In its fifth year as a racing series, Formula-E has been successful in promoting competitive automotive racing all while maintaining a small carbon footprint and eco-friendly mantra. Moreover, its approach is consumer conscious and family-oriented. On both days, the E-Village had events and entertainment geared towards the next generation of race fans with a conscience. For this past weekend, Red Hook was converted from a quaint harbor-side town in Brooklyn to a bundle of energy, albeit eco-friendly. Every race fan and child that attended this weekend’s event thoroughly enjoyed it.
It was my lucky day. Not only did I get to attend and cover this incredible race, but I happened to run into professional racer Shea Holbrook and partner of Enel X, a global energy giant that recently launched a new electric vehicle charging division and asked her few questions about her career and future.
Downtown: Welcome to NYC, Shea. I see you are a bit of a VIP at the track here. Give us your personal take on FIA’s bold move in both promoting their Formula-E racecar series and also using it as a platform for sustainable-energy related causes.
Shea Holbrook: Thank you. It is so cool to be here while watching this series with the city in the background. I love seeing the technology evolve. We have gone from a situation where the Formula-E battery packs couldn’t last a race, and they had to change chassis midway through. Now, the technology has evolved to a point where, in just 12 months, the batteries last an entire race and recharge in an hour. Racing is the proving grounds for what will eventually enter the market. It’s a win-win scenario for the general public. The market is coming up with solutions for reducing our carbon footprint, renewable power, sustainability and now, cost reductions. Ultimately, the grid system will benefit from the technologies being developed here. These manufacturers and energy firms can either get on board or they miss the wave.
DT: In the world of motorsports, you’re a superstar. Who motivated you to attain such heights?
SH: I have a couple of different mentors in different aspects of my life. My racing mentor and with everything concerning the business of racing is Lyn St. James. Lyn is a 7 time Indianapolis 500 driver and had a very successful career in sports cars with Ford and General Motors and is now retired. She is now around 65 years of age and is now a grandmother and has a different purpose in life. When I was starting my career and looking kind of for a shining light to help guide me through this very male-dominated industry. And not even that, but I was so naive when I got into racing. It was kind of a blessing in disguise and because I did not know what was right from wrong in racing, Lyn helped guide me through what was right. She provided me with expertise, with great knowledge from her background, and then she also gave me a platform. Lyn ran Women in the Winner’s Circle and through her charitable organization I earned and won grants. Earning those grants allowed me to accelerate my career – pun intended.
DT: You’ve used that line before.
SH: I have. My grandmother is a mentor of mine as well. As a woman in this industry, you must play your cards correctly and you don’t want to be judged as somebody that is gaining traction and attention in the wrong ways. I want to be known as somebody that’s competitive on and off the circus. I would like to be respected by my competitors, and I often think prior to acting on a specific matter whether it would make my grandmother proud.
DT: How did you and how do you continue to succeed in this male-dominated field?
SH: In the automotive market, you must have a tremendous work ethic. You have to be able to get up day after day and be okay with the word “no,” because every “no” that you get is that much closer to a “yes.” That could not be truer as a racing driver. For me, I was always trying to be as resourceful as I could with all the simple details of my sport: How do I physically get to the track? How do I financially get to the track? How do I promote the longevity of my career? What is true in life but more so in motorsports, is to be resourceful. It’s to figure out what will work for you at the time. Because sometimes, there is no real right or wrong answer. Rather, it is to persevere through your work ethic. Growing up, I was a big fan of the movie Top Gun. Coming from a military family, we had a very Maverick approach to problem-solving. So I always stay true to myself and follow my gut instinct during such instances. By following this approach, I have found it builds your self-confidence and reminds you of who you are. Whether you are a professional racing driver on a world stage, or you are Beyonce, or you are a science teacher at a local grammar school, or a soccer coach, somebody is looking up to you. Knowing that makes you want to make the world a better place. Another quality I try to always follow is being truthful to myself. For example, if I have a bad day at the track, I talk about it openly. That transparency is a little bit therapeutic for me and just getting it off my chest helps me to overcome that obstacle. Excelling within this industry entails more than just the physical drive. There is a mental component and having passion. You can be the most physically fit person on the race track, but if you are not also mentally strong, you will not succeed. To be clear, you need the great engineering and mechanical support, but if you don’t have that raw passion to just get out there and do whatever is necessary, you might fall short. In racing, you cannot hide. You are racing against the clock, and the sport is so visible. So transparent.
DT: Racing requires a tremendous amount of focus and concentration, what do you do to hone those skills?
SH: That’s a great question. There has always been a debate as to whether racing drivers are athletes. We have to withstand some of the most vigorous environments while wearing fireproof multi-layers. During a recent race with Super Trofeo Lamborghini, the interior of my car got to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The bottom of my shoe sole actually started to melt. Now in Formula 3 racing, there is a great deal more physicality – especially upper body strength. Sometimes we have to withstand up to 2 lateral G forces under braking. So to answer your question, I combine weight resistance training as well as cardio. I work at the local YMCA. I utilize their cardio classes. I do a cardio blast where my minimum heart rate should be 150 beats per minute, and my maximum heart rate needs to be as close to 190 while training. I maximize my heart rate by doing interval training. While at the gym, I need to withstand an average of 174 beats per minute over 35 minutes from a cardiovascular workout because that’s what I’m trying to replicate in the racecar. I do a lot of weight training with a strong focus on my neck muscles. The cars that I drive create a great lateral stress so my muscles need to support those forces. There is so much talk about the physical aspects, but mental preparation and imagery is also critical. It’s one thing to prepare for the weekend, but you also have to visualize the winning that weekend. If you cannot visualize winning, how do you know what that feels like when you’re out there? You need to have mental imagery also because I am not always training within the car. It’s hard to practice as we are not in the car as regularly as we would like. I do quite a bit of simulator training, especially during the offseason. It’s what you do in the dark hours that separate the competitors from the champions.
DT: What’s in store for you once you end your racing career?
SH: Yeah, I have definitely given it some thought. At this point in my career, I am not comfortable with moving on to Shea 2.0. I still have more to accomplish as Shea 1.0. I love driving. I’m not a gearhead. I’m an adrenaline junkie. I love taking a piece of machinery and dancing the tango with it. The car should be an extension of you. You are utilizing mechanical mechanisms to do your bidding. Sometimes everything goes right during a weekend. No mechanical failures and the team works in perfect unison. That’s a perfect weekend. There is some luck involved in a perfect weekend. However, to answer your question I also do love the business side of racing. The thrill of the deal! I am a social person so I enjoy the sponsorship events, the fundraising and the corporate side of racing. I see myself within the business side of racing for years to come.
DT: For my final question, I am going to be selfish and ask a racing related question.
SH: Wait, you want to know if I have ever urinated in my jumpsuit…
DT: I would never ask such a vulgar question… wait, have you?
SH: C’mon, if you have to pee while driving you’re not sweating enough.
DT: So, it’s your last race and you can choose the type of racecar and venue? Your swansong.
SH: Single seat series at The Indy 500. I’m a proud American so I would love for it to be in the heart of America with a fighter jet flyover.