I love to drive, I love girls, and I LOVE fast cars
December 11, 2017
The roar of a V6 naturally aspirated Ferrari engine only gets better as you bury one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the clutch and downshift, revving the engine to almost 7,000 RPMs, letting out the voice of God himself as you fly down the road. That feeling, that sensation and thrill, empowers a certain group of woman and has ultimately encouraged them, to participate in the first all-women’s Ferrari rally group in the world: The Prancing Ponies.
“I’m at this stop sign in San Francisco and there were three girls from Galileo waiting for the bus…and I was sitting there looking at them and thinking to myself, I remember what it was like to be a teenager -so sweet -and they were just so giggly,” Chanterria McGilbra explained, smiling broadly. “Then one of them looked at me and they all fell quiet, ‘Miss I like your car,’” to which McGilbra than surprised herself by responding, “‘I expect you to get one too.’” McGilbra reminisces about this experience, telling us that her decision to keep the car, her plans for developing a passion outside of her biotech business world, started with the reaction by these girls. From that moment, the Prancing Ponies foundation was born.
In a mere year, The Prancing Ponies group has participated in rallies, locally and abroad, in places with some of the most vibrant car cultures in the world. These rallies have allowed drivers, Agnes Christensen, Susan D, Colleen Costello, and founder Chanterria McGilbra, to not only do what they love doing most ‒enjoying driving experiences unique to their beautiful exotic cars ‒ but also sharing their message of empowering young women. One rally went from San Francisco to Monterey, where cars weaved through curvy mountain roads; in another, drivers started in the Italian style capital, Milan, and finished in the scenic French city of Monaco. In both rallies, these woman drivers left societal norms in their rearview mirrors.
This group has led rallies where those involved contribute a certain amount of money to fund experiential trips for girls to Europe. These were fully immersed experiences abroad; the girls would work at internships, learn to live on their own, manage an investment fund, and participate in other activities intended to naturally incentivize these women into taking leadership roles, being independent, and finding their own successes -something society has neglected to teach women. For McGilbra, this success meant having the freedom to buy herself a new Ferrari.
Historically, society has projected cars as masculine hobbies and toys; for gifts, boys get toy race cars and trucks while girls got dolls and little ponies. Stereotypically, working men have the means and desire to buy themselves a decked out car that would attract women and present a façade of sophistication, manliness, and success. When muscle cars and race cars started becoming mass marketed, they were aimed at a demographic of men because only men could afford them and only men would want them…“[It was a] male-dominated world, to begin with, we couldn’t afford [fancy cars] as women back in the day, or even if we could we wouldn’t just drive [for the fun of it] because it was not normal or something,” Christensen further explains when asked how it was for women drivers when she was younger. To this day, the trend of male-driven businesses is still prominent. “Designs and head of companies [are] all male,” Susan D notes, adding that this organization had the potential to influence and change this. Even beyond woman-men dynamics, is the discrepancy between of women of color and white women. “Am I the youngest women to buy a Ferrari?” the car dealer asked McGilbra when she finally decided to keep her new custom-made Ferrari, “‘your six months late, but you’re the first black women.’” Being only six months after the first woman was insane, to begin with, but to also be the first black woman meant even more. However shocking, this never dictated these women’s decisions to own and drive their exotic cars and or feel lesser or timid to put themselves in a “manly” position. Being a women’s race driver was never really about the roles they were and weren’t supposed to fill nor the kind of attention one car received over the other.
These women weren’t into the cars that intended to attract attention because their extravagant design only screamed: “look at me.” That wasn’t the point of driving their cars. “I was driving around and I hated it, I hated the attention, it’s crazy, people are crazy about these cars,” McGilbra referred, in annoyance, to her experience with the Ferrari after just purchasing it. To some, the appearance, the look, or title that came with owning such distinct cars may have been what attracted them in the first place; but for these women, it was all about the ride. There was much more emphasis on the mechanics, not the rich and flashy tags they faced from onlookers who only saw the brand and shape of the car rather than the significance of the car for these women. “I wanna drive, you wanna drive, let’s drive,” Christensen explains, there doesn’t have to be any other conversation or drama. “The story of my life why I hang out with guys is that there is so much drama with women…” Costello further explains. There is no point in discussing the group friendships or trying to impress them with the cars -as Christensen would say, “it’s not sexy.”
For them it is an escape, they can only find while driving. “[To] go really fast in [an] amazing vehicle…I think you have 10 [minutes] to an hour of the biggest high as a mom.” It was a period of time wedged in between the high stress and chaos of work, errands, and family. For Christensen, this meant blasting her Lithuanian house music that even her black and white french bulldog didn’t like and having her own time to herself. “Be[ing] on the road, [listening to]music, you don’t have to talk to anybody, in fact, you don’t want to…,” Costella excitingly describes the indescribable feeling she craves when she needs time away from reality. “Every time you go to the car shows…[like] Pebble Beach, and start to understand the car culture, you know, finding your passion and interests,” Susan D also mentions. For her, like McGilbra, it’s a space to discover her passions and future interests based on her identity.
Yet, there are still questionable conversation that both men and women partake in regarding the role of women and cars. “You let her drive this car?” some male architect asked Christensen’s husband. To which her husband then told him that she could drive it better than him. While these comments weren’t abundant, they still happened occasionally. “‘You driving or just pretending?’” a man once genuinely asked Christensen, to which she responded, “what do you mean…I just parked this car.” As blatantly offensive and stereotypical the comments can be, it doesn’t matter because these women would quickly and effortlessly brush them off. To them, it doesn’t matter what the comment is or why it is being made at all; they love driving and no one could change their mind about that. “Aww..ladies driving, what’s exactly does that mean? What’d she do? Go to nail salon?” Christensen jokingly impersonates the type of men who have talked to the stereotypical woman drivers in some obnoxious manner. “John you don’t interrupt…,” Christensen says to her husband without hesitation as he tries to contribute to the conversation. She has no issue with confronting her husband, or anyone else, with any issues that have bothered her, especially when it comes to her freedom to drive. The sarcastic and honest responses seem to shut down any inquiry about these woman driving.“Drive away very fast” Christensen suggests laughing, and she often does, drive far away from any drama or unnecessary irritation with men who clearly didn’t understand how exhilarating a ride is like on a California Ferrari.
The ironic thing is that a lot of these stereotypes and rules around woman roles are perpetuated by the women themselves; more specifically the wives of husbands who own and drive exotic cars. “Oh no, I don’t drive, he would never let me touch that car,” Costello mimics a woman who she once found herself in a conversation with. These kinds of comments drove her crazy; to hear a woman instantly degrade herself and her abilities based on the opinions of a man was something these women never understood because it would never be how they lived their lives.“All these ladies with the bangs, fake nails, all that perfect lipstick, probably [a] spray tan…who [are] driving Ferrari’s….those [are the] trophy wives [that] show up,” Christensen describes being those type of stereotypical feminine woman – a stereotype they all acknowledged they may fall into it too. It seemed it took these rally drivers accepting that they could be perceived this way, and realizing that driving was more important, for them to break through their own stereotypes. The women that didn’t succumb to their “womanly” roles felt a bond to those who shared their opinions. “It’s nice to work with women because there aren’t that many women exotic car drivers,” Susan D responded acknowledging that with time this organization could grow and influence more women to find interest in cars and feel empowered and powerful enough to overcome their driving stereotypes.
Nevertheless, the responses and experiences have been mostly positive. “When you’re driving the Huracan the whole world looks at you, and I’ma girl driving this pretty masculine car and there’s something really buzzy about that…” Costello sits back in the white plush couch shares, appearing deep in thought and reflection. “It’s an interesting experience having all these people look at you. “Waving and giving you a thumbs up…you feel like you’re sharing the love…it’s invigorating,” Costello further explains. More specifically, the true sensation comes from the sound and speed of these cars performances. “I fell in the love with the sound of F1 cars, the angry bee sound, I could literally go to sleep to it,” Christensen mentioned. It is something beyond any sparkly diamond necklace or pretty blouse she has been bought before. “That thrill, that freedom, that power…I get goosebumps all over” Christensen explains. It is a powerful feeling, a feeling of being in control of such a powerful machine, which is a feeling unlike any other. It has given them the drive to find their own lifestyles. For Christensen that may mean finally owning a gallery of her own, or for Costello, finally finding her dream job at National Geographic as a photographer. The point of it is not something they have been directed to do or would do as women, but something they can do as powerful women leaders.
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