Girl power: Female drivers flock to speedway

Female drivers at Beachlands speedway include (from left) Alena Johnston (17), Alicia Gillies (20...
Female drivers at Beachlands speedway include (from left) Alena Johnston (17), Alicia Gillies (20), Maia Johnston (14), Caitlyn Bennett (12), Madi Stewart (14), Ashley Bennett (14), Alisa Stewart (41) and Rylee Stewart (16). PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH
Girl power? You better believe it. Dunedin speedway at the Beachlands track has undergone a transformation in recent years as female drivers have flocked to the sport. There are mother-and-daughter combinations, sisters with a taste for speed, schoolgirls who are following the family tradition — and a driver named after one of the great racing venues. Half of the committee are women, and there are female volunteers and grade representatives doing their bit. Sports editor Hayden Meikle profiles some of the drivers proving the sport is no longer just for the blokes.

Alisa Stewart

Class: Production saloons.

Experience: Second season.

Occupation: People and culture adviser in human resources.

Why racing?: I love the rush of adrenaline and switching off when you are on the track. The kindness, inclusion and sense of family within the speedway community is second to none. My husband and both daughters race. I competed in quite a few ladies races (novice events), which got me hooked, so I thought one more race car couldn’t hurt. It also brings the added bonus of embarrassing my children.

Driving song: Fuel — Metallica.

Memorable moment: Winning Production Rookie of Year last season, and some podium placings.

Advice for females: You are never too old to start and don’t let the fact that motorsport has historically been a male-dominated sport put you off.

Madi Stewart

Class: Youth saloons.

Experience: Two and a-bit seasons.

Occupation: Taieri College — year 10.

Why racing?: The fun times had — not just on the track — and meeting heaps of people and making new mates. My stepdad and sister had been racing before me.

Driving song: Fuel — Metallica.

Memorable moment: Winning Speedway NZ competitor of the year for youth saloons.

Advice for females: Give it a go. Even if you’re not in it to be competitive, it’s an absolute blast.

Rylee Stewart

Class: Production saloons.

Experience: Four seasons.

Occupation: Year 11 at school, and I have a part-time job.

Why racing?: The people you meet, and how much fun it is. My dad and grandad got me into it.

Driving song: Thunderstruck — AC/DC.

Memorable moment: Winning my first race.

Advice for females: Go hard and have fun.

Daytona Helm. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Daytona Helm. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Daytona Helm

Class: Streetstocks.

Experience: Second season.

Occupation: Engineering apprentice, and hang out with my kids and family.

Why racing?: Meeting other people, the adrenaline of trying to go fast and having a beer after. I grew up around speedway, and after doing a few ladies races, decided I needed my own car.

Driving song: Kickstart My Heart — Motley Crue, or anything by Jimmy Barnes.

Memorable moment: Second in best pairs meeting this season.

Advice for females: Give it a go. Come and talk to some of the drivers after the meeting and see what it’s all about.

Savannah Simon. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Savannah Simon. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Savannah Simon

Class: Stockcars.

Experience: Six seasons.

Occupation: Year 12 at Taieri College.

Why racing?: Meeting new people, and making friends and memories.

Driving song: Shut Up and Drive — Rihanna.

Memorable moment: Rolling the stockcar in Cromwell at my first meeting.

Advice for females: Definitely give it a go, especially if you are a thrill-seeker.

Alena Johnston

Class: Modified sprint.

Experience: Fourth season.

Occupation: Year 13 at school.

Why racing?: The people you meet. The adrenaline rush while you’re on the track. Nothing else matters while you are out there. My brother started in youth saloons, so I thought I would give it a go. Dad used to race when he was younger, so he was familiar with the sport. He has started to race again over the last few seasons.

Driving song: Girl on Fire — Alicia Keys.

Memorable moment: Second in club points in productions for the 2020-21 season.

Advice for females: Just go for it. Get in touch with someone who races/pit crews and they will be happy to help you out.

Maia Johnston

Class: Youth saloons.

Experience: Rookie.

Occupation: Year 10 at Taieri College.

Why racing?: Family members racing.

Driving song: Don’t Stop Me Now — Queen.

Memorable moment: First time racing .

Advice for females: Just do it. You’ll enjoy it heaps and meet so many people — don’t let other people bring you down.

Alicia Gillies

Class: Production saloons.

Experience: Three seasons.

Occupation: Pool lifeguard.

Why racing?: Meeting new people and making so many friends from all over the country. I had a couple of friends who planted the bug, then Dad and brother got a car, which meant I was able to get one too.

Driving song: Bad Girls — M.I.A.

Memorable moment: Receiving most improved driver for the 2020-21 season.

Advice for females: If you have the means to join then do so. There’s no better time than the present. Start by getting out there in a ladies race.

Brooke Soper. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Brooke Soper. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Brooke Soper

Class: Youth saloons.

Experience: Third season.

Occupation: I work at Mainfreight and go to school at Cromwell College (year 10).

Why racing?: Going fast and the adrenaline.

Driving song: All Over You — Live.

Memorable moment: Rolling or winning my first race.

Advice for females: Always thank your sponsors, pass the boys and foot flat!

Lucy Greer. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Lucy Greer. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Lucy Greer

Class: Youth saloons.

Experience: Third season.

Occupation: Year 11 at South Otago High School.

Why racing?: Meeting a bunch of new people and travelling to different tracks. My older brother Harry raced in the youth saloon grade and my dad, Shane, and other brother Billy also started racing and that got me into it.

Memorable moment: Getting most improved for the ’20-21 season.

Driving song: Good As Hell — Lizzo.

Advice for females: Just give it a go and see if you like it, and don’t be afraid to ask around for help.

Zara-Lee Tuhura. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Zara-Lee Tuhura. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Zara-Lee Tuhura

Class: Youth saloons.

Experience: Four seasons.

Occupation: Year 11 at South Otago High School, and I work in the shearing sheds.

Why racing?: Dad [and brothers] Zaneo and Nico got me into it.

Memorable moment: Third in pits media challenge, third in Otago champs, third in young and restless best pairs.

Driving song: Red Light Green Light — Duke Dumont.

Advice for females: Don’t be afraid to give it a go. Us girls are just as good as the boys.

Olivia Glover. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Olivia Glover. Photo: SC PHOTOS
Olivia Glover

Class: Productions.

Experience: Second season.

Occupation: Just finished school and on the hunt for an apprenticeship in engineering.

Why racing?: My cousins, and how fun it was when I first had a go. The adrenaline and atmosphere, as well as the awesome people.

Memorable moment: Hitting the wall. It hurts.

Driving song: Girls Just Want To Have Fun — Cyndi Lauper.

Advice for females: Just go for it. It’s a lot of fun and you won’t regret it.

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