When motorsport racer Chelsea Herbert puts on her helmet, she’s just one of the guys.
More than a decade later, and with a switch from go-karts to V8s, the 20-year-old Aucklander remains as committed as ever to putting the spotlight on performance rather than gender.
Of course, there’s immense pride at being the first woman in New Zealand to place first in the New Zealand Touring Car Championships, stepping on top of the podium as the Class 2 winner in Taupō in 2017 – one of 13 top-three finishes from 18 races that season. But her emotions on the day were more about completing a cracker of a race than breaking boundaries.
“The most special thing about it is that I raced hard, I raced clean, and everything was in tune,” she says. “We’d built up my pit team over the year and they all just clicked. Winning was so special – and I didn’t even realise I’d made history until I came into the pits and the media told me. I was so driven for it and when it finally happened, I was blown away.”
Since then, there have been both highs and lows. Motorsport is expensive and seeking support is time-consuming. She has an ongoing relationship with MTF Finance, and plenty of help from a family of fix-its, with her mum, dad (a race-car engineer), older brother and boyfriend providing everything from car adjustments to catering to tech support.
Herbert juggles her day job in admin with a programme of simulation training and intensive gym sessions, as well as dance classes to provide flexibility and give her some time out from the mental intensity of being behind the wheel. The dreams are big. Next, she has her eye on the Australian V8 Touring Car Series, not as a “female race driver” in a separate class, but competing alongside men in the true sense of equality. The message is getting through. When little boys come up to her at the race track now, it’s not because their dads have told them off, it’s because both of them want her autograph.