Sabré Cook is Challenging Gender Norms in Racing

Leave a comment

Read my story at Shondaland.

Sabré Cook, at just 29 years old, is the first and only female race car driver to participate in the Porsche Carrera Cup, an automotive racing series that takes place ahead of huge events in the Formula One category of racing, the Long Beach Grand Prix, and other race events across the country.

Cook also happens to be a mechanical engineer who’s worked in Formula One and IndyCar.She’s been a race driver since she was young, working her way up from go-karts to Formula Three and eventually the W Series, a Formula One feeder series for women that, sadly, ran out of money at the end of 2022, leaving the participants unable to finish their season.

For Cook, racing is in her blood. Her father was a well-known motorcycle racer who competed in both Supercross and motocross in the ’80s. When he retired, he got into go-karts, and brought Cook, along with her brother, with him. Cook discovered that she had both a real talent and a passion for going fast and began to pursue her dreams of racing professionally from the time she was 8 years old.It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however.

During her second season as the only U.S. woman in the W Series, Cook was hit by another driver during the first race of the 2021 season and suffered injuries to her lower back and hip, which took her out of racing for a little more than a year. Despite that crash and difficult recovery, she put herself on the path to the Porsche Carrera Cup and became a part of the “winningest team in Porsche history,” Kellymoss. In 2022, Victoria Thomas, one of the co-owners of Kellymoss, and a handful of the most renowned women in racing, including Lyn St. James and Katherine Legge, came up with an idea to get more women into the Carrera Cup and elevate women in racing. Together with the support of the entire Kellymoss team, they decided to run a competition to find the fastest and most accomplished women in the sport and offer one skilled woman a yearlong scholarship to compete as the first and only female driver in the 2023 Porsche Carrera Cup.

Late last year, the team conducted a competition, known as a shootout, between three female drivers. The tests included media interviews, repeated time trials on the track, and intense physical evaluations to determine the winner of the scholarship. After working very hard to come back from her injury, Cook won the spot and began competing with Kellymoss this year, steadily climbing through the field at each of the eight 40-minute races taking place around the country.

While the season is far from over, Cook has gained a lot of perspective on what it takes to be a high-performance driver and a mentor and beacon for other women and girls who want to compete at the highest levels of motorsports. She’s got high hopes and aspirational goals for her future too.Shondaland caught up with Cook following her races at the Miami Grand Prix Formula One event to talk about her path to success, competing in high-level racing, and some of the things she wants to impart to other women who are working to upend stereotypes in any male-dominated space.

ABIGAIL BASSETT: What does it take to compete at the highest levels in this motorsport, both as a woman and a race driver?

SABRÉ COOK: It’s the same answer for anybody that is a high-performing person or athlete. It’s years and years of consistent hard work mentally, physically, emotionally, day in and day out, and understanding the power of consistency and just taking small steps forward every single day.Physically, I usually train at least six days a week. We do various combinations of things, and that changes in season and out of season. We have different phases. So, we’ll do circuit training, strength training, neck training, reaction training.And then on the mental side, you know, practicing visualization, practicing certain drills, using the racing simulator to develop certain skills, practicing those drills, practicing a race weekend. I also work with a mental coach as well to understand things like what’s holding you back? What’s your default mindset?There’s so much that goes into it, and it’s all day, every day. That’s what you focus on.In addition to this, unlike other sports, there’s also a heavy focus on finding and maintaining sponsorship. It is a massive part because if that’s not present, then the rest of it doesn’t happen. A lot of my time gets spent on managing current partnerships, as well as … trying to build new ones and build the budget and everything for the next season already. So, media engagements, building your brand on social media — all that goes into just building this whole circus around racing.

AB: What would you say are some of the most significant hurdles or things you’ve had to navigate as a female race driver?

SC: The physical aspects, for sure, especially in open-wheel racing, like the kind I did in Formula Three — the physical demands are a lot. And as a woman, you don’t have that natural amount of body muscle. So, you have to push a little harder and work differently in order to build that muscle to be equivalent to compete with your male counterparts. There are just simple things like knowing what kind of racing suits fit your feminine body type. Like that there’s never going to be fireproof socks, Nomex socks, made small enough for your feet, or learning that the Nomex bottoms usually don’t fit right because they’re made for a man, or learning that the Nomex tops tend to be way too long because they’re also made for a man.

AB: What are some of the things that you’ve had to navigate in this motorsport that are different from, say, men in your position, men you compete against and compete with?

SC: As a woman in motorsport, you always have to be conscious of how you portray yourself and how you engage with people. Obviously, the guys, I feel like, don’t have to deal with this, but you know, you have to be very conscious of how you engage with someone because you don’t want to be over-engaging. You don’t want to give any wrong impressions. You don’t want to wear anything that’s a little out there or anything that you don’t want to come across as you’re too girlie, or you’re not girlie enough, because then, you know, it’s like you’re one or the other. It’s hard to land in the middle range.Say you wear a little more makeup, and someone always has to say, “Oh, wow, look at you today!” They always have to make a comment. Or if you’re not wearing any makeup, they say “Wow, you look tired.” You know what? Why can’t I just show up like the other male drivers? And instead, you just ask me, “Hey, how are you feeling today?”Then, learning how to navigate certain team members if they don’t treat you in a proper way. So, just navigating around that and learning how to reach out to your superiors and stuff. I think that’s a very different aspect. And then traveling alone as a woman, I’m very conscious of, you know, where parking is at a track and how far the walk is to the hotel or even walking to my car. That is something that I think most male drivers probably don’t worry about.And social media, it’s obviously easy for people to be whatever they want to be. So sometimes for me, that means removing comments, or not looking at the comments or rude messages, and you just try to ignore those. That’s just kind of how it is for this day and age. I think a lot of women deal with that. I appreciate the following on social because fans and sponsorship are the reason we get to race. So, I definitely appreciate that, but you do always have to kind of just be careful how you manage those interactions.

AB: Walking the line between being seen as a typical “grid girl” and being seen as a professional athlete can be tricky, especially when there are so few female race drivers out there. As a young and successful female race driver, how do you navigate that dynamic?

SC: I feel like as a woman, you’re usually one of the few, if not the only one, out there on the grid, and so there tends to be a little bit more of a microscope on what you’re doing.I guess for me, I just want to prove that you don’t have to be one extreme or the other as a female in this business. You can be in the middle. You can be girlie, but you can be masculine too. You can be your own true self. You don’t have to be too much one way or the other to be successful, and you can succeed just purely based off your talent, and your performance, and working hard. You don’t have to do any gimmicky things in order to get where you want to go. I think it’s important to set that representation for young girls so that way they realize, “You know what? I can just be myself authentically and be successful,” because honestly, that’s what the men do. They’re authentically themselves, and I think they are more free to be who they are.

I just want to prove that you don’t have to be one extreme or the other as a female in this business. You can be in the middle. You can be girlie, but you can be masculine too.

AB: What did you learn about consistency as it pertains to success, especially as you came back from the accident in 2021?

SC: I had to just get up every day and do the same PT exercises. Some days, I was gonna feel better, and some days I was gonna feel worse. It wasn’t linear. And just knowing that I had to get up every day and keep trying was key. There was no other choice. You can just sit there and let it continue to be the way that it is, or you can get up and do something about it. So, I think coming back from that injury was a big life lesson.

AB: What kept you going during those tough days?

SC: You just realize that not every day is going to be your best day. So, having that mindset with it. I also had an incredible PT team, and I was excited to go see them, so that definitely helped the situation. I also wanted to come back and prove people wrong and kind of just be like, “No, I can do this. I will be successful. And I’m not going to let this injury deter me from where I want to go.”

AB: What advice would you give your younger self or other women looking to enter fiercely male-dominated spaces?
SC: The limitations that get put on us are often within our own minds. That, and I think sometimes we need to be careful about our biases. Like, I’ve said, “Oh, well, they’re just treating me that way because I’m a girl.” And I just kind of self-check myself and am like, “Actually, no — that’s not what’s happening here.” And try to just always have a positive perspective when you’re going through life because you don’t always get to choose who you deal with, but you get to choose how you interact and proceed with that interaction. Try to take whatever bias may seem to be around the situation, and just kind of pull it away for yourself. Not for them, not to make it easier on them, but just for yourself so that way, you can just put less on your shoulders when you’re having to deal with difficult people.

Posted by

Abigail Bassett is a full-time freelance journalist, content creator, and television, video, and podcast host whose work has appeared in publications like TechCrunch, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Forbes, Fortune, Motor Trend, Shondaland, Money Magazine, and on CNN. Her passion is telling unique stories that change the way we see, interact with, and relate to the world. She is also a Yoga Alliance Registered 500-hour yoga teacher.

Leave a Reply