Interview with Sarah Levenson, Grid Clique & Pitlane Parley
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Podium Life caught up with Sarah Levenson to chat turning your passion into your work, creating a welcoming space for fans and more!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! I’m Sarah, a consultant in the motorsports and tech space. I was born in Boston, grew up in Connecticut, and have since lived and worked in nearly ten cities around the US and UK. I moved to Miami two years ago to form Blue Flag Communications, a PR and Marketing agency dedicated to helping individuals and leaders connect with their audience through communications strategy. Outside of my business, I am the co-founder of Grid Clique, an online community dedicated to creating a safe space for women and other under-represented groups in motorsport, as well as co-host of the Pitlane Parley podcast.
Even though my life has revolved around racing for years, it wasn’t popular in the tri-state area of the Northeast where I grew up, and I was only introduced to it when a close friend of mine in college was sick of being the only girl going to her friends’ viewing parties. She taught me everything about Formula One through YouTube highlights and live race crash courses (the difficulties of the pre-Drive to Survive era) so I would become a fan and join her. Since then, I’ve been hooked.
What advice do you have for others trying to break into racing?
This sounds cliché, but networking really is the key to success in this industry. There are so many kind and compassionate people in the sport who are willing to broker introductions or share information on how to best approach personal goals. The more people you know, the more likely you’ll eventually get connected to the right person, team, or role.
Above all else, it’s important to be open and transparent about what you want. I source part of my success to the fact that I wouldn’t shut up about racing to whoever would listen – and when my friends and colleagues got tired of me, I turned to social media. If you don’t speak up on what you’re passionate about, then potential employers will have no way of knowing about the knowledge you hold. As one of my close colleagues says frequently (as well as the greatest literary genius of our time, 2 Chainz), “Closed mouths don’t get fed, you need to speak up.”
While I read a lot of racing-related books (I’m currently on The Art of Racing in the Rain and No Limits) my favorite book of all time is The Testament by John Grisham. It’s about a lawyer struggling with alcoholism who has been tasked with finding a multi-billionaire’s estranged illegitimate daughter – a missionary in the remote jungle of Brazil – all while he fights his own battle to stay sober and keep his certification to practice law. It sounds complicated but it’s a really powerful story on how anyone can accomplish anything they set their mind to. (That’s not a spoiler of how it ends, read it and trust me.)
Best thing about your job? Most frustrating thing?
If you could believe it, I actually put off working in motorsport while I was building my career in marketing for music, luxury beauty, software, AI, and industrial tech companies (not quite the linear path as you can tell). I was so scared of killing my love of motorsports by turning my passion into a paycheck that I stayed a fan for years before I even considered turning it into my career. But ultimately, it was my friends in the industry who finally convinced me that this is my passion for a reason – and that if I truly cared about the future of the sport (something I wouldn’t shut up about) that I would thrive in the business. I’m not sure I can choose one best thing, but I think it’s the combination of both the massive opportunity within the future of the sport, as well as the people who I’m grateful to spend time with every day on track.
As for the most frustrating thing… seeing incredibly talented people not getting the opportunity they deserve because of funding. Motorsports is one of the only sports in the world where the key players are fully dependent on getting individual sponsorship in order to participate. Team sports like soccer and American football are able to pick and choose their players based on skill, because their funding comes from elsewhere. Versus in motorsport, it doesn’t always matter how talented someone is – if they are unable to secure funding because of their socioeconomic background or access to the right network, they might not be able prove their skills on track. However, the opportunity to create change in this arena is unparalleled, and I hope that the work we’re doing in the background will revolutionize how this works in the future.
Who has been your favorite interview/guest on Pitlane Parley?
It’s hard to choose just one! I am grateful for every interview we get to do for Pitlane Parley, as in my day-to-day job, I am usually on the other side of the microphone helping to set up media opportunities and coach and guide the drivers.
Being on the media side has given me the incredible opportunity to get to know a number of drivers across series and teams. While I don’t like to play favorites, we were honored to have the opportunity to interview Tom Blomqvist following his win at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona last January. That race in particular was an incredibly special one for myself and the Pitlane team, and hearing about that win from Tom and having the opportunity to interview him a number of times following that race reminded me just how special this sport is and how thankful I am to work in this industry. His trajectory this year has incredible to witness – from his team’s wins throughout the season, to his inaugural run in IndyCar, to the recent announcement of his full time drive in the series next year – being able to witness history in the making is something I pinch myself about every race.
Grid Clique is a safe space for everyone in motorsports. Can you talk a little more about that?
Grid Clique is an online community founded by my partner Samantha Manto and I back in 2021. Her and I met on Clubhouse, a flash-in-the-pan app that went viral during the pandemic, where anyone around the world could host audio-only conversations on any topic. Of course we found each other in a Formula One-based room, and we soon noticed that while there were hundreds of women listening in on the conversations, they were too afraid to share their thoughts because they were “new fans” or scared of being told their opinions weren’t valid.
Us two, along with a few other women in the room, created a space so that anyone could feel comfortable sharing their voice – no matter their gender, background, or when they got into the sport. We eventually transitioned to Instagram to better engage with our audience, hosting interviews with behind-the-scenes experts in the paddock like Jess McFadyen, Ariana Bravo, and Steph Turner (among many others) with the purpose of showcasing that representation for women and people of different nationalities and races DO exist – it just needs to be brought to the forefront. That’s why we’re called Grid Clique, we want to redefine the meaning of ‘Clique’ so that everyone feels welcome.
Our passion of promoting diversity within motorsports has allowed us to work with incredible organizations like NASCAR and IndyCar, driving their DEI initiatives and providing a space for them to better connect with their old and new fanbases alike. There’s also so much in the works for 2024 – stay tuned!
What’s your favorite race track?
For the racing? Probably Monza. There have been so many unexpected outcomes there that it’s one of the races I look forward to most every season.
For the vibes? I love Austin – it’s the perfect mixture of a fun city (always gotta stop at Pete’s Piano Bar) AND a sick race track (the elevation and turning radius of Turn 1 at COTA is hard to comprehend until you’ve seen it in person). It is also on my bucket list to climb to the top of Eau Rouge at Spa and I’ve heard amazing things about Road America – but I have yet to go to either myself, so I’ll keep you posted on those!
For myself personally? Daytona holds a special place in my heart. The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona was the first non-F1 race I worked at, and I was blown away watching some of the coolest racing I’ve seen in a series I didn’t know much about – I seriously think I spent two weeks binge watching YouTube videos trying to get a handle on IMSA and WEC ahead of the race. It’s shocking to think that not even a year ago I hadn’t attended anything other than an F1 race, and now I am on-track (pun intended) to work 13 races across IndyCar, NASCAR, IMSA and WEC in 2023. Daytona was a pivotal moment for me and my career, so I’d have to say it’s my favorite overall.
If you could win the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans or Monaco GP, what would you pick and why?
Oh gosh. I don’t get stumped easily… but I would have to say Le Mans. While no racing is easy (I could only imagine, as I have yet to step foot in a race car myself thank god), there are so many additional factors you have to endure during a 24 hour race: other classes of cars on track you have to avoid (and you hope will avoid you), swapping between closed public roads and a professional race track, ever-changing strategy decisions as cars fail and crash, inclement weather, teammates and driver changes… the list goes on, all while most likely being awake for 30+ hours straight with too much adrenaline to sleep. All of this, added with the months of preparation that go into just one race? Yeah, that would make it the most valuable win for me.
What’s next in your career?
This year has taken me in directions I could never have imagined, so it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next! I do know that I am continuing to grow my business with the goal of helping teams, drivers, and series find gaps in their strategy and stepping in to fill those gaps – whether through PR, media training, sales enablement and sponsorship, overarching corporate strategy, social media, or events.
As for Grid Clique, we’re partnering with a major series to end this year with a bang, and have some pretty lofty goals for 2024!
Any final words?
If anyone has any personal questions on the industry or wants to reach out, my inbox is open! You can find me on Instagram @SarahLev__ and you can join our group chats on @GridClique. If IndyCar is your thing, you can find the @PitlaneParley crew on Twitter and through our weekly podcasts. If you want to learn more about Blue Flag Communications, you can find us on our Website or reach me at email@example.com.