Katherine Legge ‘Had No Idea’ Racing in a Pink Car Would Feel So Empowering

Katherine Legge is used to being the only woman in the pit, but she’s come a long way since she won the Toyota Atlantic Championship race in 2005. She’s the only female racer in this year’s Indy 500, and with so many women now tuning into racing events, Katherine Legge takes pride in being “the girl in the pink car.” After all, the time for women in sports is now, and almost 20 years since her first big win—Legge knows how to unapologetically take up space in the racing world.

Currently, racing is one of the only sports in the world where men and women can compete at the same level. And even though female representation in racing is still seriously lacking, Katherine Legge and the female racers that came before her are paving the way for women in sports everywhere. But, representing all women can be a heavy weight to carry. Even though Legge is glad her career has inspired so many people, above all else—she just wants to make her dad proud.

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Photo courtesy of E.l.f.
Photo courtesy of E.l.f.

And what’s one way to make your dad proud? Becoming the first person in racing history to be sponsored by a beauty brand. While most racing sponsors try to sell wheels or dampers, E.l.f. is promoting lip oils and liquid blushes. It may seem cliché that the only female driver is sponsored by a beauty brand, but Legge says it’s beyond empowering to represent women in such an unashamed way. So, to all the women who love race car driving—Katherine Legge and E.l.f. are teaming up to say, you can like racing and makeup without ever having to choose.

You’ve been competing for a while, with your first big win in 2005. As one of the leading women of motorsports, has the attitude towards you and your success changed from that time almost 20 years ago?

Absolutely. I think that the landscape of women in sports has changed in the last 20 years, now is the time for women’s sports. And I think there are so many more opportunities for women in racing now than there were 20 years ago as well. I wish I was 20 years younger and doing it all over again. But I’m also very grateful for the experience and the life experience that I’ve had getting here.

You’re the only woman competing in this year’s Indy 500, are you nervous or excited because of that?

I don’t think that has any bearing on my nerves. I think I’m nervous because I’m a race car driver and it’s the biggest sporting event in the world and it means everything in the world to me. I think maybe there’s some added pressure that’s come from the representation of I feel like we’re representing women with the E.l.f. partnership and the pink car. And it means so much to so many people that brings a little bit of added pressure. But no more than I would already put on myself.

You said, now’s the time for female athletes. Since this is the only sport where men and women are able to compete at the same level, how do you feel your situation differs compared to other female athletes? Do you view it as an advantage getting to compete with men? Or do you think that you have to deal with a lot of stuff that women in other sports don’t have to?

That’s a really interesting take on the whole what’s it like to be a girl in racing. I love it actually. It’s very insightful. I don’t know what it’s like to do a women’s only sport. So all my frame of reference and experiences is being the only one in a male dominated sport and for sure, there are some advantages and there are some disadvantages, and I think it all kind of evens out in the end. But there is no other sport that I’m aware of that we can compete equally and it’s not about outright strength. It’s about repetitive strength, and being fast and talented and all the things. So, I think it would be a totally different landscape. If you were just looking at being the best girl, but we’re not we’re trying to band together and make females in racing better as a whole and lift everybody up.

How does it feel driving around in a pink car? Is it empowering?

It’s totally empowering, and I had no idea that it would be so empowering. I was just like “Oh, the girl in the pink car, that’s kind of cliché,” but what it signified is amazing to me, and I love it. I didn’t know that I would love it as much as I do. But it’s representing women, right? It’s like saying we can be authentic and we can like pink and we can still drive fast. And we can put makeup on and we don’t have to conform anymore. We can just be our authentic selves. And I think it is throwing a spotlight, by having a pink car. It’s throwing a spotlight on the fact that it’s the E.l.f. car and that I’m driving it. And so there’s a bunch of fans, young girls, women, guys, you name it, that are relating to it and see it as something that’s really cool and really new and it’s just it’s made a big impact. There’s this whole kind of girl power movement that surrounds it and I’ve had a lot of support because of it. And so I think it’s excellent, it’s beyond my wildest dreams of what I thought could happen. Partnering with E.l.f., like, people come up to me and they’re like, “Oh, I just had to go and buy my girlfriend like three different E.l.f. products” or “I really liked the lip oil,” or whatever it may be because everybody, you know, most women wear makeup in some way, shape, or form, whatever it may be. And so it’s something that speaks to them rather than trying to market a male orientated product to them or something race car related, you know, springs or dampers or wheels. So I think that it’s representing that, hey, we are here and we exist too. Women aged 19 to 26 are actually the fastest growing demographic in racing. So we’re like, yeah, we’re here.

E.l.f. is the first beauty brand to serve as a sponsor, why is that such a monumental thing?

I think it’s just been traditional for so long. It’s been so male dominated, back when Janet Guthrie was racing, there were no female toilets in the pits. Women weren’t even allowed in the pits. It’s just stayed very male dominated, there are so few women on teams doing engineering or anything like that. So it’s still predominantly male. And so they have predominantly male influence, and E.l.f. is yet again, changing the game and saying, “No, we’re going to stamp our stamp here and we’re going to be the ones making the change and step up. We’re empowering these women who want to be part of it, to go and be part of it.”

Do you feel intimidated because you have to basically represent all women?

I’m the poster child, right? No. I just hope I do it well. I always think about three things. There’s Roger Penske, who runs the most successful IndyCar team. And I always think, okay, if I was racing for Roger, would I make him proud? That’s like my dream. And then I think, do I make my dad proud? And then if I had kids, which I don’t, but would I make them proud when they looked at what I did?

Do you have any advice for other women or girls who want to become a driver, or who just want to play sports professionally?

Yes. Make sure that it’s what you really want to do. Because you have to give everything to do it, and put your whole heart and soul into it. And if you have something like that, that is a dream, then you’re blessed and you should follow it and never ever give up. Determination and perseverance is nine tenths of the game.

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