Monday, July 18, 2011

Emily Miller Talks Baja Racing and Off-Road Events

Courtesy Examiner: Emily Miller is a team driver for Rod Hall Racing. Trained by off-road racing legend, Rod Hall, Miller debuted as a team driver at the 2006 Baja 1000. She has been racing for eight years and has multiple podium finishes and wins as both driver and navigator. She holds the distinction of being the only woman to “ironman” the longest off-road race in the US taking third in the Stock Full Class.

Examiner: You are a team driver for Rod Hall, off road racing. What’s it like to be a female race car driver. Are there many females in your sport division?

EM: There are not many women. In fact, in one race last year, I was the only female out of well over 100 racers. It is great to be a woman race driver. I feel very fortunate and from a personal perspective it just doesn’t matter whether you are male or female when you put your helmet on.

Examiner: What are the challenges and joys of racing cars?

EM: Challenges – money, time, lack of interest and understanding of off-road racing and its forms in the US. Joys - Working as a team, personal satisfaction, the terrain/race courses are incredibly beautiful, the challenge of keeping focused for such long periods of time, the competition itself

Examiner: In what ways if any does gender influence decision making behind the wheel? In what ways is it an advantage being a female driver? What are the disadvantages?

EM: I believe it can be an advantage being a woman for the type of racing I do. I do longer endurance type racing, so being able to make smart decisions over a long period is very important. Finishing often means leaving the ego and testosterone at the door. I also believe women listen and don’t think they have all the answers. Being able to be coached and listening to your coach is key.

In driving, men and women compete directly against each other, which is fairly unique. As a woman, you are under the microscope in ways men just aren’t. And you are dissected in a way that men just aren’t. Driving and any sport can be a real poker game. The challenges of being a woman means that you often have to take all the speculation and talk behind your back and let it roll off of you. If you let it get to you, it will bite you and you will make mistakes by not having your head where you need it to be.

Examiner: George Phillips who writes a blog titled “Oil Pressure” recently blogged about Switzerland’s Simona de Silvestro, who was named the 2010 Indy 500 rookie of the year. De Silvestro, has been written about recently for three crashes she has had this year. What are some of the mental challenges de Silvestro faces not only her own as a race car driver but in satisfying sponsors, other drivers and fans that she is back on track?

EM: I really liked that article and it was very well written and fair. I thought Phillips summary didn’t take a subconscious or conscious approach about where she is mentally because she is female. He gave a lot of credit to her drive and talent and really brought up how important the entire team is in performance and the head space of the driver.

Every driver understands the risk when getting into the car. Since I don’t know de Silvestro, personally I can’t speak to what she faces mentally because I don’t know how she processes her racing experiences – positives and negatives. Plus, the racing she does is different and a lot more high-speed than what I do.

However, I can say there is a fine dance between patience and the short term. Drivers can be impatient, wanting results immediately. This year is part of her track record and moving beyond the frustration, the concern, the wrecks could take time. But the good thing about the old cliché is true – “time heals.” The tough thing is the sponsorship and funding game. She has a track record for results, is a great rising star and seems to have what it takes to move beyond the accidents.

Examiner: In your experience when a female race car driver of any of the types of racing has a dramatic crash does the media tend to focus the coverage angle on the driver’s level of confidence and whether she belongs in the sport? Does the media approach this angle if it’s a male driver?

EM: Well, we don’t have a lot of women racing let alone having big dramatic crashes for the world to respond to. However, when drivers’ abilities and confidence are questioned, it is tough to hear speculation by people who have never taken the responsibility of sitting in the driver’s seat and make comments as an armchair race driver. But that is just part of the program.

In terms of the question regarding women, I don’t hear “confidence” levels in male drivers questioned.

Examiner: Is the sport of car racing in it’s different formats experiencing an increase of female drivers?

EM: From what I can tell, yes. When I was growing up, women only did certain sports. Today, girls get to try many sports (at least in the US and other various countries) and have plenty of female athlete roll models. I also think parents and fathers are doing great jobs giving their daughters opportunities. I think women in car racing will continue to see great growth over coming years and it’s very exciting.

Examiner: What are the roads to entry into this sport for female drivers? Once a female driver establishes herself as a capable competitor what are the perks of involvement in this profession?

There are so many forms of racing that it is tough to say. Each discipline is so different. There are some fundamentals though – money, time, practice, great coaching, well-prepped equipment. From a physical and mental perspective, sheer mental toughness and solid physical fitness. I can speak from the off-road racing side. You can start when you are older, and it helps to have general life experience. I think life experience translates directly to decision making in off-road racing. We don’t get to learn courses, practice and memorize corners. It isn’t glamorous, it is hard work just to reach the finish line. If a woman wants to get into off-road racing, the best thing is to first go to the races and volunteer for a team to ensure this is what she wants to do.

The perks of involvement for me are being part of a team, personal satisfaction out of sheer love of driving off-road, but very importantly, getting to see parts of the world from a very unique perspective.

Examiner: What is up next on your racing calendar? How can fans follow you?
24 Hours of Paris (first week of September)

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