Grace Chin-Loy First female racing driver to beat them all
Her motor is throttling at the starting line of the race. She is quite close to the starter. The thought of false starting flashes across her mind just as the flag drops. She is off to a slow start and to make up she presses down on the accelerator. With dazzling speed she begins to overtake her competitors.
“Two down in one stretch,” she thinks triumphantly as she flies past them and gears down to go around the bend. Fears of not making it fill her mind as she realises it is steeper than she had thought. In horror, she clutches the steering as her car veers off the road and the bushes race to meet her.
As Grace Chin Loy laughingly relates her first crash in a trial race at Dover Raceway, St Ann, you might find it hard to believe that this humble person created history in Jamaica by being the first woman driver to win a mixed gender race.
“The crash happened the evening before my big race with the men. It was the qualifying heats,” she told All Woman. “I was so mad at crashing in the middle of it that as soon as I realised I was fine and the car could still be driven despite the front being banged up I was back on the track again.”
She was determined to finish that race and so she did albeit in last place.
“The good part about that was that I got a standing ovation when I crossed the finish line. They did not think I would have come back on the track after the accident,” she relates.
The very next day she copped first place in the mixed gender race at the Dover Heroes Weekend Meet in October 1997. According to Grace there was much excitement as circuit racing is a male dominated sport and no woman had ever won a mixed gender race before.
Richard Cunningham, who had encouraged Grace to enter her first race in March 1997 and who was also a participant in the mixed gender race tells how he felt when she won.
“I was very proud of her when she won since I had encouraged her to race. I did not have a problem with her being a woman and beating me.
She has a natural instinct for racing and she is a very good driver. That was what counted,” he said.
Another competitor, Larry Henriques, had similar sentiments.
“Her being a woman had nothing to do with it. She won and that was it,” said Larry.
While for these men, her sex was not an issue, Grace recalls other competitors telling her they were teased because they lost to a woman.
She also remembers one organiser offering to give her a head start in a race because she was a woman. His offer was promptly declined as she was determined that whatever she won would be based on personal merit.
Though she created local history, the proudest moment of her racing career happened when she beat experienced female racer, Jodi Summerbell, in the Ladies Inaugural race at Dover’s Easter meet 1997.
“It was my very first race. I was a little intimidated by Jodi, who was an experienced racer. She was from a racing family and used to competition while I was not. To know that as a novice I beat her was a great achievement for me,” said Grace, who had practised for only a week before entering. She credits Dover Racer, Milton Cameron, with training her on the track.
Since those two races she and her 1989 Suzuki Swift GTI have become known on the racing circuit. Among some of her achievements are:
* second place in Class JA1 JMC Sprint #1, Vernamfield, Clarendon February 1998
* second place in Class JAI JMC/Goodyear Tarmac Stages Rally July 1998 placed 12th overall out of 40 entrants
* third place in a sprint race in Mobay July 2000.
“Racing for me is a passion,” says the almost 40 mother of one. “I love it but it is an expensive sport. It can cost you hundreds of thousands to get your car out there in peak condition. At times too, it is hard to get sponsorship.”
For her the risk involved in racing did not serve as a deterrent.
“Risk was never my concern. The only thing I focus on out there is getting in front of the person before me,” she relates. On the track she gives in to her love of driving fast – but before a race she admits to being a nervous wreck.
“I pray a lot before a race and this calms me down. There are times I am so nervous I feel like I might have diarrheoa or something,” she tells All Woman with a laugh.
Currently, she is not sure where her three-year part-time racing career is going as she is taking some time for an evaluation. But, she says, she will continue to cultivate her interest in racing. Born in Kingston, she has been working full time in the travel industry for 21 years and is an office manager at Pauline’s Travel, Liguanea. Her friends describe her as a loving person with a genuine concern for others. Richard in particular says, “Grace takes care of everybody. If you are at the meets and you are hungry you just look for Grace and yuh safe. She always has food for others.”
According to him though sometimes she might get a little emotional and she often gives too much credibility to other people’s opinions at the expense of her own. Grace’s motto is treat others the way you would like to be treated and she loves to jetski, swim, cook and bake. According to her, she would encourage other women to get into racing.
“If you like to drive fast like I do, then its better to do it on the raceway. It is not safe to speed on the road,” she remarks.