One of the first things you notice at any motorsports event is the large number of hardworking people there besides drivers and pit crews. We’re pleased to give you a look behind-the-scenes, which in this case means behind-pit-wall and introduce you to one of them. Her name is Pattie Hughes Mayer and if you watched any of the American Le Mans Series races, then you probably saw her at work and didn’t even know it. For almost nine years, she was a safety car driver for the ALMS as part of the Vitesse program. Pattie has since moved on to join Dempsey Racing but her motorsports career is best described as a lifelong pursuit. She’s been an instructor for the Mid Ohio School, The Panoz School and now the Porsche Sport Driving School in Alabama. In addition to leading race cars on the track and teaching drivers how to tame them, Pattie’s a racer too, competing in the SCCA Pro Rally Series, Women’s Global GT, SCCA’s Pro Spec Racer Ford Series and ITS class, BMW club racing and the 2013 Mint 400 with My Life at Speed contributor, Melissa Eickhoff. We caught up with her at the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway to chat a bit about facing new challenges in her career and how she juggles it all with motherhood.
Pattie Hughes Mayer: Back before the open-wheel racing series split from CART (Champ cars) to IRL. I started driving the safety cars for the CART series in 1997/98 along with some really accomplished race car drivers which was remarkable. Did that until 2003 and in 2003 came to the American Le Mans Series and basically realized that the cars were the stars sort of in that series, and they needed a program that would showcase how fabulous their cars were and it didn’t hurt that there was a female driving them. So we did that for almost ten years. I was one of three women. We actually hired two other women to be frequent drivers on our program and in addition to driving the safety car, which was the Porsche Panamera, we also gave hot laps throughout the weekend. It was really a terrific opportunity for manufacturers to showcase their off-the-showroom-floor car on a racetrack; and I have to admit, lots of time people would get in the car and they’d be like, “Ugh, I got that girl! She drives like my wife or my girlfriend…”and quite honestly it was always telling when the next time we saw them they’re like, “I want to ride with that girl!” and I think they really realized, you know that it, girl [or] boy, it doesn’t matter.
MLAS: You’re also a driving instructor. How did you get into that?
PHM: My Mom and Dad were both really into motor racing, still are. My father still races in some historic events and I just sort of grew up going to the race track with my family, so it’s something that I wanted to do. I started autocrossing and bought my first race car, built it from stem to stern and raced it in SCCA; and then did some professional racing and rally racing – just loved it. It was something that I enjoyed doing with my father and sort of was in my blood. I still instruct. I started instructing at the Mid-Ohio school and now I’m a Porsche Sport Driving School instructor out of Birmingham, Alabama. I did do some time with Panoz but I have two kids, so I’m also driving car pool Monday through Thursday. (laughs)
MLAS: Ah yes, I have seen photos of your son washing the car, his favorite car?
PHM (smiling): Yes, yes, his favorite car – the 911. We like all cars but we’re fond of the Porsches for sure.
MLAS: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced? Do you still have to prove yourself as a woman (in motorsports) despite your extensive background?
PHM: I don’t necessarily know that there is a lot of (pause) women are so much more accepted in motor racing now. You look at people nowadays like Danica or Katherine Legge, who have proven that gender is not a big deal, cars don’t know the difference. It’s something that works to our advantage sometimes. People don’t underestimate us much anymore. I think we learn differently. I think we approach things differently. I think we’re more methodical about how we approach something we don’t know anything about. I like to think that women approach things differently. They usually say that men will come in with a puffed-up chest [and say,] “I can do this” and “I’m the fastest” or this and that; but I want to be successful so I’m going to approach it very methodically. I’m going to be respectful of my teachers and of the car and so forth. To say that I think that women are better students? Yes, sometimes. Anyone who’s passionate about what they do (also) make good teachers. But as a whole motor racing as an industry is far more accepting but also inviting. I mean it’s hard to get money no matter how tall you are, how short you are, female, male, what have you – sponsorship dollars are hard to get.
MLAS: You drove the pace car for the entire ALMS season but not this time?
PHM: The company that I represented did not get the contract to (provide the pace car drivers) for this new series so there’s a bit of a changing of the guard. They’ve hired the Bondurant Group to do it, so they’re doing a very similar program to what we’ve done in the last ten years, and this was the first weekend and I believe it was successful so good on them! I don’t know if they have any female instructors or drivers or anything like that. I would be definitely interested in seeing if they have some women because I know in the past, I mean, women buy cars. Women are a huge part in all car purchases.
MLAS: Oh yeah.
PHM: We’re drivers, right? I mean, we love our cars. We love our sports cars so I think our manufacture partners: Porsche, Corvette, Mazda, Viper, to name a (few), enjoyed having some female drivers because that’s a huge part of their market. So this year I’m not working with the Tudor Series as a Safety Car Driver. I’m working with Dempsey Racing instead, helping with their sponsorship and marketing partners. It was appealing for to have me work with them based on my knowledge of the sport in addition to my relationship with Porsche, being a Porsche Sport Driving School instructor. They’re in Porsches for the next two years and it’s being with a great team I admire a lot, in a great car. So it’s “changing gears” a little bit. (smilingly) Now I still work with Porsche in Birmingham. I still race a couple times a year. I’m still dabbling in it.
MLAS: Which track was your favorite?
PHM: I have a couple. I really enjoy Road Atlanta ‘cause that’s sort of my home track. I enjoyed MosPort. That was the first time I’d ever gone there, this past year. There was always a conflict with school. I like Laguna Seca. I have a tendency to really enjoy tracks that have challenging corners, elevation changes. I think temporary road circuits are great fun when you have a passenger in the car because it’s so blind. All there are cement walls and guard rails and fences.
MLAS: Like Long Beach.
PHM: Yeah, like Long Beach and it’s just a hoot because people are just terrified. (We’re both laughing) They just don’t think you can go around the fountain that fast! That kind of thing, so I have lots of favorites.
MLAS: I know you guys went to Le Mans. Have you been before?
PHM: I have been three times. I went a couple of times in the past with the ACO. This was the first time I went with a team. My father actually competed in the historic Le Mans so that was kind of fun to do there. I’ve driven around the track. I’ve never raced there. I’m sure I can ask sooner or later. It’s on a bucket list. I would sure like to do it. It was amazing. It was an emotional year for sure but it was so rewarding. I mean it’s like this race, the (Rolex) 24 Hours. It’s the epitome of endurance racing. You have got to just keep going and it’s like life, right? You lose this job and start something new. Your life changes and you open a new door to something new to do and you pull on new skill sets to make it work for you.
MLAS: How do you juggle being a Mom and being part of the motorsports world?
PHM: It’s funny I was a pace car driver up until the time my fire suit wouldn’t fit anymore (because) I was pregnant with both my children while doing this, which was fun. I have a very supportive family who have all sort of grown up in the world of motor racing; and luckily only need to travel Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, once or twice a month which is nice. Their Dad is a huge help. He kind of gets the whole motorsports world so that’s helpful. Interestingly enough (the kids) are far more interested in baseball and lacrosse. They come to the race track and clean the wheels for the Dempsey Racing car. They don’t care much about race cars on the race track.
MLAS: (laughing) How old are your kids?
PHM: They’re ten and twelve.
PHM: So they’re older now but they’ve been coming (to the track) since they were babies. It’s just something their Dad and I do, right? They’re going to the Formula 1 race in Adelaide this year.
MLAS: Oh cool!
PHM: (beaming) I think they’re more excited about going to Australia than going to the Formula 1 race because it’s loud and they have sitting with stuffy people in stuffy suites. Rough life my children but it’s fun!
MLAS: (laughing and thinking that mothers in motorsports are the best thing since sliced bread)
PHM: I enjoy that I do something that’s very different, that is flexible and what I love about it is that I’ve been able to take my love for driving and my skill set of instructing and teaching, and take that to really, my children’s friends. I teach a lot of local teen driving programs for my local community, share a lot of strategic tips with fellow Moms whose children are getting their learner permits and so on and so forth. I get an occasional phone call of, “Oh my gosh, my daughter is just hopeless – please help her!” (Laughing) I do get an occasional call like that which is fine because I think you always learn better from someone that’s not your parent.
MLAS: That’s true.
PHM: In addition to that I have a medical degree that I’m using in the avenue of kinesio tapings. I’m certified in kinesio taping which is something that I do sort of as a complement with like a chiropractor or massage therapist. So when you were waiting for me earlier, I was taping Joe’s (Foster) neck to strengthen some muscles. He has had an injury in the past (in) his neck and worked with a chiropractor and a massage therapist, and I taped him to help with the g-forces and the load. Helped him to sustain and get the most support and muscle facilitation during his stint. It’s something I did in college. That’s how I made money to buy a race car. (laughing) So I’m sort of pairing the two back again!
MLAS: (Both of us laughing) It’s full circle with you. It all comes back around.
PHM: It’s great to be able to help the team out if someone has an injury or needs some help, I can just grab my tape and tape ‘em up. It’s great!
MLAS: I have a saying, “Change or die” and although you’re now involved in a different professional capacity, do you feel happy to still be part of this sport?
PHM: I am very happy to be here. It’s different, but when something’s different it’s like going to a new racetrack, right? You have to learn it brand-new. New car? You have to learn it brand-new, and so much of it is in your prefrontal cortex, like you’re really thinking through all the details. I’m learning something new and I’m excited about it. It’s fun to piece all the various things that are strengths of mine all in one and all the stuff I can offer; and I’m excited and I’m happy to be with Porsche and Dempsey Racing and RockTape and my children. So yeah it’s all good!
A Final Word
Pattie Hughes Mayer embodies the resilience and dedication of so many people in racing who consider this sport to be a way of life and absolutely love it. It was a pleasure meeting her at this year’s Rolex 24 and we look forward to introducing you to more of these fine folks. You can keep up with Pattie and her adventures in racing by following her on Twitter @phmguru. Also Dempsey Racing is about to make their second appearance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next month. You can connect with them in the following ways:
Official Website: http://www.dempseyracing.net/