BTCC Grid girls tell us the truth

The girls! (photo by Marc Waller)The BTCC is one of the main series in the UK that use grid girls and they are a common site in the big international championships such as F1.

Not everyone appreciates them or the job that they do but they are a part of modern motorsport. We thought we’d get a group of the BTCC grid girls together to ask them about the job they do and what they think about people’s opinions of their job. One thing becomes clear, they are nothing like the typical stereotype that many people think of!

From Ebay Motors we have Jo and Sam. Jo works within the fitness industry. Her job involves overseeing various sites within her region where activities are run. Sam is currently studying law (She aims to one day become a top barrister) but she also somehow holds down a full time job as a manager in a health practice. This on top of her grid girling work! From Pirtek Racing we have Gill and Chantal. Gill works for a photography company as an editor and Chantal is an office manager. We caught up with them at Silverstone;

GR: Firstly what made you each interested in being a grid girl?

Sam: I’ve been around motorsport since I was a child as my family were involved so I’ve grown up in the industry and I absolutely love it, even though my family are no longer involved I enjoy it and would miss everyone far too much to leave. Being involved in motorsport is like having another family, you meet so many amazing people that you probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. Being a grid girl gives me the opportunity to work in a sport that I really enjoy.

Jo: I remember from a very early age the F1 being on TV at a weekend and my dad trying to encourage my sister, brother and I to watch it as our cousin was racing. We didn’t really understand it but knew who we had to look out for as the cars whizzed round the track. As I grew up that was one of my proud things to share with people and my love for motorsport grew. After many years of watching on TV, I decided I wanted to be a Grid Girl. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work with STR for my first season in the BTCC in 2011 and enjoyed it so much that I have continued to Grid since with AMD in 2012 and Ebay this season. I have also had the opportunity to work in numerous other series including WTCC in 2011 and 2012, Le Mans and even F1 this year to name a few.

Chantal: I have always had a keen interest in motorsport & fast cars from a young age. Luckily I had some experience in the modelling promotions industry which meant I fell into the role of being a grid girl quite easily. The main reason I do it, is to be around the fast cars and see what goes on ‘behind the scenes’.
Gill: I have always loved cars and motorsport, doing many rebuild projects with my dad when I was younger and being on the Grid was the best way to get more involved within motor sport.

Sam with Rob Collard at Knockhill (photo by Marc Waller)Gill with Andrew Jordan at Thruxton (photo by Marc Waller)GR: So what does a typical race day for the BTCC involve for each of you?

Sam: Generally getting up at silly o’clock in the morning to get ready and arrive at the track by 8.30, as there are three grid girls in WSR we meet at our hospitality unit and get changed ready for the day, and obviously have a bit of a girlie gossip and catch up. We then have race one, which we need to be ready in the pit lane 30 minutes before pit lane opens. Then there’s the grid, come rain or shine we’ll all be smiling and laughing. Once we leave the grid all the WSR grid girls go straight to the team garage to watch the race with the team, we all like to support our team and drivers and it definitely gets quite tense watching in the garage, there are definitely some “ I can’t watch” moments. We then have driver signings which I enjoy as it gives us a chance to have a chat with the fans, which of course none of us would be here without them.

Jo: As I’m also at Ebay, mine is similar to Sam’s. I would typically arrive at 7:30am to get ready for the day ahead. We have either the first race or autograph signing sessions up first depending on the circuit. Our main role for the day though, is the grid which before the 3 rounds. We have to line up 20 minutes before the pit lane opens then head out onto the grid into positions so the rivers know where to line up. On an average day, we also do a Question and Answer session in hospitality between Race 2 and 3 and also if the Ebay stand is there we usually do a Q and A and autograph signing session there also. Autograph signing sessions are awesome as it’s an opportunity to see everyone who has come to support the teams.

Chantal: With our Team, Pirtek Racing, our guests and hospitality is of key importance. Our race day starts at 6:30am as we always have to be at the track for 8am before guests arrive. Our roles include driver signing sessions, being on the grid before the race starts, meet & greet the guests and make them feel special as well as posing for photographs. At Pirtek, us grid girls aren’t just there to look pretty, we also have to serve tea & coffee.

Gill: Pirtek really like us to be around our guests so we socialise with the guests and help with drinks. We then get ready to go onto the grid where the guests can then come and have photo’s taken in front of the cars with us. We represent Pirtek as a brand.

GR: So would any of you like to race on track yourselves if given the opportunity?

Sam: I would jump at it, given half the chance you would have to drag me out of the car, I’ve done a couple of track days and thoroughly enjoyed it. Although I have to say my first go through paddock hill bend at speed was definitely an experience.

Jo: I have actually had a chance to race karts on a number of occasions and love the sensation of speed you get when your sat only a couple of inches off the ground.

Chantal: Yes! Having experienced driving an Aston martin and a Ferrari on an experience day I would love the chance to get behind the wheel of a BTCC car.

Gill: I would love to! I drive an Abarth 500 and love it but would love to get behind the wheel of a proper race car around a track.

GR: Maybe we’ll have to arrange a Grid girl track day! There are people who dislike the idea of grid girls and who feel they are outdated, sexist and that it makes women look bad. What would you say to them in defence of the job?

Sam: It’s a traditional part of the sport, I don’t feel it is sexist at all, we are all there by choice and we all really enjoy what we do. It’s not just girls on the grid either, I remember gridding a British GT race one year at Rockingham with a grid full of American football players!

Jo: This is going to be a difficult question for me to answer because people will always see the argument from one of two sides depending on their own personal views. I personally don’t have an issue with it and think it adds to the spectacle of a race weekend. However most would argue I have a biased opinion as I have an active role in the BTCC and motorsport. I genuinely think people will always have arguments for and against but if it really poses a problem for some people they have to ask themselves why?

Chantal: I guess people assume that grid girls are there as sex objects which is not true, one of the main part of our jobs is actually to represent the teams, we are as much the face of say Pirtek than our drivers are. It is us who walk around the paddock more freely than the drivers and we get to interact with the fans even more.

Gill: Grid Girls bring a bit of glamour to racing, it makes it seem not such a male environment, it also gives girls like us who love motorsport a chance to get involved.

GR: A lot of people have a stereotyped view of what and who grid girls are; the usual bimbo who barely has a clue example often comes up. Obviously none of you fit that! Where do you think it’s come from and what could be done to show people the real situation?

Sam: Again, it’s just a stereotype, If people came and spoke to us they would find that the vast majority of us are lovely friendly girls and rather intelligent as well! I myself am a practice manager for a well-being centre whilst also doing a full time law degree, some of the other girls are also studying law and there are also student nurses and many other things.

Jo: People form opinions of others within the first few seconds of meeting or seeing them so it’s no surprise that grid girls are any different. Unfortunately because we are judged on our looks people easily stereotype us into a category that does not reflect our true personalities at all. I don’t take it personally or even listen to these people as I know we are a talented group of people who have careers in nursing, law and managerial roles for example. It would be unfair for me to judge everyone who comes to a race meeting based on what they look like, so feel people should treat us in the same way in which they wish to be treated.

Chantal: I assume that we are stereotyped as ditsy women who do have no personality or no other career outside of ‘gridding’ I personally work in the construction industry Monday to Friday and it is not an easy job, I know a few of the other girls are training to be lawyers, like Sam here, or are aiming to set up their own businesses, I purely do gridding because I love motorsport and meeting new people. If people could actually see behind the scenes, they will see that it can be hard work standing out there in all weather or if you are feeling unwell, that you have to be 100% approachable and smiley at all times.

Gill: Most of the girls especially myself, love motor sport as much as the spectators. I work full time as an editor at a photography company and do racing at the weekend more as a hobby.

GR: How would you feel if the people that are anti-grid girls got their way and there were no longer any in motorsport?

Sam: Of course I would be upset, I love my job and the things it allows me to experience. I would have to ask those that are anti-grid girls what they really have against us and what would they personally gain from us not being there, it’s not going to stop modelling throughout the world. Also as grid girls we really are part of the team, yes the show would go on without us, but I’m not sure the mechanics would like to be the new grid girls!

Jo: I think that would be a rather sad day because I feel like part of the team and don’t think I should be prevented from doing something I love and enjoy. We are like a big family who travel around the country together every year and it’s such a nice feeling at the start of a new season when everyone gets back together again. We are all there for the entertainment of the spectators! No one would want to stop the mechanics or other team members doing their jobs of a weekend, so why should we be treated any differently? We are all part of the team.

Chantal: I think it would be a great shame and there may not be as many followers. The longer you are with the team the more you are recognised and this builds up a form of friendship. I don’t think people realise that grid girls are as much a part of the team as the drivers.

Gill: It would put me out of a job and also a hobby, I love race weekends, the environment, the friends you make. We call it the BTCC Family as we have grown such great friendships throughout the year.

GR: Do you ever feel taken advantage of?

Gill and Chantal together: No never!

Sam: Never. I’ve never been asked to do anything out of the ordinary or anything that would be described as unsavoury. WSR as a team is the best team I’ve worked for, they really look after us girls and we really are made to feel part of the team.

Jo: Again no, not at all. I really enjoy my work and get treated with respect by all my fellow colleagues. I certainly wouldn’t give up all of my spare weekends and travel thousands of miles every year if I felt otherwise.

GR: Do you have any problems at all with unwanted male attention?

Sam: What girl hasn’t? Every woman at some point in their life will experience unwanted male attention, but as far as unwanted male attention at a circuit I have never come across anything that has made me feel uncomfortable or anything that has been overly rude. I generally find BTCC fans friendly and nice to talk to.

Jo: No not at all, the people who attend the races are true motorsport fans and respect the job we do. Every now and again you may get the odd comment but that happens with everything you do in life. Unfortunately people are always going to have an opinion whether you agree with them or not.

Gill: You may get comments but that’s as far as it goes, men go to enjoy the racing.

Chantal: Obviously we do get a lot of attention from male fans, but we take the job role on knowing this going to be a part of it. We wouldn’t take the job on if we didn’t like it.

GR: Finally to end on a positive note, whats the best part of gridding and being involved in motorsport?

Sam: Well firstly I get paid to watch the racing! But other than the racing itself, the people you meet and the experiences you have. You really do gain some lifelong friends through motorsport. I have some friends that I have met through motorsport that I couldn’t be without.

Jo: Grid girling presents many opportunities to meet new people and work as part of a team. I really enjoy the team spirit and the chance to interact with so many fans. Ebay Motors are an awesome team to work for and as a Grid Girl, I feel truly lucky to get to experience all I have so far within the BTCC and in other series that a lot of people will never have the opportunity to do. On a race day the atmosphere is electric and it is so exciting when you are stood in front of 300 bhp race cars being driven by some of the best touring car drivers in the world. Then once the race is underway and we all head back to our garage to watch the race the excitement builds. It’s great fun and so rewarding when the team gets the results they deserve. I especially enjoy the celebrations and the champagne showers when we get onto the podium.

Chantal: Meeting new people and seeing what goes on behind the scenes. Getting paid to be around some amazing vehicles and people, I get a sense of adrenaline from standing in front of that car and then walking off the grid waiting for them to go! Watching them cross that finish line in one piece and in a good position is actually really rewarding.

Gill: The friends you make along the way. All the other girls and the Pirtek team are amazing, but also being around the cars and doing something I have a great passion for.
Hopefully this has given you an insight into the world of the grid girls and shown that they are not unintelligent eye candy but in fact very intelligent girls who are also racing fans and are lucky enough to have a job which enables them to get involved. They definitely become part of the team and some of the girls in the BTCC have been with the same team for many years. It’s clear they are very happy in their job as well as being extremely busy. Motor racing and the BTCC in particular of course could exist without gird girls, but would this really be a positive step? It seems clear that many people both male and female think it wouldn’t. By Marc Waller

Chantal on the grid at Silverstone    Jo on the grid at the Brands season opener (photo by Marc Waller)

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