strong foundation. “If you’re feeling uncomfortable with driving, feel free to ask for a different instructor – whatever it takes to get you feeling like you can be a performance driver, because you can. Whatever you do, do not give up.”
Her passion derived from a simple car dealership interaction, to now being a crucial component to the Xtreme Xperience team. If you have the honor of sitting passenger in her car, or being instructed by her, she will assure you that strength is not a matter of skill, but persistence.
Xtreme Xperience Invites you to Join Our Team
Xtreme Xperience is always ready to welcome talented and passionate female instructors and technicians to join our team.
Whether you’re looking for a way to grow your skills or thrive in an environment where the love for supercars is the common denominator of this well-oiled team, this could be the perfect fit for you. No matter what your gender, age, race, or favorite football team is, we invite you to apply on Indeed or send us an email with your resume at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you at the track!