Motorsport Is For The Girls Now

History is set to be made at the 2024 Indianapolis 500, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. No, it won’t be the first 500 contested by a woman or person of color. It won’t mark the biggest prize purse since the race’s first running in 1911. Look closely, and you’ll see it clearly: Motorsport is for the girls now.

More specifically, take a look at Katherine Legge’s No. 51 Honda. A glance at the front, with its red nose offset by black wings, could lull you into thinking this is a standard Dale Coyne Racing machine — albeit one fielded in partnership with Rick Ware Racing. Read the words on the wing, though. Let your eyes wander back to the black-and-pink sidepods. What you’re looking at is a partnership with e.l.f., the first-ever beauty brand to serve as a primary sponsor in Indy 500 history. It’s a sign that the times are changing.

“People see value in advertising to women because the 19-26 female demographic is the fastest growing demographic in motorsport,” Legge told me in an interview earlier this week. “These companies are saying, ‘hey, we believe in women and what they’re trying to achieve, and we’re going to stand behind them with makeup, partnerships, whatever it may be.’”

Legge, who has been racing competitively for over two decades and who transitioned from an open-wheel racing focus to an endurance racing one, began her e.l.f. tie-in in 2023 with a small Indy 500. Her representation of the brand was enough to encourage them to take the plunge as a primary sponsor this year — or, essentially, to part with enough money to get Legge back behind the wheel of an Indy car for her latest shot at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.


Look beyond the 2024 Indy 500, though, and you’ll see something shifting in the world of motorsport demographics. You’ll see that women are playing a greater and greater role in decisions made by race teams, sponsorship groups, and marketing professionals.

Over in Europe, the all-female F1 Academy announced an exclusive series partnership with Charlotte Tilbury, a luxe beauty brand. The sponsor turned out in full force earlier this month, as part of F1A’s participation in Formula 1's Miami Grand Prix weekend. Eponymous founder Tilbury was at the track, and the company brought celebrities and influencers to the track in droves to further promote a slate of beauty products with enthusiastic social media posts. F1A hosted panels designed to highlight female empowerment in motorsport while also offering Charlotte Tilbury-loaded makeovers in the paddock.

Perhaps less glamorous is the BikiniZone-sponsored NASCAR Xfinity Series racer for Natalie Decker, though a sponsor dedicated to soothing the itch of ingrown hairs still represents the importance of the female dollar. (Plus, if the male NASCAR fans out there are thrilled about the Dude Wipes sponsorship, I think it’s about time we talk about some actually helpful products for literally anyone out there who shaves their bikini zone.)

On top of that, Australian racing driver Caitlin Wood boasts a Barbie livery on her Porsche Sprint Challenge GB Championship thanks to sponsorship dollars from Mattel. Toni Breidinger carried a Victoria’s Secret sponsorship in the NASCAR Trucks Series.

This isn’t to imply that these kinds of women-focused sponsorships are brand-new, because they’ve been around for ages. In 1997, Tammy Jo Kirk signed with Lovable, a lingerie company, to kick off her NASCAR career. Even Janet Guthrie, who made history by becoming the first woman to race in both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500, was sponsored by Kelly Girl, which, at the time, was an agency dedicated to placing young women in temporary office jobs. It’s just that these sponsorships are still a little surprising after prominent women drivers like Danica Patrick became closely associated with the genderless GoDaddy, even while utilizing their conventional good looks as marketing tools.

It also feels different now, because for the first time, women are actually watching.

That’s also clear to Legge; she notes that her appearance at the 2023 Indianapolis 500 was markedly different from her previous outing a decade earlier, in large part because she saw more women than ever before descending on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“There are way more women at the track, and way more fans, and way more families than there were a decade ago,” Legge told me. “There’s a massive girl-power surge happening right now, and it’s something I’m so proud to be at the forefront of.”

Legge pointed to the exponential growth and legitimization of women’s sports all across the globe, be it women’s soccer or the stunning skill of Caitlin Clark in the WNBA. Paired with the democratization of formerly hostile motorsport series like Formula 1 thanks to marketing shifts like Netflix’s Drive to Survive docuseries, motorsport is poised to let the rising tides of popularity lift the ships of its women — be they fans, sponsors, drivers, or team members.

“It’s such a different experience when you’re actually a fan of and use the product [sponsoring you],” Legge said. “Most women use some form of makeup at least once a week. I have really short, stubby eyelashes, so I need lots of mascara.

“It feels incredibly authentic, because I can actually speak intelligently about the product. It feels more like it’s me on the car.”

There’s much to be said about ethical consumption, and about exclusively catering to women via fashion or beauty — but there’s no denying the sense of empowerment that comes from seeing a product you use reflected back at you from the racing world. Maybe I’m not using Hero Cosmetics acne patches because I’m feeling my best, but I don’t quite mind spending my money on them when I know they’re bringing motorsport influencers to the race track. Maybe I’m not talking to anyone about BikiniZone, but I can damn well tell you I’ve purchased that product before. No, y’all will not be granted knowledge of the Victoria’s Secret clothing items I have at home — but, yeah, I’m a woman, and I’ve shopped there.

Of course, there are millions of ways women can provide value to the motorsport world that don’t have to do with their purchasing power, but we live in a society that values our transactions more than anything else. Brands wouldn’t be spending their money on racing if they didn’t think they were going to benefit from it, and with women making up over $30 trillion of worldwide spending, it makes sense that companies would choose to market to women in places they know women will be. Now, for the first time, women are in motorsport — and the companies that cater to us have followed suit.

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