Less than 1 percent of drivers in the history of Formula 1 have been women, and only 10 women have ever passed the Indy 500 driver’s test. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Jamie Chadwick, one of the world’s most accomplished female drivers. Chadwick won the inaugural all-women W Series in 2019 and took the title twice more before the series was discontinued due to lack of funding. Today, she’s the only female driver in the Indy NXT developmental league. “It’s a sport that should be available to men and women to compete equally,” says Chadwick, 25. “There’s very few sports where that’s the case.”

That’s not to say men and women are on an even playing field—or race course—just yet. Racing, Chadwick notes, “is a much more physical sport than people realize.” Drivers need to possess significant upper body strength to control the car and must withstand the immense G-force experienced at top speeds. “It’s definitely challenging as a young female driver trying to overcome those physical barriers,” she says.

Jamie Chadwick on Sept. 12, 2019. (Dean Chalkley—Camera Press/Redux)
Jamie Chadwick on Sept. 12, 2019.
Dean Chalkley—Camera Press/Redux

In the development leagues, race cars are also designed with the average male driver in mind, from the steering wheel to the distance to the pedals—not for someone like Chadwick, who stands at 5 feet, 2 inches. “One-size-fits-all doesn’t work so well,” she says. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to more women entering the sport is a lack of role models. “As a young girl, you don’t look at it as, ‘I can do this,’ because there’s no one doing it,” she says. “I’m a big believer of having more women, not just as drivers but mechanics and engineers.”

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Still, Chadwick remains hopeful about the future, and she dreams of racing in the IndyCar series and mentoring the next generation. “I want to be a part of this next step of getting more and more females in the door. And even if I don’t make it, hopefully there’s a whole crop of young talent that’s coming through that I can help.”

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