RACE car driving is a pretty niche sport in Malaysia. Even rarer are female race car drivers. In fact, there’s really only one right now who’s very active in the racing circuit. Her name is Geraldine Read.
Always a car aficionado, Read really got into racing after she won a spot on the all-female Red Bull Rookies team in 2014. After she and two other female drivers beat nearly 300 participants for a spot on the team, they were put through some advanced driving courses and competed in the 2014 Sepang 1000km Endurance race, which entailed a gruelling 161 laps around the Sepang International Circuit.
She’s now a member of Dream Chaser, an independent race team that partially subsidises the cost of her training and competition expenses. Racing is a very expensive sport, which is why she also has a day job as an oil and gas executive.
Read speaks to Savvy about what it’s like to be a woman in the male-dominated world of race car driving, her need to have a day job in order to finance her racing passion and how she hopes to inspire others.
YOU’RE A RACE DRIVER BUT YOU ALSO HAVE A DAY JOB. WHAT DO YOU DO EXACTLY?
Contrary to what some people might think, we don’t get any kind of salary from racing and sponsorship is sparse because it’s such a niche sport. So, really, the only way for me to support my racing activities is to have a day job. I work as a quality assurance executive in an oil and gas company. Basically I take care of their processes and procedures. It’s nothing to do with racing, just a job to pay the bills.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST EXPOSURE TO RACING?
I was more into cars than racing at first. When I was in university in Australia, I had a Honda Integra that I’d bought from a car show. What appealed to me then was the look of a car. I wasn’t really into performance or anything like that because I wasn’t yet a racer. The closest thing I got to racing was watching some illegal drag races there. But I liked driving. I was part of a group that was really into cars and I remember we used to go on long drives from Melbourne to Sydney, for example.
HOW DID YOU END UP IN THE RED BULL ROOKIES TEAM?
A friend told me about the search and suggested that I try out. I didn’t really expect to be selected because there were so many participants but I figured it was worth trying because even if you don’t make the team, you get to attend their driving courses, notably the defensive driving and advance training courses by the Asia Advanced Driving Academy. Very useful — definitely made me a better driver!
WHAT TYPE OF RACES DO YOU TAKE PART IN?
There are so many types of races but I do what’s called circuit racing, which means I only race in Sepang. I don’t do things like drifting, for example, which is a whole different thing. I race in what’s known as a touring car and the types of races I do are either sprints, which are just for a few laps, or endurance races, which is at least an hour but could be a lot longer too.
SINCE YOU’RE NOT A FULL-TIME, PROFESSIONAL RACE CAR DRIVER, HOW DO YOU PAY FOR THE COSTS OF RACING?
Mainly out of my pocket. I’m part of Dream Chaser, which is useful. They help me with the crew and the car, which is made available to me at a subsidised rate. I’ve also got some sponsors such as Rowe Motor Oil, Monspacemall (an online shopping mall) and Momentum Auto Parts. Every little bit helps.
DO YOU SEE A TIME WHEN YOU CAN DITCH THE DAY JOB AND RACE FULL TIME?
I think every racer fantasises about racing as a career but the only ones who can really do that are the F1 drivers. And that’s not my ambition, so racing for me is pretty much a passion.
SO WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS, RACING WISE?
I’d like to race internationally. Right now, my experience has all been local. To secure an international racing licence, you must have the experience — the hours put into racing. So, I need to really put in the time and effort. I’m working on it.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT RACING THAT YOU LIKE?
I think besides the thrill of racing itself, I like the challenges involved: The challenge of finding sponsorship, the challenge of defying stereotypes, the challenge of overcoming my own fears. How can I push myself harder and drive faster? There’s a great thrill in beating your own personal best.
WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?
Just money, I guess. But it’s the same for everyone. It’s expensive to race and most of us can only afford a few track days a year. I do have a race simulator at home but it’s really not the same as being on the track.
YOU USED TO BE A NATIONAL SQUASH PLAYER IN YOUR YOUTH. DID YOU EVER PLAY AGAINST NICOL DAVID?
I did! We played against each other in my very first Sukma Games. She’s a few years younger than I am and back then, her racquet was almost as big as she was. But despite my being bigger and older, she totally demolished me on the court. I knew there and then she was going to be huge in the world of squash.
HOW LONG DID YOU CONTINUE IN SQUASH AND ARE THERE THINGS FROM THAT SPORT THAT HELPS YOU IN RACING?
I continued to compete in squash until Form Five but then I had to make a crucial decision — to study or to pursue squash professionally. I opted to study. So, that was the end of my squash career but there are things from that period in my life that are still useful today. I think my competitiveness comes from my early training in squash. And also visualisation is something I learnt from my squash days.
UNLIKE MOST SPORTS, RACING DOESN’T HAVE DIFFERENT GENDER CATEGORIES, RIGHT?
That’s correct. Women race against men. There’s no women’s category.
IS THAT DAUNTING?
No, it’s a motivation. I want to beat the guys. I want to see how far I can go with this. I want to break stereotypes.
When I started racing, there were many doubters — people who thought I was chosen by
Red Bull because of my looks etc. But now that I’m actually racing and people can
see my performance, they’re not so dismissive.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE FROM RACING, SINCE MONEY IS CLEARLY NOT THE MOTIVATION?
I’d like to inspire other girls, not necessarily in racing per se but in pursuing whatever
it is they’re passionate about — even if
it’s in an area dominated by guys. Just go for it.
OFF THE RACE TRACK ARE YOU A SPEEDSTER TOO?
No, I’m a safe driver. On the track I push myself 110 per cent but on the road there’s no temptation to go fast.
Driving for me is just about getting from A to B, safely.
HOW LONG DO YOU THINK YOU’LL BE RACING?
I’ll stop when it isn’t fun anymore. As long as I enjoy it, I’ll keep doing it.