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Andy Knight, The Herald Bulletin, Feb 8, 2024 

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WISH) — Women are underrepresented in all areas of motorsports. The Della Penna Foundation is working to change that by exposing young girls to all facets of the sport.

It was founded by Michelle Della Penna, the daughter of IndyCar driver John Della Penna. She said for most of her life, she was one of few girls at the race track.

“Women make up half of the population and motorsports is an amazing sport that is a microcosm of the entire world,” Della Penna said. “Everything from engineering to mechanics to development to marketing to public relations to finance, there is all of that within motorsports and women are hugely underrepresented. Not to mention the actual driving component where, at the Indy 500, there is one woman on a grid of 30 people.”


Volunteers with the foundation took 15 high school girls from the Indianapolis area around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indy 500 qualifying weekend. The girls got to meet with drivers and technicians to learn the ins and outs of racing, and watch the drivers qualify.

“The organization itself is really supportive of bringing more women into the fold. Drifting is a newer sport and unless you have a family history of motorsports, it’s hard to get into,” explained Zandara Kennedy, a member of the driver advisory council and a Formula Drift driver.

Kennedy said she wants to be the person that young girls can look up to since she did not have that growing up.

“I have zero family history in motorsports. My parents don’t care at all about vehicles, my brother is not into cars, so I am kind of the only one,” Kennedy said. “I fell into it through stunts actually. I wanted to become a better stunt driver, so I started taking better driving courses and I learned about drifting, and that became an addiction for me.”

Della Penna said the goal is to show girls they can be successful in any role in motorsports, despite many roles being traditionally held by men.

“We focus on the ages of 5 to 16, so really girls that are starting to develop what they like to do to girls getting ready to go off to college,” Della Penna said. “If you’re getting ready to start thinking about what you’re going to be doing for college and if you’re introduced to STEM and engineering programs. The younger you are, the better off you have of making a career out of it.”

“I really want to see more women in all aspects of motorsports. As a driver, I see only two other women, but in the pits, there aren’t a lot of techs either. I know there are many women out there with the capacity or the potential to be really good on a race team,” Kennedy said. “My best friend is an engineer and she came out and helped me, and I just want to encourage more women to see themselves in any position in motorsport.”

Della Penna is a first-generation Argentinian-American who is passionate about creating opportunities for women of color.

“This is a total labor of love for me. I absolutely love it,” Della Penna said. “Motorsports is near and dear to my heart. I’ve grown up in this sport, and I just want it to look more representative of the world that we live in.”

The foundation is based in California, but has many opportunities for Indianapolis girls because of the prominence of IndyCar in central Indiana.


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