Leadership / 04.12.23
Lady Ticketing Pros Start Your Engines — and Careers — in Auto Racing
This story is brought to you by the INTIX Women in Entertainment Technology Program.
For decades, the four most famous words in motorsports were, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Well, the times have been a’changin’, and for the better! In recent years, professional auto racing has made great strides in diversifying not only its fan base, but also its support of women in decision-making roles and all facets of the sport. Ticketing operations has seen especially encouraging progress.
Just ask Kari Gritton, Vice President of Data Strategy at NASCAR. She says, “Part of our vision at NASCAR is to build a globally diverse community of loyal fans. If we want our fan base to represent the rest of the world, it begins with our employees. When I started in NASCAR 25 years ago, it looked much different than it does today. NASCAR has four women track presidents at Chicago Street Course, Phoenix Raceway, Richmond Raceway and Sonoma Raceway. On the track, female drivers such has Hailie Deegan, Natalie Decker and Toni Breidinger are making names for themselves as they look to reach the top levels of NASCAR. And history was made at the 2021 DAYTONA 500 when three female graduates of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Pit Crew Development Program pitted for Cup Series teams. This change doesn’t happen without leadership at the top who is actively working to create an inclusive environment.
Kellie Leeman, Senior Director of Ticket Sales & Service for Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), points to a couple of initiatives launched in 2020 that continue to demonstrate that auto racing has improved its hiring and career support of women. “INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continue to set the pace and lead the field with the execution of our Race For Equality and Change diversity, equity, inclusion, access and belonging initiatives,” she says. “The program is a major effort to support diversity and inclusivity across the INDYCAR industry. A couple of key focuses of the Race For Equality and Change include recruiting and developing a diverse workforce throughout all levels of INDYCAR and IMS and diversifying employment, leadership and ownership within the SERIES and with INDYCAR promoters.”
Leeman, who oversees both the IMS Ticket Office and Mail Services departments, continues, “A second initiative, Women in Motorsports North America (WIMNA) launched by Lyn St. James and Beth Paretta, is a community of professionals supporting opportunities for women across all disciplines of motorsports.”
Dominique Fauteux, Chief Client Officer for the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, says she has observed a huge shift in the way women are portrayed in motorsports since Liberty Media’s acquisition of Formula 1 in 2017. One particularly bold move early on was the removal of Grid Girls and replacing them with Grid Kids. More recently has been the creation of the F1 Academy, a women’s feeder series to Formula 1 led by ex-driver Suzie Wolff. Fauteux says, “Here at the Canadian Grand Prix, we are proud to say that over 85% of our employees identify as women based on competence and merit.”
Among the beneficiaries of the progress that’s been made is Sandy San Nicolas, Vice President of Ticket Operations for Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix. As such, her responsibilities include working with partners such as Ticketmaster to ensure her organization’s events are built and programmed correctly to create a seamless ticket purchase experience.
“As a newbie to the auto racing ticketing world, I can only say that what I have experienced and witnessed is a very large number of females in this industry,” she says. “From my own leadership team, starting at the top, we have two very brilliant and strong female leaders, down to the individual departments that it takes to create an event like the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Not only are woman prevalent in our operations, but the Formula 1 racing teams also have strong and talented women who play key roles in their race operations. Times have changed, and the presence of women in sports has proven that this is no longer a male-dominated industry.”
Along the way, she and the other interviewees received wise counsel at key moments of their careers that helped get them to where they are today. “The best advice I was given was to speak confidently and come to the table as the subject expert,” San Nicolas says. “Early on in my career, I was timid and would not speak up in meetings due to my fear of public speaking or someone thinking that I didn’t know what I was talking about. My boss at the time always had the confidence in me that I did not have in myself and pushed me to do things that he knew I was not comfortable with.”
Gritton, who leads a team of strategic and technical analysts focused on advancing the consolidation and use of data across the NASCAR organization, says, “Some of the best advice given to me early on was to face difficult conversations head on. If avoided, it will only create more problems down the road. Acknowledge where different opinions or conflict exists, and take responsibility for mistakes.”
Leeman, meanwhile, says the one piece of counsel that has really stuck with her throughout her career is a Maya Angelou quote that a colleague shared with her. “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
And now each of our interviewed professionals is in a position to inspire the next generation of female ticketing professionals in their sport. Fauteux urges anyone new to auto racing who may be reading this to always trust their intuition and gut instincts. “And don’t overthink everything,” she says. “Never say no to an opportunity to learn!”
Gritton concurs, adding, “Be patient, stay positive, and never lose your curiosity. Steps forward, no matter how big, are still progress. Curiosity will unlock new ideas and challenge status quo. Keep an open mind and stay positive. The rest will take care of itself.”
For her part, Leeman encourages young women to connect with individuals who are working in fields or areas that they are interested in. “Once you make a connection, invest time to build and nurture the relationship as you build your professional network and advance in your career,” she says.
Still relatively new to auto racing, San Nicolas’ advice for young women was particularly wise: “Never stop believing in yourself and never stop chasing your dreams, even in times of adversity. You may not receive the promotion you thought you’d get on the first attempt. But sometimes that means it wasn’t the right time or the right position. However, in time, your perseverance will get you to where you want to be!”
And once these accomplished women have gotten to where they have wanted to be, the rewards have been many. In addition to overseeing all of the departments that have a direct connection with fans — but mainly ticketing and customer services — Fauteux is also editor of her organization’s official program. She says, “I love being able to make a difference in our fans’ lives by putting up the best show there is. People often think we only work a few months out of the year. But the truth is that putting on not only the biggest sporting event in the country but also the biggest touristic event takes a whole year, and it is so satisfying to welcome hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic fans at the circuit.”
San Nicolas knows exactly how Fauteux feels. She says, “A question I get asked quite frequently is ‘What do you do every day? The race is so far down the line!’ All I can say is, there is never a dull moment with the coordination between multiple departments … When I was interviewing for my position, I was told to think of the event as putting 20 mid-sized venues on sale at the same time, and she was not kidding!”
Leeman says the Indianapolis 500 Race Day is the singular dream part of her job, calling it the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing! From the cannon going off at 6 a.m. to signal that the gates and parking lots are open to the traditions in pre-race ceremonies to the green flag and watching the cars go through the first turn three-wide with a crowd of 300,000 plus in the stands and infield mounds … there truly is nothing else that comes close!”
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Tags: Leadership , Women in Ticketing , Auto Racing