At the time of writing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just announced there will be fans back in house for the 105th running of the Indy 500. This is the news we all needed: That the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will not only be back where it belongs on the calendar for Memorial Day weekend, but fans can attend in person. For those of us in Indianapolis, that just feels right, even if you aren’t necessarily one to watch every lap of the race. Even if that’s the case, you might want to take notice of the female-forward IndyCar team that’s hitting the grid this year. Beth Paretta, of the newly formed Paretta Autosport camp has teamed with veteran driver, Simona De Silvestro to field an entry in this year’s big race. And while yes, you’ve seen ladies in team roles and female drivers before, you’ve never seen them on a mission like this.
And I’m here for all of it.
When I was approached to do a piece about Paretta Autosport for PATTERN, I couldn’t jump in fast enough. As a native Hoosier, loving the Indianapolis 500 is my birthright. But professionally, one of my first TV production roles was stage managing the announcer’s booth at the Indy 500. At that point, when I was 22 years old, it was game over. That first experience from inside the greatest race in the world was all it took for me to know I wanted to spend the rest of my life near it.
But what happened in the next few years, no one could have predicted—certainly not me.
Eventually I landed a job working for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series hosting a studio show and reporting at race tracks across North America. Then, in a classic twist of fate, I interviewed Tony Kanaan and a few years later I was married to him. Yep, that Tony Kanaan. But I’m digressing. The point is I continued to work for IndyCar in the years following which meant I interviewed friends, friends who are foes, friends who are family and everyone in between. The extent to which I lived and breathed IndyCar racing—because it was both my work and my family’s passion—was not insignificant. Even so, it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only woman in the room, because, back then, there were fewer of us in the paddock. A lot fewer. Changing that is something I’ve always been passionate about. So although I have an obvious favorite, anytime a woman hits the race track, I pay particular attention. And at this year’s Indy 500, friends, we are going to witness everything we’ve ever known about women in motorsports completely level up.
In anticipation, I spoke with Beth Paretta, CEO and Team Principal and Simona De Silvestro, driver of the #16 Rocket Pro sponsored Chevrolet (and 2010 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the year), about what this means for them and the sport we all love. Their answers to my questions are fascinating, not only because they’re breaking a glass ceiling but because they’re about to go head-to-head with men in a sport that is played like no other and at over 220 mph.
Lauren Kanaan: It must feel incredible to be weeks away from meeting a goal that’s been a long time coming.
Beth Paretta: It does. I had this idea at the end of 2014/2015 and I think it was a little early. The climate now is different, so the timing is right. It’s validating that this idea is working.
Simona De Silvestro: I think that’s what feels most exciting about this whole project: That it’s happening in my lifetime. I’m excited to be part of it.
LK: Why is now the right time?
BP: For the longest time, I would walk around and talk about the race team in my notebook, because it was all theoretical. When Roger (Penske) announced the Race for Equalilty and Change, I reached out. Sometimes you just need a guy like Roger to say, “she’s ok, she’s with us” and that gives you that push.
Editor’s note: Roger Penske is the American billionaire and IndyCar team owner who bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series in 2019.
SDS: Beth has been able to put this together so that we are associated with the best team out there. Having Roger behind us, him giving us the chance and believing in us, taking us seriously, it’s very important.
LK: Roger wanted you to be part of his initiative to help push for a more diverse paddock, but they are also a technical alliance of yours. So you’ll be getting their support at the track, correct?
BP: Yes, for example, our (aerodynamics) engineer comes from Penske. She’s on loan. We also have a Penske fabricator. So we’re actually woven into Penske now. They are treating us like the fifth car to take data from, so there is value there for them, too. We’re not just some distraction.
SDS: Just being associated with Team Penske—In my wildest dreams I didn’t imagine that.
LK: So there’s already a few key positions being held down by women. Is the goal to fill as many positions with women as possible?
BP: Yes, but it’s not about just looking the part. They are earning their over-the-wall positions. I have a couple that can do sub-4 second (pit) stops! My whole commercial side is women. Our spotters are women. We are looking at about 70% of the personnel being women.
SDS: It is great to have women involved, but it has to be done right. For me, I want the opportunity because I’m good and not because I’m a woman. Having people take the chance on us because we deserve it—that’s what I’ve really fought for.
LK: To do this at the Indianapolis 500 is a big wow.
SDS: For sure! I feel at home here. And the passion I have for the 500 just gets bigger and bigger and yet, in recent years, I didn’t know if I’d get back. But when you walk down Gasoline Alley and every time say to yourself “this is cool,” It’s… It’s just really special.
LK: Beyond the results this month, there is a greater mission coming out of Paretta Autosport. What can you tell us?
BP: I started feeling a responsibility to pull people up the ladder behind me, and motorsports is a wonderful platform. I want to create new fans. I want other people to love racing as much as I do. If we can captivate your imagination when you are a kid, then maybe you’re going to be a fan for life. And that helps all of us in motorsports. Because it also helps us recruit more talent. We need to start planting that seed younger, like 10, 12 years old. So let’s captivate attention, but let’s also be a resource in time. I’d love for our website to be a resource for parents who want to help cultivate different talents in their kids.
LK: Laying a solid foundation for future generations with the help of those who paved the hard paths before us. I have so much pride for this!
BP: You should! All of us pushed little doors open along the way. I want every woman who’s ever been in motorsport to feel like they’re part of this. And in another couple of years, I hope that us being a majority-women team is the least interesting thing about us.
If you want to see Paretta Autosport try to make the field for the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, practice begins at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 18 and qualifications are May 22 and 23. And if you do watch, you can be sure that the team of women you’re watching is also a team of some of the world’s best racers. Because only the best race at Indy.