Women In Sports: Q&A with Racecar Driver, Ashley Freiberg
Ashley Freiberg’s racing career began at the age of 13 in go-karts where she won five national championships. From there, she moved on to the Skip Barber Racing Series where she became the first woman in history to win an overall Championship.
Freiburg continued to make history throughout her career as she became the first woman to win a Skip Barber National Series race at New Jersey Motorsports Park, the first woman to win a Skip Barber MX-5 Cup Race, and the second woman ever to be selected as a candidate to the prestigious Team USA Scholarship Award (Danica Patrick was the first).
She has put up a steady stream of decent results, which has brought the young Vermont native a fair amount of attention. As Ashley begins her 2016 season, she was kind enough to give us an interview as part of our month long celebration of Women In Sports.
DoubleGSports: When did you know you wanted a career in sports/ racing?
Ashley Freiberg: I have always been extremely competitive and played sports growing up. When I was first introduced to driving a go-kart at the age of 13, it was just something I fell so deeply in love with. I didn’t really think of it as a career for a long time because I was just following my passion of driving and finding a way to keep myself in the seat.
DGS: Being a woman in a mostly male dominated field, have you come across any specific challenges or discouragement?
AF: Personally, I don’t view my challenges as anything different than what everyone has to go through. I wanted to be successful and be the best at my job as I can be , and so there are and will be hurdles on my path to success.
Everyone’s paths are different, as I am sure mine has not been the same as another male’s or even another female’s path, but i have learned to be strong, optimistic and driven, and it has gotten me a long way so far.
DGS: Who do you look to for inspiration in the sports world?
AF: I look for athletes or people that are driven, positive, and passionate about what they do. I love to learn from athletes who are really exceptional at what they do, and try to apply it to myself and my sport as it fits.
DGS: How do you feel about the current status of women in sports? What can improve?
AF: I think that women in sports have come a very long way, but there are still some gaps in areas that can be closed. I am a firm believer in women getting equal opportunities as men, no easier or harder, to just be respected for the job we do if we do it well. I think in many ways we are there, and in some we aren’t quite there yet. I am confident we will get to that place at some point.
DGS: When your career in sports is over, what do you hope people remember you by?
AF: My goal is to inspire people, of any age or gender, to chase after their dreams with all of their heart and soul. I haven’t had the easiest career, full of ups and downs, setbacks and leaps forward, and through all of that I have had to work very hard for every bit of success I’ve had.
I hope that I can help people understand that dedication, hard work, and never losing sight of your dreams will help you live them.
DGS: What drove you to get into racing at such a young age, 13?
AF: I was always a very driven and competitive young girl. I played basketball, soccer, karate, and was usually found playing on my skateboard or having running races through my front yard. When I was first introduced to auto racing it was hard for me not to want to try it.
I can still remember the moment I sat in my very first go-kart, my cheeks were hurting from smiling so big!
The speed, the sounds, the smells, the adrenaline rush, the feeling of driving through a corner with the tires at the limit; it was an instant addiction.
DGS: Who are your top five favorite female athletes?
AF: Michele Mouton, Simona De Silvestro, Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, and Marianne Vos.
DGS: What should your fans expect from you in 2016?
AF: My goal is to get on the podium and win some races this year. There are lots of other factors that come into play in order to get those results though, so all I can guarantee is that I will be executing my job as well as I can.
DGS: Besides being behind the wheel and racing, how involved do you get when it comes to the other aspects of racing, like the car, maintenance, sponsorship, etc?
AF: Unfortunately the drivers can’t actually work on the car, but I worked on my own go-kart before I moved into cars and had a pit crew.
It is very much a part of the job though to be involved with the engineers in helping set up the car. Learning how to feel what the car is doing, how it responds to my inputs, at every moment on every inch of pavement, and then being able to communicate that efficiently and effectively to the engineers is crucial. Every moment at the track is time sensitive, because you simply don’t have that much time to sort out the car, so being able to be good at feedback and at processing the information quickly is a huge part of the job.
I am also business woman. I have had to be very involved in the marketing and sponsorship aspects of my brand because it is truly what keeps me in the seat. Unlike most sports, talent alone does not take you to the top in auto racing, you must also have the funds to do it.
DGS: Take us through your typical race day routine.
AF: First of all, I always wake up extremely excited. Even if I have an ounce of nervousness, I think about how lucky I am to be able to do what I love and to be living my dream, and it instantly makes me so happy and brings a sense of calmness with it as well.
I usually get to the track around 7am, eat breakfast with one of my sponsors, and then attend a driver’s meeting for the series, which they go over race procedures and rules. After this I usually have media interviews, and then I attend my pre-race team meeting in the engineering office, where we go over the race strategy (pit stops, driver changes, etc.) and race procedures. Afterwards, I usually have more media interviews, an autograph session, as well as a pre-race fan walk on the grid where I get to meet with fans by the car before the race starts.
Once the race begins, I am in pit lane with my suit on and gear in hand. Depending on when it is my turn to get in the car, I may take an hour or two to go somewhere cool and quiet, maybe get the lunch I never had a chance to eat, or just have some alone time.
DGS: What do you do for fun outside your sports career?
AF: My newest love is cyclocross, which is a form of off-road bicycle racing. I race for my sponsors Focus Bikes and American Classic Wheels during the fall, and I ride all year, when I am not traveling or training for car racing, to stay in shape. I found that cyclocross is actually great training for car racing because it not only keeps my fitness level up, but it is great for practicing line, the physics of riding corner well, as well as dealing with racing traffic and mental focus under extreme physical stress.
I also love rock climbing. It’s funny because I actually got into rock climbing because of my fear of heights. In a race car, it is all about pushing yourself beyond your mental barriers, eliminating emotions and thinking about your next move, and rock climbing simulates the same things for me. It is also great upper body and core training, which is great for driving!
DGS: Do you have a lucky article of clothing or other superstition?
AF: My mental trigger before I get in a race-car is when I put on my gloves. I always put them on last, or wait to put them on until I am about to get in the car and drive, because for me it is like a switch; when my gloves are on I am instantly in the zone.
DGS: Warm up playlist. What music gets you ready for a race?
AF: I honestly don’t have a playlist because I have so much going on before the race that if I can get a couple of minutes of silence it actually works best for me. In some ways all of the distractions during the morning of the race are helpful for me because it keeps my mind from over-thinking! I also love interacting with my fans and sponsors, IHG Rewards Club and BMW of North America. I know that without all of them, I would not be suited up on the grid ready to go live my dream. It gives me a tremendous amount of calm knowing that I have that kind of support behind me and it definitely leaves no room for nerves but only more room for happiness.
DGS: If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive), who would you choose and why?
AF: I would love to have the dinner with probably any three of my athletic heroes. I would be willing to bet that we all have a lot in common, and I feel like I could learn so much from their experiences. It would be great for me to be able to get that opportunity.