Q&A With Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car Driver Shea Holbrook
Shea Holbrook returns to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to compete in the final event of the Pirelli World Challenge season in her No. 67 BUBBA Burger/Lucas Oil Honda Civic Si. The winningest woman in Pirelli World Challenge history who notched her sixth career victory in Utah recently in the Touring Car A-spec division brings multiple cars to the Monterey Peninsula for one last chance to battle for the top step of the podium in 2017.
This weekend’s event is billed as a doubleheader between the Pirelli World Challenge, which will conclude its season finale in the Touring Car division on Saturday, and the SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge, which brings global competitors together for the longest endurance race by a professional series in track history – Sunday’s California 8 Hours held between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The chock-full event will also feature 38 Porsches on the grid for the Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA one-make series with races on Friday and Saturday, and the $75,000-to-win Mazda MX-5 Cup Global Challenge will close Saturday activity from 5-5:45 p.m. Gates open at 7 a.m. each day.
Holbrook will be part of the action whether the driver/owner is getting the most out of her Honda on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course, running her multicar effort, making media appearances, or signing autographs. The versatile driver has gone 278 mph in a jet dragster and dabbled on the Bonneville salt flats, but the Florida native’s love of sports car racing shines through in a conversation leading up to this weekend’s event.
What are your expectations heading into this event?
It’s the season finale for the Touring Car divisions of the Pirelli World Challenge which always puts an extra bit of pressure over a lot of people’s heads. Drivers and teams are coming in for championship contingencies with not all of the championships locked up. How things play out in qualifying for Race 1 and Race 2 will tell the tale of how things will unfold. Shea Racing isn’t in championship contention although it does seem that we have locked up third with the TCA championship with our No. 94 Shea Racing/Honda HPD car driven by Tom O’Gorman. I’ll be honest; I don’t do the numbers. I believe that every time you show up to a race, you should be showing up to qualify on the pole and win the race. I don’t want to show up to get the minimum result to achieve a certain position.
I’m in a different position than the No. 94 car, because I switched classes during the season. I started out in the Touring Car division with the No. 67 BUBBA Burger Honda Accord. The TC class has evolved into a really competitive platform, and we weren’t excelling with something of a privateer effort compared to the BMWs and Audis that our strong straight from the factory. The new 2017 Honda Civic Si is a program we really wanted to capitalize on and put a sister car together for. It is good for us down the road having that chassis available in 2018. It seems that moving classes was the right decision, because we won the first race that we rolled out the new car.
This is kind of a pivotal race for World Challenge because they have the Intercontinental GT Challenge California 8 Hours. It has been in the pipeline for a long time, so I know they are really excited about having the opportunity to showcase the eight-hour race with teams from the U.S. and abroad.
How do you maintain the balance of being a driver and team owner?
I haven’t mastered doing it all at once. I think that’s a tough nut to crack. I talk to a lot of team owners/drivers that are doing the same effort at a higher level. The reason why Shea Racing became a multicar effort is because we don’t come from a really affluent background. My dad is ex-Navy, and my mom is a military mom. One thing I was able to learn early on was that performances and results alone were not good enough to be good enough. You needed to have an education in marketing and be clear-minded.
The motor racing industry is one of the best ways for companies to do marketing and advertising. You see that heavily in Pirelli World Challenge, IMSA, NASCAR, etc. I knew that I needed to become street smart and book smart. Developing some of those skills at an early age transitioned into my dad and me co-owning a team together. We learned how to become a little more professional and elevate our status in the paddock because you are providing services to other teams and partners. There are times when we’ll have meetings with Shea Racing as a team before I hop into the car to drive and then get back out to meet with the team or meet with sponsors. Throughout the course of the weekend, I have to be able to turn it on and off. I love that portion of it. I really enjoy seeing successes other than my own. I am a sound believer in teamwork, doing things for a greater good, involving charity efforts, and doing things with fans. Having the viewpoints of a team owner and a driver is what keeps me going in this industry. I am interested in that. I love the thrill of a kill of landing sponsorships, improving programs, and landing new drivers. The love of the business side of the program has kept me motivated, though my real thrill and desire is to race.
How do you view your role as a female ambassador of the sport?
It’s a huge honor and compliment to be one of the representatives of women in motorsports. There are women who show up who may not even have it in their mind that they can be a racing driver or an engineer, and it opens their horizons to what they can be in the world. I always try to be conscientious of playing or not playing the female card. I think my competitors look at me as another racer. There is a place for everybody in this industry. There are not a lot of female-targeted companies in this industry, which is interesting to me because 40 to 45 percent of the people who come to the races are women. One thing I love about coming to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is we have seniority in female management in that track.
What do you look forward to when you come to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca?
Always the views. It’s one of the most prestigious racing tracks to go to, and it is located in beautiful Monterey. Being that it is the season finale, it’s the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new chapter. To have that at such a prestigious place with an iconic turn – the Corkscrew – there is a sense of pride that drivers take in coming to a historic racetrack where drivers we grew up watching had memorable wins. The community is always really welcoming. The fans are really impactful when they come to meet you.
You have done things outside of sports car racing such as driving a jet dragster and being part of a paced bicycle land speed record attempt in Bonneville. How important is adaptability in your ventures?
I think it’s really important to have versatility and adapt to situations. There are so many different classes of racing in the country. I have always driven Honda front-wheel drive V-6s with 300-or-lower horsepower, and three weeks ago jumped in a Lamborghini Super Trofeo which is a 600-horspower, rear-wheel-drive monster. It is a different end of the spectrum, but I had been preparing for the opportunity for a long time. I just needed to grab the bull by the horns – pun intended. It was really cool to have an opportunity to drive a jet dragster in IHRA (International Hot Rod Association). I had never driven a car of any kind down a drag strip. That opens up your horizons. I also dabbled with the paced bicycle land speed record. There was nothing more challenging than being the pace car driver for that record, because the severity of the risk for Denise Mueller was mega. If I made a mistake on the salts, I had to be able to react quickly. Adaptability is huge.
What are your future goals?
Now that I’ve gotten a little bit into GT stuff, I would really like to excel in those ranks over the next couple years. I’d drive anything as long as there was an opportunity that makes sense for all parties involved. I have a passion for driving fast, pushing your physical and mental stamina to the limit, making a piece of machinery work the way you want it to work, and working in a team setting. I love it. My heart really falls for sports car road racing. I love sports cars at the GT level. I love racing here in America and would love the opportunity to go overseas. I would be perfectly content to run at the highest level and pinnacle of either World Challenge GT or IMSA GT. To have that opportunity or maybe even graduate to a factory team would be the ultimate goal. I have other things I am looking forward to. I am getting married in a month. That will start a new chapter. Shea Racing is continuously growing. I want to see our program grow in numbers and in quality drivers who can help this program grow with the results it needs. I want to work with quality people. I’m excited to see where it ends up. We want to run a 3-4 TCA program in the next year. Long-term, we aspire to run in the TCR class. I’m keeping my options open on what might happen next year. Ultimately, if I can keep working hard, driving race cars, and keeping the irons glowing in other business opportunities in the industry, that is what I am passionate about.