For race car driver Kelly Williams, “nothing can replace the exhilaration of driving a race car.”
Kelly first noticed cars when she was six-years-old and had a neighbor that worked on cars. She drove her neighbor crazy, having him explain the ins-and-outs of race cars as she learned how to work on them.
"I grew up at the track," she says. "My parents have taken me since I was six."
Knowing that a career in motorsports for a woman is a rarity, Kelly attended York University and the University of Toronto. After graduating with a BA in history and geography, Williams decided to get her education degree. She hadn't given any thought to making racing a full-time career, though, thinking at the time that she wanted to be a teacher. "But," she says, "my heart simply wasn't in it."
In both 1989 and 1990, she won Most Improved Driver honors in the Challenger division at Flamboro Speedway. Williams switched from Flamboro to the faster Mosport International Speedway in 1992. In 1993, Williams make her breakthrough as one of Ontario’s top drivers. She was a winner no fewer than eight times, and finished fourth in the Goodyear Challenge Cup Series and seventh in the Mosport track championship. She was also voted Most Popular Driver in the Challenge Cup Series.
1994, she moved to the CASCAR Late Model Series, the most prestigious
arena for stock car racing in Canada. She became the first woman to win
in that series in 1994.
She drove competitively until 2000, when the lack of sponsorship dollars made her unable to continue. She soon realized that she could still continue as a member of the elite Champ Car World Series Pace Car Team. The team, which leads all races in the series, only has female members.
"Women on the racing scene were unheard of a generation ago," she says. "They weren't even allowed in the pits."
Kelly was the only Canadian member of the team and for the past 15 years she has traveled throughout North America, Europe, Mexico and Australia for the 15 races that make up the series.
“It takes all you have to race, determination, concentration, stamina, and it’s an unbeatable feeling that only comes from being behind the wheel of a race car.”
The 36-year-old lives in Toronto, this single 36-year-old and fills her free time with supply teaching in the Peel Board of Education in her off-season, training staff on new product launches for BMW and Chrysler and teaching women about driving, car maintenance and safety through her Ladies Car Clinics. She is also an adviser on Discovery Channel’s Canada’s Worst Driver.
"No. I feel safer on the track than I do driving on the 401,” said Williams. “You're surrounded by highly trained drivers. Danger isn't any more a concern here than in any other professional sport like, say, football. I wouldn't race if I thought otherwise."
At Kelly’s Ladies Car Care Clinic events, women are taught the basics of auto maintenance. But even Kelly’s clinics have a unique and feminine flair – usually it’s 13 women gathered in an auto repair shop with food and wine.
"I'm not interested in making you guys technicians. I think it's important to know basic vehicle maintenance."Your car is the second-most-expensive investment you make -- but we don't take the time to know it," says Williams, who has already completed nearly 40 Ladies Car Care Clinics in tire shops across the country this year.
Williams knows cars like no one else; she hopes her knowledge rubs off on some of her students.
"What does the oil do in the engine?" Williams asks her students every class and usually does not get ar response. "The oil lubricates all the engine parts because they're all metal parts, so they need something to keep them lubricated just like our joints need lubrication.”
She then leads them through a hands-on demo where she teaches them how to check their own oil.
Throughout each session, Williams provides useful maintenance tips and asks the women the hard questions: "Who owns a vehicle with a manual transmission?" “What's a manual transmission?"
The next Ladies Car Care Clinic is in Woodstock, Canada on June 23. Additional classes will be available during the fall. For more information visit www.carcarecanada.ca or www.kellywilliamsracing.com.
by Linda Przygodski