We pulled out of pit road and headed for Turn 1. Please let the tires stay attached to the ground, I thought. And please don’t let us crash into this corner. Of course the odds of that happening were pretty darn slim. But a NASCAR ride along is a different kind of experience — one which makes you appreciate the sport. And traffic laws.
The opening night event for the Association for Women in Sports Media convention was held at Charlotte Motor Speedway and began with a ride in a NASCAR. No, we didn’t get to drive the cars, but we did three laps of the famous track going around 150 miles per hour. The forces in the car, the concentration necessary just to get through those laps without competitive traffic presented a challenge to me as a passenger. And while I don’t follow motor sports, I certainly have a healthy appreciation for the drivers and their teams. And riding along in the NASCAR Experience? Well, it certainly is an adrenaline rush, something fun which plastered a smile across my face the entire time. No lesson needed there — just enjoyment of the moment.
Afterward, came the privilege of a talk from Lesa France Kennedy, the CEO of International Speedway Corporation (think the Daytona 500) and vice chairwoman for NASCAR. The Sports Business Journal had named her one of the most influential women in sports business though Lesa prefers to be a person behind the scenes, rarely giving extensive interviews or making public appearances. This was indeed, a special treat.
Addressing a bunch of women involved in different aspects of the sports media, Lesa addressed the reality of operating as a woman in field dominated by men. The key for her, she said, was not to act like a woman in man’s world. She focused on being her best self, on what she could offer, on the value she wanted to bring to her work. By doing that, she earned her way into meetings and decision-making roles.
“Being a non-conformist doesn’t mean meaning combative,” she said.
I loved that line so much I tweeted it immediately.
Being the best version of yourself is what sets you apart from the rest of the crowd. While this particular weekend focuses on gender, we all have times in our lives when we feel like a fish out of water, when we’re trying to prove ourselves or make our way in a new situation. Sometimes we think it’s about mimicking and fitting in. Sometimes we think it’s about barnstorming, bellowing and blowing the doors off. But Lesa’s example shows that often, success comes from being true to yourself. You don’t need to be loud to be a maverick. You just need to follow your passion.