Pilot, Racer, and Sailor Sneha Sharma On How She Overcame Trash Talk Thrown At Her By Male Counterparts
- IWB Post
- May 14, 2018
Fuelled by her love for speed and machines, she became an airline pilot by profession, racing champion by passion and now aims to be a sailor by motivation.
In conversation with Indian Women Blog is Sneha Sharma, the dynamic girl who proved that while racing may seem male-dominated, it is actually an even field for anyone ready to play. She is not only one of the fastest woman racers in the country, but also a pilot with Indigo Airlines, and balances both worlds seamlessly.
She talks about her passion for both the mean machines, recalls her initial days of struggle and also shares her experience on and off track. Excerpts from the conversation:
Tell us about your love for motor racing and how it began.
I was in love with speed since a very young age. I was an athlete and used to cycle a lot. When I realized my love for speed, I tried my hand at go-karting around the age of 14-15. I used to spend all my free time on the track, save my pocket money for extra laps, converse with mechanics to understand the vehicle inside out and before I knew it, I connected deeply with this sport. But even then the thought of going pro never hit me, until the day I saw two professional drivers creating magic on those very same tracks that I rode on. And that’s when I realized even I wanted to become a racer. I would say that those days of my life set the foundation for my life as a professional racer.
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1,001 Likes, 29 Comments – Sneha Sharma (@snehasharma52) on Instagram: “Remembered to #wear my #helmet even while #living the #island life, did YOU ⁉️ #safe🏁 #racing…”
A sport which isn’t given much support nor recognition in India, what was your plan of action from the time you realized that you wanted to race professionally?
So my days of professional training literally began on the go-kart tracks. I was lying at home and had to save my own pocket money, as I couldn’t ask money from my parents. I don’t think they understood what was it that I was doing. Looking at my passion for the sport, the mechanics agreed to train me, and that’s where I learned all the basics such as breaking techniques, steering, overtaking moves, etc. Then I started participating in local races organized by various companies and colleges etc. in Mumbai, and I used to win. Then there came a major competition organized by The Times of India, and that was when I got picked up by the national team and asked to participate in the national championship, and by then I was 16 years old.
Considering you were so young and equally burdened with studies, how did you manage both, the races as well as studies?
By the time I was selected into the national team I was only 16. I was pursuing science and had already started my pilot studies at the same time I had to travel across the nation for the races. It was a difficult call, but I wasn’t ready to select one over the other. So I had to juggle my studies with my racing schedule. I had to lie to my parents about going to extra classes or friends house, while I would actually be at a track racing.
At the same time, I used to get my books and coursework to the tracks and work on it during the breaks. I knew I had to do them both diligently because I had a lot of commitments and I wasn’t from a well-off background. At age 17 I had to leave for the US for my pilots’ training, so there was a year’s sabbatical for my racing career.
How did your parents react to your decision?
They realized that they can take the girl out of racing but not racing out of the girl. Soon they realized that I am pretty hardcore about this sport and it is definitely my passion. My parents also saw that I was in no way jeopardizing my studies and my career. So eventually they came around and started supporting me. What’s ironic is that I got my racing license first, followed by my flying license and finally my driver’s license.
Racing is an expensive sport. How did you manage it?
After I came back to India, I got back to my sport, but now things were a bit more competitive and costly! So I had to support myself by working with the team. I have done various jobs such as managing the team, training people, tuning cars, working as a mechanic.
Did you face any gender-based discrimination?
Yes definitely! There were all those comments and trash talks from my male racing counterparts, but I never reacted, as I was confident of my skill and my performance spoke. So whenever I was dissed by any racer at the beginning of the race, I channelized my frustration on the tracks and won, and that was the best response I could give for any sexist comments.
Many times people have to choose between their passion and career, but how did you manage to get the best of both worlds?
I knew where I came from and I knew where I wanted to go. I knew that I had to stand on my own two feet to support my passion so I could not afford to miss out on making my career. I took a lot of hits in my racing career when I was in college. But after my major sabbatical, I jumped from go-karts to salon cars and from there to formula racing. I have driven almost all the major Indian championships, participated in international circuits and was also awarded the Most Promising Female Driver Award. All this while I never took my career for a spin – I worked towards getting my flying license, I secured a job as a pilot, and now, my career as a pilot sponsors my passion as a racer!
Regarding facilities and support, Indian drivers are far behind their international counterparts. What do you have to say about this?
India is actually picking up in this regard. We do have our very own F1 circuit in which we race. We also have two more circuits. Chennai is also certified by SIA for F3 races. We have a race track in Coimbatore as well. For a country like India, 3 full-fledged race tracks are definitely something to be proud of. But what we need is more infrastructure. We also need more brands to come forward and sponsor the sport. Sponsorship plays a massive role since the sport is a costly one. Currently JK Tyres and Indigo are my sponsors.
The sporting segment comes with its own set of difficulties. Tell us about the challenges that you have faced as a car racer?
One of the earliest challenges was to be able to manage my time between my racing and studies. Another thing for me was to get really fit physically. When I started out, I was around 90kg, and then I had to reduce my weight drastically; I lost about 30kgs. To be a professional racer, to be able to effectively participate in endurance races, one needs to work on developing one’s focus as well. So along with racing, I participated in a lot of other sports as well, badminton, pool, etc. also meditation and yoga helped a lot. I am flying the Airbus 320 right now, and I am in the process of becoming a captain, so that also requires a lot of studying. So even now I have to find time for my coursework. All these are some of the challenges that I regularly face.
You’ve been part of the circuit for close to a decade. What changes have you witnessed?
Some of the major changes that I have witnessed is that the infrastructure has improved and recognition of the sport has increased, and I feel proud to have contributed towards this change. People have started warming up towards this sport, and more and more people are considering it as a career, and that is one of the most heartwarming changes that I have witnessed. We also have a lot of Indian drivers in the international grid doing really well.
In conclusion, what are some of the valuable lessons that you’ve have learned on track and up in the air?
Both are high-speed machines demanding your undivided attention and quick decision making skill. You need to be very precise with your hand-eye coordination. And all this while safety is your top priority. The significant difference is that in racing you are pushing your car to its limits while in flying you are making sure the aircraft stays within its boundaries. I learned that you need to make your own space in whichever profession you are going into. Let your skill and profession speak for itself. Do not pay heed to the naysayers.