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GRACE Autosport In A Different Race

Beth Paretta and Katherine Legge talk about GRACE Autosport. [Russ Lake Photo]

Beth Paretta and Katherine Legge talk about GRACE Autosport.  [Russ Lake Photo]

 

Indy car racing has been welcoming to women participants ever since Janet Guthrie first entered, but made no attempt to qualify, for the 1976 Indianapolis 500. She finished 29th the next year in the Bryant Heating & Cooling Lightning/Offy but ended her 500 career in1980 after failing to qualify. Since then nine other women drivers have raced on the 2.5-mile rectangle with Danica Patrick (2005-2011) finishing third in 2009. Sarah Fisher has started the most races (nine), and remains involved in the sport as co-owner of Carpenter Fisher Hartman (CFH) Racing.

But a group headed by Katherine Legge and Beth Paretta plan to change the template for women who want to participate in the 500.

“For the first time ever, in 2016, at the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, we will have a team driven by women. From team owner to race engineer to aerodynamicist, marketing, PR and driver, each of the core team will be led by a woman.”

Paretta, the Team Principal for the newly the organized Grace Autosport, comes to the group having worked as Director of Marketing and Operations for Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles and its performance division, SRT.

“We will create and inspire current and future racing champions to get girls and young women excited about careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)…There is a critical need in this country for engineers. Companies are actively trying to recruit female engineering students, but we know that they will have an easier time doing this when programs like this exist.”

And how can Grace Autosport help in this process? “Where else can we showcase the most exciting example of engineering and technology but at 230-mph on the greatest stage in the world. Our success will lead to their success.”

Veteran open-wheel driver Legge will be the team’s leader on the track, having competed in the Indy 500 twice in 2012 and 2013.

The Surrey, England native has raced in numerous series worldwide from open wheel to sports car. She has also tested for Minardi in F1 and helped to develop and race the ‘DeltaWing’ entry in the TUDOR series.

“It’s going to be a new initiative from the point of view (that) there have been female drivers here before and there’s been female engineers, but there’s never been a team of all women,” explained Legge who in 2006 finished in sixth-place at the Milwaukee Mile in her first oval race.

“What we’re trying to do is make it a positive thing, get rid of the stigma of being a woman in motorsports and make it something that everybody is proud of.”

Paretta noted that the team does have a sponsor in place for the 100th 500, but isn’t ready to announce it yet.

“We do want the team to grow beyond the 500. We likely will have a team partner, and we’ve had a few of those conversations already, but it’s too soon to announce where that is going.

“Our first expansion certainly would be to do a full season in IndyCar. We chose this series because of the stage. It’s really the biggest message; the biggest race in the world.

“This is a ladder system, not just for drivers; we’re going to get a ladder where we’re going to be trying to cultivate engineers through the ladder; business, marketing, everything. In the past there’s been a focus on one discipline (driving), and we want it to be broader than that.”

Paretta has set her goals for the team quite high, and with a year to prepare has her eyes on a prestigious prize.

“We have a year now so we’re hitting the ground running. This all starts today and tomorrow. The Brickyard has been the site of a lot of firsts, and now we are adding to that list. But ultimately we know racing is about being competitive and winning. We put the team together to get there,” Paretta noted.

“We will work hard to compete at the highest level, and our goal is that by the end of the decade a woman’s face will grace the Borg-Warner Trophy.”

And who knows, that face might just be Katherine Legge’s.

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”