Keeping local flavor in autocross schools may be key in attracting more women to the sport
There has been a lot of discussion about getting more women involved in SCCA Solo competition. Being a low-commitment form of motorsports makes it an attractive option for those who aren’t ready to dive in headfirst, and being able to share a car makes it easy for couples. But the numbers haven’t been what many would like to see, and Mazda Motorsports, along with many others, is wondering what to do about that.
Toward that end, Mazda Motorsports Business Development Manager David Cook has been talking to SCCA members and staff, including Velma Boreen who, along with husband Raleigh, is in charge of Regional Solo Development for SCCA. She and Raleigh travel to various events around the country trying to improve the overall Solo program at the regional level.
Talking is one thing, but action produces results, and that’s what those involved are looking to do, taking several steps to try to bring the numbers of women in autocross up.
Velma mentioned ladies-specific autocross schools, which some SCCA regions, such as Cal Club, put on each year. But regional Solo schools seem to be a dying breed. “One of the SCCA regions we’ve worked with, Northwestern Ohio, they had one of the most successful schools,” Velma says, “but it’s probably been 20 years since they’ve done that. With the advent of the professional Solo driving schools, I think there are SCCA regions out there who say, ‘Oh, we don’t need to put on our own school; let one of those organizations come in and do it for us.’”
The drawback to nationally organized schools, even if it is a ladies-only school, is they can lose the local touch. A new competitor isn’t going to see her instructor at the next event and be able to ask for advice. “There is an advantage to having local people talk to local drivers, to say, ‘I’m going to be at the next event,” Velma explains. “If you want to ride with me, or you want me to ride with you, I’ll be there and I can help you out.’ We want to make women feel that this is something they can do, and it doesn’t stop after you go to the school. It’s just being a little bit of a cheerleader.”
Sometimes all it takes to get someone involved is to get them in the car. That’s one area where the schools can help. But sometimes simply offering a ride to someone who’s at an event accompanying friends or family can set the hook. “All of a sudden, she thinks, ‘You know what, I think I can do this. I know I can do this,’” she adds.
Boreen points to the Wendi Allen Scholarship Fund as one very successful program. The Wendi Allen Scholarship Fund was named and established by the family of Allen in honor of the multi-time SCCA Solo national champion who loved the SCCA Solo community and wished to give back to the sport by helping young women become more successful drivers and contributing SCCA members. Winners of the scholarship receive $1,500 to help with travel to national SCCA Solo events, and entry fees to those events are waived. Velma points to 2016 winner Cindy Duncan as a success story – someone who won the scholarship, competed in many national-level Solo events, and went on to win a SCCA national championship.
However, that scholarship applies to someone who’s already been bitten by the autocross bug. Getting someone out to an event to try it remains the critical first step, and ways to do that are what’s on the table for discussion. Velma hopes some good ideas will come from an all-ladies lunch at the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships in September 2017, but that’s only one avenue of discussion.
“We need to get the word out that this is something we’re doing,” Velma concludes. “We can talk about it within SCCA all we want, but we need to get some social media out there. That’s one way of getting people involved.”