INDIANAPOLIS – The roles of women in motorsports took center stage at last week’s Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show, with a panel discussion led by groundbreaking racer Lyn St. James that included two high-profile women involved in INDYCAR racing.
Cara Adams is chief engineer for Bridgestone Americas Motorsports, in charge of developing the Firestone Firehawk tires equipped on every car in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Katie Hargitt is a former racer turned media reporter for INDYCAR television and radio broadcasts. Both sat on the panel for “Opportunities for Women in Motorsports,” along with Thunder Valley Racing president Karen Silvaggio and sports car racer Shea Holbrook.
All the women shared their experiences and offered advice about advancing motorsports career aspirations to the near-capacity crowd in the room at the Indiana Convention Center. The panel discussed building a brand as an individual, persistence in staying in touch with key contacts and doing whatever is possible to make oneself an ideal candidate for any position.
Adams started her motorsports journey in Formula SAE while studying at the University of Akron. The first time she saw an open-wheel race car was in the machine shop at the university. That’s where she caught the racing bug.
“I knew I wanted to work in racing form the moment I stepped into the Formula SAE shop,” Adams said. “I went through the University of Akron and tried to learn as much as I could about racing, and I tried to give myself as many opportunities to talk to people in the industry.”
Adams began working at Bridgestone Americas’ technical center in Akron, starting with the tire and vehicle dynamics team before moving to motorsports. After asking a Firestone Racing program manager what skills or traits the ideal engineer possessed, Adams dedicated herself to improving her skillset.
“I bought books, I studied on my own, anything I could volunteer for at work that would lend itself to any kind of race tire application, I did,” she said. “I learned as much as I could about race tires. When I went to the interview, they had no choice but to hire me!”
Hargitt was 11 when she met St. James at the PRI show. Hargitt raced U.S. Auto Club quarter midgets before stepping away from the race seat to attend Ball State University.
“Social media was starting to pick up, this thing called Twitter was around and I started reporting and being (USAC’s) social media/digital reporter,” said Hargitt.
Hargitt made a demo reel. Mike King, the former chief announcer of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network that covers every Verizon IndyCar Series race, came upon it and invited Hargitt to work at St. Petersburg for the radio network.
“There were no full-time positions at the time, so I just kept in contact with him,” Hargitt recalled. “I was emailing him at least once a week at minimum.”
That persistence helped her land a pit reporter’s position at NBC Sports for its INDYCAR telecasts in addition to returning to the radio network on occasion. She shared some valuable advice with the attendees.
“Along every step of the way, I’ve been a student,” said Hargitt. “I’ve been asking questions and, like these ladies (also on the panel), I also found somebody that I respected and I knew that they would not only be honest with me, but they would give me good advice.”
St. James opened the discussion speaking about her experiences and mentoring younger women trying to break into motorsports. The 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year offered a key piece of advice on the effects of mentoring those coming up the ranks.
“Every one of us can make a difference in somebody else’s life,” St. James said, “and the really amazing thing about mentoring is that the more you give, the more you give back.”