An impulse bid at a charity auction first led Lynn Kehoe to racecar driving, but after one day behind the wheel, she knew she had found a sport and a lifestyle she could embrace with passion. “It was an unbelievable experience,” she says of her first time behind the wheel of a BMW E 30, “it took me right out of my comfort zone and left me with an incredible feeling of having risen to a challenge and met it.”’
Embracing the Challenge of Race Car Driving
Kehoe says it often surprises people when she tells them about her passion for the sport. “I suppose I don’t look like a typical race car driver — and no one expects a 58-year old woman to be racing.” But Kehoe takes her sport very seriously, committing to hours of training and education to master and hone the skills and strength needed to drive the cars, but also to become knowledgeable in the repair and maintenance of the vehicles.
As she worked her way through the National Auto Sports Association (NASA) High-Performance Driving Education (HPDE) levels, and additional training at Le Mans Porsche Driving School and Skip Barber Racing School Kehoe was acutely conscious of being one of only a handful of women at the track: a familiar scenario from her years in financial services and real estate investment management where her male colleagues far outnumbered females. Although racecar driving is traditionally a male bastion, the more Kehoe immersed herself in the sport; the more she thought this discrepancy could change.
“The car has absolutely no idea if the person pushing the pedal is male or female,” she explains. “It’s brains, not brawn that wins races: I can have a slower car and be the shortest driver on the track, but if I know how to drive my car and strategize, I can win.”
Kehoe’s conviction was borne out by the warm welcome she encountered from her fellow drivers, once they could see how committed she was to the sport.
She also noticed that a number of the wives and girlfriends were inspired to move from spectators to participants, a trend Kehoe hopes will continue. “When men and women come together — in sport and life — in a spirit of mutual respect, everything is just better,” says Kehoe.
Applying the Lessons of Racing Off the Track.
As Kehoe’s passion for racing deepened and her confidence behind the wheel grew, she began to see numerous potential synergies between racing and her other enduring passion: empowering women and girls. As Chair of the Board of Trustees of her all-girls Alma Mater, Stoneleigh Burnham School in Greenfield, MA, Kehoe is assiduously focused on honing strategies to help the next generation of young women take their first steps into the world, confident that they can hold their own alongside their male counterparts.
With the #MeToo movement dominating the gender debate, Kehoe became aware of a common theme amongst the victims, who repeatedly regretted that they had not possessed both the confidence to speak up when they were abused, and the courage to stand up to their abusers and hold them accountable. “When you get right down to it,” Kehoe says confidence and courage are essential life skills for young women. At Stoneleigh Burnham, our mission is to ensure that each girl goes out into the world confident that her voice will be heard. To help them take their rightful place alongside men, we need to instill these qualities in them at an early age. And if we get that right, hopefully down the road we can retire #MeToo and #TimesUp.”
The Middle School years (ages 11-14) is a development stage Kehoe identifies as particularly important when girls are becoming independent thinkers and beginning to ponder their place in the world.
“It’s a very vulnerable time,” Kehoe says, “and one, which desperately requires both positive role models and active outlets.” Kehoe is convinced that racing might hold the key to both, which inspired her to found Shift Up, a CONSORTIUM of racing teams comprised of novice, intermediate, and advanced women drivers. Shift Up’s teams have successfully competed in both sprint and endurance races throughout North America, and currently have their sights set on the grueling 25-hour race at Thunderhill Raceway in California. As she is actively building and mentoring these teams, Kehoe envisions an additional role for Shift Up’s teams: as motivational speakers, and leadership trainers in providing a range of services including corporate training, leadership skills workshops, team building, and confidence-building exercises for young women from Middle School into professional adulthood.
“Racing offers so many teachable moments — particularly about team building,” Kehoe says. She sees numerous parallels between racecar teams and emergency room teams, academic departments, and corporate divisions. “Everyone has a role to play, and everyone has to be responsible to each other during a very high-stakes, adrenaline-fueled situation.”
Hitting a Concrete Wall
Kehoe also knows that racing offers valuable lessons in overcoming adversity. In 2017 she hit a real-live concrete wall while racing, resulting in a bad break to her foot. After months of limited mobility in a cast and physical therapy, Kehoe confesses she balked a little bit when it came time to get back behind the wheel. “I was terrified,” she recalls, “but someone sat with me in the passenger seat, helped me remember my skills and knowledge and I was eventually able to get back on track, and now I’m full speed ahead!”
Therein for Lynn Kehoe lies one of the core takeaways of race car driving. “Driving a race car is a great metaphor for navigating life: you have to master skills, learn from your mentors and teachers, depend on your fellow drivers and pit crew to help and support you. You need to learn how and when to use the gas pedal to propel you forward, how to navigate the curves of the road. It’s also vitally important to know how and when to step on the brake. And when life throws you a concrete wall you need to find the courage and resolve to get back on track.”
Kehoe is very much on track these days, busy pursuing the unique fusion of her passions for empowerment and fast cars that have inspired Shift Up. At its helm, Kehoe is happily occupied doing what she does best: networking, mentoring, learning, and teaching. Her current focus is forming the team of drivers and corporate sponsors for Shift Up’s next big sprint and endurance challenges. She is also working hard on honing the future Shift Up school programs inspiring confidence and courage in girls and leadership programs, which will bring women to the racetrack to explore leadership and empowerment through the exciting world of racecar driving.
by Jennifer Eremeeva
Jennifer Eremeeva is an American expatriate food, travel, and culture writer and photographer currently based in Riga, Latvia. Jennifer is the award-winning author of Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow and Have Personality Disorder, Will Rule Russia: A Concise History. She contributes feature articles and photos to The Moscow Times, Russian Life, and Reuters and is the in-house travel blogger for Alexander + Roberts, a leading American tour operator. She is currently at work on a historical novel.
To learn more about Jennifer, visit jennifereremeeva.com