In honor of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Pippa Mann.
Pippa was the first female pole sitter for a race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by leading the grid for the Indy Lights Freedom 100, an Indy Lights race winner, a seven-time Indy 500 driver and a commentator for IndyCar Radio. Still finding herself between the wheel, she’s also a driver coach and Athlete Leader of Shift Up Now. And, she’s the voice for Pippa Powers in the Mickey Mouse Roadster Racers series, which is a favorite of my kids.
Let’s talk about your journey. A racer, a driver coach and now the Athlete Leader of Shift Up Now and Shift Up Now Foundation.
When I was competing for the Indy 500, I was one of those racers always trying to secure their own sponsorships. I didn’t have a major marketing firm behind me and I didn’t have a huge team going out and raising the money for me. It was me picking up the phone, sending emails, trying to build relationships. I really, really struggled to land a big title sponsor. I always thought it was a “Pippa problem”. If I was better, if I was faster, if I beat more people, if I worked harder outside of the car, if I was better at marketing…I always thought one of these things was going to solve the problem.
As my career went on, the more people I spoke to, specifically women, the more that I started to realize this wasn’t just me. This was a problem being faced by many women working really hard, who had the results and who were trying to make connections. But the big sponsors just weren’t coming in.
There were a few consistencies. First, when someone representing a male driverwalks into a room, the first question isn’t… “Can he drive?”. And it seemed that no matter how many testimonials I had from engineers, team owners and sponsors, that still seems to be a hurdle for many of the more traditional companies that control the money.
The truth is, I am incredibly lucky that I had team owners that helped me run. Without Eric Bachelart, Dale Coyne, and then Larry Foyt, with Tim Clauson, and Richard Marshall, I wouldn’t have been at the Indy 500 once, let alone seven times, with the budget I raised.
Second, it’s not just women in motorsports, it’s women competing in all sports. Roughly 1% of the global sport marketing spend is spent with female athletes. People will give you many arguments as to why – lower audience numbers, smaller TV numbers, etc. Look at the last 12 months. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won their case for equal pay. They have a larger viewership than the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, and they have better results. Under the new TEAM USA Act, all athletes who represent the U.S. in global competition, like the World Cup, Olympics and Paralympics will receive equal pay and benefits regardless of their gender. The bill just passed in December of 2022.
One of my major passion projects is raising money for other women in motorsports. I run a group called Shift Up Now. Our goal is to find funding to support female athletes. In fact, we were recently able to announce the return of one of our biggest supporters, Bell Techlogix, an Indianapolis-based company, back for a second year. Bell Techlogix and I have worked together for over 6 years, with the last 2 supporting Shift Up Now. The sponsorship supports 5 athletes this year and is incredibly meaningful to me and those athletes.
There’s a big shift in the diversity of racing fans. Fans are more global and there are more women watching the sport. When will we see a shift in the racers we are watching?
Right now, specifically with female drivers, it’s a great opportunity for brands to get involved. Especially those that want to support diversity, equity and inclusion in this sport. There are more and more families coming out to races than ever before. There are more women supporting all drivers, and specifically female drivers.
There is research that women drive about 70-80% of household decisions. It’s a new demographic to appeal to, in addition to traditional race fans. At Shift Up Now, we want to appeal to all of the new and traditional race fans that welcome racers no matter their skin color, no matter their race, no matter where they are from. Those are our people. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been fans for 5 years, 15 years or 5 minutes. We want to celebrate the existing audience and bring in a new audience to the sport.
One of the things that is really interesting about women in motorsports, especially for newer race fans, is that motorsports is a sport where men and women compete equally. If you give men and women the same opportunity, the same funding, the same equipment, you are just as likely to see women standing on podiums and winning races as you are men. That’s a cool thing about motorsports that not many other sports can say.
Tell me more about Shift Up Now. How many drivers are you working with today?
Shift Up Now is working with 15 athletes in motorsports. Fifteen women we are working with, promoting, trying to find sponsorship and securing earning opportunities. That’s different then sponsorship – it could be social media, speaking opportunities, any opportunity to earn extra income.
When I was competing in the Indy 500, I would take an entire month off work to compete. That’s a month where I’m not getting paid, I’ve got these massive expenses where every single penny is going to make the race car run. The minute there’s one unexpected bill, you end up in the red. I came out every year, except 2019, in the red.
Even when you have sponsors to go racing, every dollar counts. How do you pay rent if you aren’t working because you are away to race? If you are spending your own money to travel because sponsor money is just keeping the car afloat, or you really need a new set of tires…what do you do? We’re trying to help alleviate that with earning opportunities that don’t require logos on race cars, but allow them to do social media or work with companies that have an interest in helping. Last year, we had several companies provide travel grants to our athletes. So, when someone raised their funding to go racing, we’d have a company provide funding to cover travel costs.
We have a group called The Momentum Group, that supplied a photography fund that helps two racers cover their photography costs for the season.
So we are always looking for those earning opportunities, while we are out there trying to find sponsorships and associate sponsorships for our racers. At this point in time, Shift Up Now is a small organization. One day, I would love for Shift Up Now to be a title sponsor for racers the entire way up the motorsport ladders. From the very beginning grassroots all the way up to the top – whether that’s open wheel, sports car, NASCAR. As we grow and we are able to add more team members, then hopefully we will continue to expand and do more.
Shift Up Now, operates in this traditional motorsports space, almost as an agency. Alongside it is the Shift Up Now Foundation, which was granted its 501(c)3 status in November 2022.
How can fans help support the Shift Up Now Foundation?
We have so many great athletes and you can learn about all of them on our site. We work with Sabre Cook, Erin Vogel, Sarah Montgomery, Loni Unser, Hannah Grisham, Laura Hayes, Amber Balcaen, Michele Abbate, Kelsey Rowlings, Sally McNulty, Julia Landauer, Ashley Freiberg, Ayla Agren and Shea Holbrook.