Miscellaneous / Noteworthy Nellies

Challenging femininity: Anna He, race-car driver, adrenaline junkie

Pictured here: Anna He of Team SGR. (Lisa Cumming/McClung's)

Professional driver and teacher Anna He, owner of Team SGR. (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

No one can ever tell Anna He that cars are just for boys.

As someone without a license, I never understood why cars were so appealing. One single minute on the race track proved me wrong.

Considering the fact I like my feet firmly planted on the ground, the endeavour took a bit of convincing. Anna is a professional driving coach and the current owner of Team SGR. “You have to,” she urged me, “You’re here, I’m going to make you love cars.” She got all of her driving acquaintances to chime in as well. After a few minutes of this I broke down and agreed. Anna’s professional car was in the shop, so a friend of hers took me out in his car.

Driving a race car truly is an art form, one that I will certainly never overlook again.

After many laps around the Canadian Tire Motorsports Park Track, the car pulled back in to the parking space. Despite the initial feeling of nausea when exiting the car, I can’t wait to be the driver one day.

Team SGR is a club for people who have a passion for all things cars. There is no membership fee, and you don’t even need a car to join. Team SGR focuses on running driving events and car clinics focused on basic care, maintenance, and repair of cars for anyone interested. Before Anna took over Team SGR in 2004, the association was called Sweetie Girl Racing. She rebranded it as Team SGR to reach a broader audience of people, and to be taken more seriously in the performance driving sector.

On the track, even when she’s with first-time students, Anna remains calm and supportive. Off the track, she fits right in with a group of other drivers, all of them ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the aesthetics and specifications of the coveted race car called, The Radical.

Professional driver and teacher Anna He stands beside a well-known race car: the Radical. Anna started loving car culture at an early age, and has been involved with the rebranded Team SGR since her early 20s. (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

“We really love adrenaline,” said Anna. “We find that once you get that connection with someone who is into cars, and you can’t stop talking about it, it consumes you and you love it and it’s great. It’s a lot of awesome people I’ve met over the years that have really been foundational to forming this great place.”

Anna sits with one of the official drivers of the Radical. (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

When Anna first started in the professional driving industry she was in her mid-20’s. She recalls that, not only her family and friends, but almost anyone she told really didn’t understand what she was getting in to.

While her official car was in the shop for repairs, Anna stopped to take pictures in and out of the Radical. She described herself as a “tomboy” from an early age, and talks about her connection with cars growing up. “It just kind of grew on me, having my own car one day and being free.” (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

Anna remembers facing certain auto-mechanics at the shops she worked with who would doubt her ability to race. “I would say,  No, actually I’m going racing.” She laughs, “I think I’ve gotten to the point [now], personally and professionally, where I like to think I’m being taken seriously.”

Anna sits in the Radical. (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

Team SGR, although not exclusively for women, aims to empower, embrace, and encourage the underdog female driver because the professional driving and racing sector is stereotypically seen as male-dominated.

“It’s really not a movement for girls in pig-tails with Barbie-pink coloured cars,” said Anna. “It really represents that women— not only as drivers, but consumers—are a force to be reckoned with, especially when it comes to the automotive industry and purchasing power.”

Drivers often engage in friendly competition on the track during the Third Gear events. The event is catered to those interested in improving their driving and confidence behind the wheel. (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

According to a poll compiled by ESPN, 40 per cent  of NASCAR fans are female, yet  currently, only six women  take part in the popular sport franchise’s races. Similarly, BBC reported that in the 62 years the Formula One World Championship has existed, only five women have entered a grand prix. This is compared to 822 men. Female competitors in the automotive sports industry are scarce compared to men.

Danica Patrick, winner of the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver , is one of those women. Patrick has been featured in Sports Illustrated, SHAPE, and ESPN the Magazine, along with being a model and an actress. Her exposure to the public eye has earned her many supporters.

“For every Danica Patrick, people think of her as the girl in the bikini on Maxim, there is… and countless other ones,” said Anna. “Those are the names people aren’t aware of. They aren’t on the front page of the news, they aren’t sensationalized. [But] it’s great to know they exist.”

A Porsche races around the track. In the distance you can hear cheers and exclamations of excitement from other drivers. (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

Team SGR has allowed female drivers a solid place in the professional driving circuit. The environment is free of judgement and gives women (and, sometimes men) the ability to pursue driving either as a hobby or a lifestyle.

At the AutoNice car care clinic run by Team SGR, a student’s car is hoisted up to give the rest of us a full look at all the parts. Anna runs these clinics to stress the importance of knowing how to maintain your vehicle, especially in emergency situations. (Lisa Cumming/McClung’s)

“[A customer] came to one of Team SGR and she learned how to change a tire. It was very hands-on, we changed all four tires on her car . She put them back on herself without the gun,” Anna said. “Two days after [the clinic] her mom and her sister got flat tires. [The customer]showed her mom and sister, in her driveway, what she learned and got to apply that right away.”

By Lisa Cumming

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One thought on “Challenging femininity: Anna He, race-car driver, adrenaline junkie

  1. Pingback: McClung’s Articles | Portfolio

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