Women take the wheel and the tool kit

When I was helping my dad build his car, he and his friends made inappropriate comments, saying that I did not understand anything.

  • 3 years ago
  • June 22, 2021
4 min read
At work at Vitarti At work at Vitarti. | Courtesy Paula Salazar
Paula Salazar
First-person source
Paula Salazar is 22 years old. She has been in the world of motorsports since she was born and, despite the fact that her father never wanted to help her because she was a woman, she managed to become a mechanic for a competition team and pursues her dream of being a driver.
The first woman to compete in a motorized race was Hélène van Zuylen, who completed the Paris-Amsterdam-Paris race in 1898.

The second female driver was Camille du Gast, who participated in the Paris race —Berlin from 1901 aboard a 20-hp Panhard-Levassor.

However, Dorothy Levitt is the pioneer for being the first female driver to win a motor competition in 1903 and for being the first driver of an official team in 1904 for the Hereford 1000 Mile Trial in England.

Additionally, she held world records for driving and speed for women and won several motor racing and motor boating competitions. She was an activist for the rights of women to drive, a writer, and a journalist.

SAN MARTIN, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina — My passion for motorsports existed for as long as I can remember. When I was born, my dad was already racing cars. I grew up amid the roar of the engines, and I loved it.

Today I am a mechanic, and I am on my way to becoming a driver.

Passion for cars

When I was 10 years old, I asked my father to teach me how to drive a go-kart, but he did not support me because I am not a man. 

I watched as my friends started driving, and I kept my dream alive even though he would not let me be a part of that world.

He said that cars were not “girly things,” and I suffered a lot. It was painful to hear those words from my dad. 

At that time, I did not realize the discrimination women experienced in motorsports. As time went on, it became more and more noticeable. As I grew older, I began to feel the discrimination.

When I was helping my dad build his car, he and his friends made inappropriate comments, saying that I did not understand anything. I endured that abuse until I was 16.

They took all the desire out of me, and my frustration grew. I believed it was almost impossible to dedicate myself to the field of motorsports. I lost interest in watching races on television because it made me sick.

It was hard to let go of my passion.

Paula Salazar
Paula Salazar hard at work. | Paula Salazar

Back on track

It was after I became financially independent that I could regain my strength of conviction.

At eighteen, I decided to study mechanics to build a car and race on my own.

After I enrolled in the course, the unfortunate comments returned.

I could hear people saying, “What is this girl doing here?” I did not care. My dream was more important.

I started preparing my car to race on the same team as my dad, although I would not compete against him. I would be in another class.

Important relationships

Little by little, many doors opened for me. I met several mechanics and people who wanted to help me with my project. 

That is how I met Tamara Vital, who started the Vitarti Girl’s Team, the first all-female team to take part in Argentina’s national racing competition.

Few women existed in motorsports, so we all knew each other well.

Vital decided to put together the Vitarti Project to compete in the Top Race Junior category and called me to be a part of it. Still, I had to postpone my debut to focus on finishing my car because of work and study.

In the Top Race, we feel more included. They treat us as equals for the most part, although mansplaining is never lacking!

Many people still think we women cannot understand racing or know about the mechanics of cars.

Honest mechanics, those who know the field, do not make that discrimination. They understand that we learn certain things by doing them, and they are supportive.

While the discrimination has affected me less over time, my father’s comments hurt me the most. I carry that disappointment from the lack of support during my early years.

Fortunately, today he has changed a lot. He stands with me now in my achievements.

A Bright Future for Girls in Motorsports

I believe the continuation of our projects will open doors for many women. I dream of creating mixed teams that women can join. I hope, in the not-too-distant future, more and more women will be working in motorsports.

I still have not firmly defined what my role will be. I know I want to be in the industry, but I am not sure if it will be as a mechanic or a driver.

From the time I was a little girl when I heard the noise of the engines, my world felt complete. I know whatever I decide, that feeling will accompany me for the rest of my days.

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