IndyCar on NBC’s Katie Hargitt looks to ‘fuel’ more females in motorsports

Photo: IndyCar

Katie Hargitt joined the IndyCar on NBC team in 2015, but was no stranger to motorsports or media work.

Hargitt is a former racer herself – she raced quarter midgets starting at the age of nine and moved into USAC midgets at the age of 15, and she continued racing until she was 21 – and began pursuing a career in media while at Ball State University.

She quickly got the attention of USAC and became a pit reporter with them, alongside several other gigs within the media realm.

“I loved it. I loved telling people’s stories, even just around little (Muncie, Indiana), but I loved it. And I loved the people I got to meet, and the stories I got to tell,” Hargitt told NBC Sports in discussing her early media career.

She quickly developed a demo reel that eventually got the attention of Mike King, then the lead announcer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, who offered her a “tryout” of sorts at the 2013 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and her Verizon IndyCar Series reporting career was off and running.

Fast forward to 2018, her fourth season as a part of the IndyCar on NBC team, and Hargitt began looking at a new venture. She took note of several successful women within the IndyCar paddock, but also knew there were a lot more out there with the potential and the skill to work in the motorsports realm; they just lacked the connections and/or the resources to break into it.

“Ever since getting into IndyCar professionally, and racing in general professionally, I have seen this need for resources for women who are not necessarily drivers, because the women drivers are able to get attention, and therefore resources. The women behind the scenes – the mechanics, the engineers, the business women – don’t necessarily get that same attention, therefore, no resources,” Hargitt explained.

The idea led her to speak with Terry Lingner, producer of the NBCSN IndyCar telecasts, which then led to a conversation with Teresa Sabatine, Indianapolis Film Commissioner.

What she initially thought might be a single-day event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one that would highlight all the motorsports careers young women could aspire to, quickly grew into something much bigger.

Now a non-profit dubbed Fuel the Female, Hargitt’s newest venture aims to do exactly what its title says: metaphorically fuel girls and women to pursue careers within motorsports, or even in other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and business fields. In short, Hargitt hopes to use it to help empower women, no matter their career path.

“Now we are working on developing a scholarship for women who want to get into motorsports and need some assistance in their education. We’re developing a mentorship program, and we’ll also have some networking opportunities – so, just general events that anyone would be able to attend,” she said in discussing her objectives and the projects associated with them.

All told, the process has taken Hargitt by surprise, notably because of how quickly it has gone.

“Everything is happening so fast,” she exclaimed. “I feel like it should take years to get to where we are, just because of the incredible amount of support I have received, not only from people in the paddock but the general public.”

She’s even planned and held the first event for Fuel the Female as well. Back in May, during practice week ahead of Indianapolis 500 qualifying, Hargitt and the Fuel the Female team organized a day in which 60 female students from Indianapolis Public Schools came out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to meet and hear from a number of women who work within IndyCar in varying capacities.

Such women included Danica Patrick, Kate Gundlach (an assistant engineer for Chip Ganassi Racing), Cara Adams (the chief engineer for Firestone Racing) Lisa Boggs (the director of motorsports for Bridgestone Americas), Jessica Mace (a mechanic at Andretti Autosport), and Kate Guerra (Sr. manager, national media outreach, with INDYCAR).

And while Hargitt was certainly excited to kick off her program with such an event, she was also more than a little nervous.

“I was terrified going into the day, because I didn’t know what to expect with high school girls,” she revealed. “It could go one of two ways. They can either be fascinated and interested and want to know about motorsports, or they can be completely tuned out. Luckily, it was the first option.”

Hargitt credited people like Lauren Guidotti (community outreach manager at IMS), Anne Fischgrund (Sr. manager VIP services at IMS), and Allison Melangton (Sr. VP of events for Hulman Motorsports and IMS) for helping to ensure that things went off without a hitch, and added that the students’ involvement was genuinely incredible, with their willingness to be interactive and ask questions of the speakers making the event all the more powerful.

“We had fantastic students, and I was particularly impressed with one school in particular. All the girls introduced themselves to the speakers and shook hands with them and wanted to know more about their careers and reached out to us on social media – they wanted to know how they can stay involved and how can they know more about motorsports. I went into the day thinking ‘If we can change a handful of girls’ minds about what they can do with their lives, we’ve succeeded.’ And I think we did that.”

Katie Hargitt (right) and Kate Guerra (left) during the first Fuel the Female event in May. Photo: IndyCar

More events and plans are in the works, with recent projects including a slew of profile pieces on various women who work in racing – Brie Rentz (communications director at Ed Carpenter Racing), Gail Truess (AMR Safety Team driver with INDYCAR and pace car driver with the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires), and Lauren Stewart (owner and operator of Lauren Stewart Promotions, and fiance of the late Bryan Clauson) are among those who have been profiled. Danielle Shepard (engineer at Ganassi) and Amanda Lund (engineer at Andretti Autosport) have also been featured on their Facebook page.

Hargitt described that her ultimate goal is to start raising funds to establish things like the aforementioned scholarships and mentorship programs to help up and coming women break into motorsports. And with their first big event already in the books, Hargitt can already see the potential impact of it all. She particularly noted how the students reacted to Danica Patrick’s story, specifically her ventures outside of the sport.

“They were like ‘(Danica) is in her 30s and she did what? Like, she has businesses? You think I could have a business?’ ‘Yeah, girl, you could have a business!’ ‘Oh my gosh, here’s what I want my business to be in,'” she said of conversations she had and overheard among the students. “Just, their brains really start to turn and their minds start to change – ‘if she can do it, I can do it.’”

Hargitt added, “Seeing these women build their own brands and their own careers, and watching the students’ eyes open up was enough to fill up my heart for a lifetime.”

More information about Fuel the Female, including ways to get involved and donate to the cause, can be found on their website.


With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”