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At 20, Chelsea Herbert is already setting the pace. “I didn’t even realise I’d made history until I came into the pits and the media told me.” Photo/Ken Downie.

Motorsport racer Chelsea Herbert is making history

When motorsport racer Chelsea Herbert puts on her helmet, she’s just one of the guys.

When Chelsea Herbert was seven, she remembers being slightly bemused seeing boys she’d beaten on the go-kart track being told off by their dads for letting a girl get ahead of them.

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.

Related articles: The mountaineer who overcame a near-death experience to blaze a trail for women | Kiwi Formula 1 driver Brendon Hartley keeps his eye on the prize 

This article was first published in the September 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.