The Honor of Wearing a White Helmet
Two hours until my race: “Battery Malfunction. Stop Immediately. Do Not Drive,” my BMW F-30 race car aptly named, Singer, shrills at me. My baby is holding on to her last breath in the Dunkin parking lot. Sadly, I’m forced to forfeit the race. Seeing no way out of this vortex of misfortune, my head starts to spin as I slowly and meticulously drive home.
One hour until my race: “Take today off and just watch the other races. No need to drive stick in my car if you don’t want to,” my father, better known to me as, “Tata,” consoles me. I agree. I’ve only driven a stick shift twice in my life and stalled both times. I started racing because of my Tata. It was a new and unusual sport that caught my eye. Every Sunday while he honed his craft, I followed seconds behind him in my own vehicle. But, “MidKnight,” my Tata’s E-46 race car, was a complex beast that I had never raced in. I have decided that I am not racing in my Tata’s car today.
Thirty minutes until my race: I’m racing in my Tata’s car today. The only other female members in my chapter just encouraged me to race his car because the mostly male competitors only thought about themselves when racing. Therefore, a stalled engine in MidKnight wouldn’t matter to anyone. To them, I’m just a teenage girl trying a sport that my Tata likes, which meant that I could never beat their excellence. Whoever said that gender politics and racing don’t mix must’ve had the privilege to only race cars to enjoy the sport. For me, racing is a constant battlefield of learning while trying to show the testosterone-filled helmets around me that a woman can drive and surpass them! So, I listen to Rachel and Audra, my racing idols. They have proven to be my mentors in the sport. When they coach me, it’s because they see something in me that I’ve yet to see.
One minute until my race: My red tweed porch pillows itch away at my back. I'm unable to reach MidKnight’s clutch and so I’m using the pillows to grant me four more inches of propped support. The other more seasoned opponents had helmets covered in stickers from prior races and events. I don a white helmet, with only one lonely event sticker embellished on the nape of it. My helmet muffles the roaring lion contained in MidKnight’s engine. My sore feet ache from racing shoes that are just one size too small for my feet.
One minute post-race: I did it! I finished only seconds behind my Tata. My body moved through the steps to the finish line as if I was a folkloritsa dancing on stage at my Slavic folk festivals. I swerved around every bright, orange cone, as autocross entails until each was left standing but stunned by the beast that sped by it. I am shaking with the exhilaration that only comes from a sense of accomplishment. I finished the course and triumphed. It’s hard to fathom that only a few hours ago, racing was not on my agenda for today. I had the opportunity to compete with a motley crew of older male racers. I really couldn’t pass that up.
Gender did not dictate Singer or Midknight’s speed. I did. I adapted to each track carrying my solo-stickered helmet. From this experience, I have found comfort in being able to adapt quickly to uncharted waters. Racing has aided me in becoming a community member that challenges the status quo. A day on the track taught me how so much can change in a matter of hours. I hope to use these skills as a student through the race track of higher education in front of me.