Drive to succeed
Story by The Symes Report - Writer Ingrid Green
I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone with more tenacity and determination that Emily Duggan.
A long-time motorsport fan, Emily decided she wanted to be a race car driver.
Previous knowledge: nil.
Background in the sport: non-existent.
Support: almost zero.
Enthusiasm: Well I guess it better make up for everything else then, right?
And it did. With a little support from three (non-industry) friends, she did what everyone else told her she couldn’t do – race cars. Barbie dolls were the order of the day for her three sisters in the early years, but Emily found Supercars way more interesting. “There’s just something inside that pulls you to something. You know when you find your passion, and it’s 100 per cent you? That’s what I had, but I didn’t realise it until later.”
She became an executive assistant, but a plan was beginning to form. “You can be anything that you want to be. “Why not do what I want to do? It all went back to racing, that feeling I had when I was a kid, watching. “So I thought, why not go do it?”
At 22, her first trip to Sydney Motorsport Park to watch a drifting event had her hooked.
“The atmosphere, the vibe – I just loved it.”
Naturally, she wanted to go straight to V8 Supercars, but she researched the categories to find out what was within her budget. She saved up, contacted the organisation to check if girls were allowed to race, discovered the XL Series (Series X3), and was offered a lap in a car. That sealed the deal.
Next: the car.
She found one on a website.
“I looked at it and thought everything looks fine to me, but I better get someone else’s opinion.”
She asked a friend with a little bit of car knowledge to have a look at it. When he found out what she wanted it for he was, suffice to say, taken aback. The ensuing conversation is a little surreal.
“He said, ‘who’s going to help you?’”
“I’ve got the ute, I’ll hire a trailer, I had this whole plan.”
“What if something goes wrong?”
“Then I’ll put it on the trailer and take it home and try to figure out how to fix it.”
He offered to come along to her first meet.
She rented a storage facility and hired a trailer. And then she just got on with it. “When I actually bought my trailer, I picked it up from Cronulla and towed it home, all the way through the city at peak hour to Dural. Now I’m like, how the hell did I do that? How did I have the courage to do that?” After the first event, she was on her own.
“I could have spent six months watching events and talking to people but I thought, chuck yourself in the deep end. You’ve just got to do it.” But it was worth it, because she loved the racing. No one ever taught her what to do, but at the first race she was determined to beat two people, and she beat five. Second race it was eight. Third race saw her get up to second place, then miss her braking marker and spear off the track. She recovered and finish the race, and it was a well-timed lesson in staying focussed, but she knew she could drive. “It’s like natural instinct, how to pass, how to manouver the car. I don’t know where it comes from.”
Emily was the first female to race in the Kumho Tyre Australian V8 Touring Car Series, the unofficial third-tier of V8 Supercar competition. She’s philosophical about the achievement.
“It’s great, but it ran for 20 years, and in 20 years no female has been on the grid, and I’m the first. I just think, there should have been others.
“So yes, it’s a great achievement but I look at the big picture. I just came into motorsport recently, how am I the first one?”
She’s also won a one-hour endurance race with an option of competing with one or two drivers. Of course, she competed solo.
“Supercar races are an hour, and that’s not endurance for them.”
Her training was remarkable, and again she devised it herself. She thought about the level of fatigue she’d experience in the race and how best to simulate that in training.
“I would wake up at 11.45 at night, go to the gym and work out.
“If you’re in the car for an hour you’re going to be fatigued, but your last lap needs to be as perfect as your first lap.
She also used a brain training app when she woke up and after she’d worked out, to help her stay focussed and mentally prepared.
“It was a bit extreme but hey, I won it!”
Emily’s chosen pusuit is obviously male dominated in the extreme, but she barely gives it a thought.
“I don’t look at myself as a female driver, I look at myself as a driver.”
But she admits her ability to multitask is a bonus.
“Our tyres aren’t the greatest and my engineer always says: ‘Our tyres are like men, they can’t brake and turn at the same time’.”
But ultimately the playing field is pretty level.
“It’s more about being mentally fit and physically fit, and anyone can achieve that.”
So why the physical fitness?
“The cabin can get to 66-70 degrees inside, plus your suit is about three layers, you’re covered from head to toe. You’re sweating because it’s such an intense environment.
“The fitter you are the more relaxed you’ll be and the slower your heart rate is.”
She says it makes it easier to stay calm and make rational decisions.”
These days she has a little more help, in the form of an engineer and two mechanics.
“An engineer is critical for the series I’m racing at – national support category four supercars.”
He provides the synergy necessary to get the most out of car and driver, and converting technical details into language that Emily can understand.
“I’m not in motorsport just to compete, I’m in to win. I want to climb as high as I possibly can.”
And then there’s sponsorship.
“Every dollar that I earn that doesn’t go into rent or bills goes straight into motorsport. Without support from sponsor I can’t continue to keep pushing the boundaries.
Nothing in my life has been given to me easily, and I don’t think it ever will be, but I’m satisfied with that, because I know I’ve got it from hard work and dedication. And it is a lot of hard work, and a lot of sacrifice. Sleep, nice clothes.
“I have quit so many times. You get home from a day when everything’s been crap and think, why am I doing this?
“But then the very next morning I start again.
So what is it that keeps bringing her back?
“The competition. I’m a very competitive person, I’ll turn anything into a competition.
And of course the need for speed.
“Being in the car, going straight, is great, but taking a corner at 170ks – that’s incredible. You’re on the limit, your tyres are just at that point where they’re about to let go – that’s what I love.
In that moment you have no clue how fast you’re going. I don’t look at the speed, gears, nothing. All I’m looking at is that race track, that corner that’s coming up, I need to block that person behind me, I need to block them – that’s all you’re thinking about.
“The fastest I’ve ever gone is 270, but I want to go a lot faster.”
I have a feeling she will.
How to make the impossible possible.
Start with what you know, use what you have, and the rest will follow.