Motorsport is always changing, and the last few years have shown us just how fast our world
Global events have accelerated efforts to mould the shape of our sport into something that better fits all of us: we’re constantly trying to improve motorsport to be more inclusive and diverse.
Whilst this aim, unfortunately, hasn’t caught on to the necessary extent across the whole sport, it’s encouraging to see so many new initiatives designed to make motorsport a better place.
One such initiative is the Della Penna Motorsports Next Gen Foundation. The founder, Michelle Della Penna (daughter of Indycar driver John Della Penna), created the organisation in 2021, with the “whole intention to expose young women to motorsport initiatives” and increase representation beyond men across all sectors of motorsport.
This year, the Foundation is expanding through the launch of two councils - the Driver Advisory
Council and the Industry Advisory Council, to “propel its mission”.
The two Councils both exist with the purpose of supporting the Foundation’s work to diversify
motorsport and support the next generation by connecting women with avenues into
“Ideally be able to provide support, mentorship, advice and guidance,” Michelle tells Females in Motorsport. “We want to reach out and cultivate relationships with various communities, and then we want to be the liaison between those communities and the people and organisations that can really provide the opportunities - we’re the intermediary.”
The first of the advisory councils, the Driver Council, will support athletes specifically, as
members provide expertise and inspiration and consists of acclaimed drivers such as Sabré
legendary figures Lyn St James, an Automotive Hall of Fame inductee and legendary racer,
and Beth Paretta, an Indycar team owner, in order to provide opportunities and amplify
Michelle herself tells us how she used to look up to Lyn St James as a young woman, and the anecdote speaks volumes about how important visible role models are. The presence of such a large range of important women in motorsport is crucial to supporting the organisation's missions: “Having people like we do can help inform and support young girls. You can’t really get any better than that, because it provides direct answers to questions.”
Overall, this development helps the DPM Next Gen Foundation to fulfil its primary mission of
fostering talent and passion in communities of young girls - primarily young girls of colour.
Michelle recognises that there are so many barriers to change: the cost and lack of
access to karting, which she says makes motorsport's entry point not an “achievable
endeavour” at the moment; the lack of sufficient investment from sponsors into bringing
about change; the mentality of some at the top that minor changes are “enough”. She isn’t
naive about how vast this undertaking is. Wanting to help transform motorsport’s image is a
For the foundation, though, undertaking this project is essential, and Michelle is supremely
confident in what she believes can be done. Her vision for the future of women in motorsport
is awe-inspiringly ambitious, and she dreams of equally representative grids, of paddocks
that look “more representative of the world that we actually live in”, of lowered barriers to
entry for those with the talent. The Foundation will work to accelerate this by capturing what she believes is “a clamouring for change”, including from people at the very top.
According to her, the biggest problem is an unclear path on how to capture this sentiment and
transform it into visible differences and opportunities for the young women that benefit from
them, by using existing initiatives and developing them more aggressively.
Her motivation for this project is derived from solving this misalignment between the growing
demand for change, and the change that is actually appearing. Whilst she speaks passionately about measures like W Series and Girls on Track, she clearly believes that we can do more and be better. An equitable and diverse future for women in motorsport is tangible, and Michelle wants the industry to see how crucial it is to capture this.
“Women can sell seats," she says. "Women can sell tickets and they can be just as exciting to watch as men. We see little girls at the track getting really excited to drive and learn how an engine works. With the right opportunities, we will start to see a tidal wave of change.”
This is where the Councils become so important - they’ll work to create a support system for
young women entering the sport, to “cultivate the new face of motorsport”, and will draw on
the experience of those in them to “better serve the communities we’re seeking to support”.
Without this mutual support and diversity, we aren’t truly dismantling the barriers that block
us. The Della Penna Motorsport Foundation isn’t looking to help a few women over the wall
based on the privileges they have - it’s looking to knock it down.
“It’s a really exciting time to be in motorsport because we are on the precipice of really eliciting change," Michelle says. "It’s about having equal representation and real diversity and inclusion.
That’s when we’ll know when real change is happening - when we can see it.”
The foundation is also launching a partnership with Sonoma Speedway in Northern California to support their mission of empowering young women, with a Karting Day event on April 27th to introduce eight local girls aged five to 16 with hands-on track experience talks from drivers Tati Zeimer and Michele Abbate.
Later, on June 11th, the foundation will support a larger group, providing them with a VIP behind-the-scenes tour at a NASCAR race, and a chance to speak to both drivers and engineers. These events will help the foundation “supercharge” women in motorsport, by providing immersive opportunities and helping future generations see real representation.
You can find out more about the Della Penna Motorsports Next Gen Foundation on their