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Allison Koehler: “We want to push boundaries”

Females in Motorsport spoke to Allison Koehler, Senior Partnerships Manager at Arrow McLaren Indy Car Team, to hear about her first season with the outfit, and how her family history with NASCAR inspired her to work in motorsport. 

Growing up, Allison had exposure to the world of NASCAR across both sides of her family. 

“My dad and his dad were always big in the New England motorsport team and my dad’s dad helped establish NASCAR in the North East,” she tells Females in Motorsport. 

Impressively, the family influence didn’t end there… 

“My dad did it (raced) professionally for a bit but even when he stopped, we grew up around NASCAR,” she says. “We were always watching motorsport, definitely more on the NASCAR side but we always watched the Indy500 and Monaco.” 

Allison’s mum also had motorsport connections and contacts in sports broadcasting, which meant that motorsport was always around when she was growing up. 

“As I got older, I went further and further away from motorsport,” she says. “Not because I didn’t love it, but because I had an interest in other things.”

But, in 2021, Allison noticed her friends speaking more about motorsport. 

“I thought this is very different from when I was in middle-school talking about my motorsport connections,” she says. “It was always really frowned upon in the US, especially in my tight political science circles.” 

And so, Allison found herself drawn back to the world of motorsports and decided to pursue a career in an industry which held so much personal history. 

“The more and more they started talking about it, the more I wanted to shift my career and in 2022, I noticed there was a really large market for motorsport interest,” she says. “But, not just on the NASCAR side, but on the open-wheel side, in the US.”

Knowing there was a lot to tap into in the United States, Allison put the wheels in motion to change her career. 

“When I was looking and writing down all of my skills and what I’m good at, like fundraising, events, and those specific skill sets, I thought sports marketing and partnerships would be a good place for me,” she says.  

Allison decided IndyCar was where she wanted to begin her motorsport career. 

“I set my eye on the IndyCar space to get the mix of NASCAR style marketing tactics that IndyCar uses, but also bring in some of the more Formula 1 aspects,” she says. “Arrow McLaren has a huge history both with McLaren and with the foundations of the team, and trying to bring in the F1 partners and their styles of activations.

“I set my sights on this team, and eventually, serendipitously ended up here.”

The McLaren brand has an enormous amount of heritage and Allison is well aware of this legacy, and what the brand represents. 

“I have a lot of respect for both Sam Schmidt and Rick Peterson and what they were trying to do with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports,” she says. “So, at the time, when I saw that Arrow McLaren SP was hiring, I dialled in on that.” 

Now just over a year into her role, and with one promotion under her belt already, just exactly what does Allison do at Arrow McLaren? 

“My role isn’t to find partners; my role is to support them and build a strong relationship with them,” Allison says. 

“I talk to my partners every single day of the week, which I think a lot of people realise, that’s why it’s not called a sponsorship, it’s called a partnership because we are activating with them throughout the entire year.”

Allison doesn’t just support during the season, she’s also very busy during the off-season. 

“I try to fit their business strategy with what they have to offer,” she says. “So, whatever their goals are for the year, I'm making sure that I’m coming up with ideas to help them achieve those.”

Last season, Allison was fortunate enough to attend 14/17 races, but her attendance is determined by her work. 

“It depends on what the partners tell me is their priority,” she tells us. “I manage the three primary partners with the #6 car, and so, my race weekend depends on how much activation each partner is doing.” 

And, this changes from race to race. 

“St Pete, and Long-Beach are the busiest races for us,” she says. “Because all the partners tend to go there, and they do on and off track activations, and sometimes I can have three partners in one place at the same time.”

To do her role, Allison is lucky enough to work with a great team, and the partnerships team at Arrow McLaren dynamic has attracted more females since she started. 

“When I first started, there were three women working on the commercial team and they were very much the minority” she says. “I was the forth.” 

But, Allison’s team has evolved over the last year. 

“In the new year of 2023, we hired so many new people and so many people from different backgrounds, both on the competition and the commercial side,” she tells us. “Now, it’s definitely more of an even split on the commercial team. 

“We did a really good job of making sure we recruited women on the competition side, whether it be for engineering or otherwise, and so now, our interns were heavily female.”  

With Jamie Chadwick and Lindsay Brewer on the IndyNXT grid for the 2024 season, female visibility across the championship is slowly increasing and Allison knows how important this is to inspire other women. 

“For them (Jamie and Lindsay) to be in IndyNXT, it brings a really great energy into the space,” she says. “Even the diversity of drivers in the USF Pro 2000, having drivers who are people of colour, and having Jamie and Lindsay driving, it makes us feel more of a sense of belonging. 

“Women need to feel more entitled to have the spaces, it’s not about belonging there because it makes it seem like there was a time when we didn’t belong there. It’s all about feeling entitled to every opportunity that everybody else has. Having them (Jamie and Lindsay) there brings more legitimacy to everything that we’re trying to do in motorsport.”

For female visibility to increase within motorsport (both on and off the grid), Allison agrees that there needs to be support from teams. 

“I think it’s a cultural shift within each team,” she says. “I think motorsport has just always been so male dominated that no matter how many women you bring into your commercial team, no matter how many women you flood the paddock with, it’s all about the individuals on those teams and ensuring they all have the same mindset and goal. 

“Unfortunately, it’s about making sure the culture of the teams embraces the women,” she emphasises. 

And, Arrow McLaren share the same mindset. 

“We want to push the boundaries,” she says. “We want to change the dynamics and embrace all that. That’s what has to happen for any of this to change and for any of us to progress.”

Allison has also spoken with Women in Motorsports North America about female representation across the sport, and has spoken with Lyn St. James on her experiences within the industry. 

“Hearing what she has gone through and speaking with all these incredible women who have raced in the Indy 500 and the IndyCar series, it’s been done,” she says. “We’ve had women race, that’s not the problem. The problem is everything else, it’s literally changing the culture and the infrastructure.” 

Shifting gears to her own career, 2023 marked Allisons’ first first full season working in IndyCar and she has one standout moment.  

“One of the best moments of the year was walking to the grid with my partner, Smart Stop,” she beams. “Walking with them to Tony Kanaan’s car on the afternoon of his last Indy500 - it was so emotional.”

With the next series of IndyCar now under way, we asked Allison what she’s looking forward to. 

“On the competition side, I’m excited to see our new driver of the #6, David, develop as a driver with our time and take mentorship from Pato and Alexander,” she says. “I’m also excited for the commercial side to use him with our partners and watch his relationship with them grow, and his skills - it’ll be a lot of fun. 

“All in all, I think 2024 will be a really great year for our team, in every aspect.”.  

All images are courtesy of Allison Koehler and Arrow McLaren IndyCar. 


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