Pitch to Pits by Nicci Daly

Let it Rip!

Nicci Daly In The Pits

Nicci Daly takes time from training with the Irish Hockey team to respond to comments from racing driver Carmen Jorda about women in motor sports

Nicci Daly Irish Hockey Player & Motor Sport EngineerI grew up in the foothills of the Dublin mountains and since the day I was born, until I was 13 years old, I spent just about every weekend at Mondello Race track with my dad. Over a career of 18 years he was Irish champion multiple times. He had one of the most decorated cars on the grid with sponsorships ranging from 2fm, Abrakebabra and Pepsi. He is considered to be one of the most successful Irish racing driver of all time. 

I gained experience over the last two years working as a Data Engineer for their Indy Lights program. My goal is to return to Juncos Racing when I finish my hockey career. 

My uncle, Derek Daly, raced Formula One and Indycar. He reached the highest levels on the world stage, which was another inspiration for me. I have been lucky enough to have endless support from him as one of the most influential people in my hockey career, and since the beginning of my career as a Motorsport Engineer.

My dad passed away when I was 13. Since then, I wanted to be just like him but that would have meant I should have been a racing driver. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the funds for that and I soon realized that I didn’t need to be a racing driver to be just like him. All I needed to do was find my passion and be the best I could be.  So even though most people in Ireland know me for playing hockey, you can now appreciate my interest in motorsport, and how this mentality is rooted deeply in my family. 

After school I went on to study mechanical engineering and completed a masters in Motorsport Engineering in Cranfield University, England. When Ireland failed qualify its hockey team for the Rio Olympics, I decided it was time to start developing my professional career. I took an entry level position with Juncos Racing in Indianapolis, Indiana. I literally dropped into an strange city, in the middle of America, with one objective; to gain the experience I would need to become a capele employee for a high-level team. As a female, this was a big risk, as there were so few women in the motorsports world at that time. I gained experience over the last two years working as a Data Engineer for their Indy Lights program. My goal is to return to Juncos Racing when I finish my hockey career. 

Every girl in the world should believe they can be whoever they want to be but no matter what it is, they should strive to be the very best they can be.

In light of the recent unfortunate comments from Spanish Racing Driver Carmen Jorda* on the level at which women should aspire to in motorsport, I decided to respond to her and express my own views on women in motorsport.

In recent years, women in sport have generated huge attention and are finally getting rewarded for their efforts and contributions to their chosen sports all over the world. However, women in motorsport still needs encouragement to help attract more women into the sport.

 Carmen, you are a member of the FIA Women in Motorsport commission, but after reading your recent article where you put women drivers down saying they should not strive to race in F1, I was appalled. You said they should try to race Formula E instead because it is easier and less physically demanding. Do you really believe that belittling not only women in the sport, but the Formula E series too, was beneficial to anyone? Because of these comments, I felt this was a good time for me to use my platform to help encourage you and other young women into the sport and to prove that not all women in motorsport think the same way as you do.

My motivation was to better myself and prove to myself I could do it. It was probably the first time I had really experienced the saying ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable 

 I thought to myself, what message is she trying to send here? It was not a message of encouragement and it certainly wasn’t a message of striving to extract the best out of yourself. It posed limits; boundaries that women could not cross, but I personally, have never been someone to limit myself. First of all, I’m a lesbian, as well as an international field hockey player and a Motorsport Engineer. Breaking molds and pushing back boundaries is what I do.

 I often use  the hashtag #TheBestYouCanBe because everyone’s best is different. Just because you, Carmen, believe that your best is not F1, doesn’t mean to say that that should be the limiting factor for all women.  Every girl in the world should believe they can be whoever they want to be but no matter what it is, they should strive to be the very best they can be.

Looking back to 2012 when I was doing my masters in England, I got to such a low point that I wanted to quit. The campus was an isolated place in the middle of an airfield in Bedford, far enough away from the nearest town that I felt isolated.  Sheep and cows were all I saw, so it was tough for me to settle in and feel comfortable.

I was there because one day I wanted to be in pit-lane working at one of the biggest races in the world, The Indianapolis 500.

I felt so out of my depth with the level of technical engineering involved. I was one of only two girls in the class and we weren’t exactly best mates. The rest were guys and had way more technical experience than me at that time. Even though I was lacking confidence and felt so far behind them, I never once felt inferior to them.  It wasn’t a case of they know this because they are guys; they knew it because they had experience in it and I didn’t.

I wasn’t scared. I didn’t allow the male to female ratio in the class be a problem. My motivation was to better myself and prove to myself I could do it. It was probably the first time I had really experienced the saying ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’ I mean I could have chosen to sit in my room crying everyday about how miserable I was and how much I missed my friends and family.

I could have sat and felt sorry for myself about how little I knew going into this, but I decided I needed to woman up, put the big girl pants on and get on with it. I told myself I had to accept the situation and focus on why I was there. I was there because one day I wanted to be in pit-lane working at one of the biggest races in the world, The Indianapolis 500. I was there because I wanted to challenge myself to overcome my fears that I couldn’t do it. I was there because I wanted to be the best I could be.

It was worth it. I passed my exams and my thesis that I did with the Sahara Force India F1 team. I developed a model for them to determine the optimum driving line in racing simulations. I have no idea if they use it today but I certainly enjoyed spending time at their Formula 1 team base in Silverstone. It was probably one of my greatest achievements and it was something that definitely made me more confident in my abilities in becoming motorsport engineer.

When I walked in the door at Juncos Racing, I found it much easier to step into their high-performance team mentality. My tough days were part of what prepared me. I felt ready for the challenge. It was a team that reminded me a lot of where I came from. A family owned team, built on the passion of the owner Ricardo and his longtime friend, engineer, Ernie Gonnela. Their work ethic, determination, but above all passion to be the best they could be, is the reason why Juncos Racing is the leading Road to Indy team in the paddock, and the reason they are now competing in the Indycar series. They are a true racing team – not just a team that runs racing cars.

For any athlete to reach their potential, they first have to believe they can do it. You cannot rely on someone else to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself first

Despite the inbuilt pressure to perform, this is exactly the environment I wanted to be in, and the type of environment I believe I now thrive in. I believe that committed people, who are focused on being the best they can be, become invaluable, because they enhance the performance of the team. 

 As a high-level athlete, we are constantly placed in high pressure situations.  In our development stages, our mental skills development can often trail that of our physical skills. Because the brain always leaves room for doubt, we can get stuck in the underdeveloped stage; because the mindset can be so powerful. Sometimes it won’t let you develop all your skills. It quietly tells you to be afraid to ‘let it rip’. It tells you that making a mistake is embarrassing, instead of a great teaching moment. This is the true meaning of what the mind perceives, the body achieves.

But if the mind is driven by self doubt, it’s no wonder Carmen told women to run from the highest levels of competition. However, if the person is driven by the need to be the very best she can be. If she is open to learning, understanding, asking and challenging herself to reach for the stars, then she can challenge the establishment. She can disrupt what was once considered normal.

For any athlete to reach their potential, they first have to believe they can do it. You cannot rely on someone else to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself first. Then they have to be driven by the desire and dedication to actually follow through and make it happen.

A normal development path for us as athletes can be when circumstances dictate our belief system. If a great play happens, we suddenly believe we can do it, our confidence temporarily grows, and we start to play at our best. As the same player we can have an average day, when the favorable circumstances didn’t come about that gave us that temporary injection of confidence. This is when circumstances dictate our behavior.

The key is to flip this on its head. We have all read about the behavior of champions. Their behavior dictates and creates the favorable circumstances because they believe they can do it. When combined with the desire and commitment to be the very best you can be, the stars become within reach. Your skills and your self-belief create the favorable circumstances which in turn allows you to play at your best.

In my early years as an athlete I was probably a great example of how to self-sabotage your own game, I lacked confidence as a person and consequently as a player. Although I wanted to be the best player I could be, secretly I didn’t really believe I could be that player or that person. The only thing I could do was try to find a way through that wall. 

My uncle helped me understand how the mind can work. This knowledge allowed me to believe that I could actually take that next step. Believing it led to the confidence to actually do it. I learned how to understand my weakness and then turn it into a strength. Once I grasped it, I could then let it rip on the pitch. However, without having a need to be the very best I could be, I probably would not have found the answer that unlocked my potential. I am still learning and developing these skills today as I know it is the key to my success.

This is the lesson I think we should be teaching all women Carmen – that they can do it if they reach far and high enough. For me, the first evidence of this was when I scored perhaps the best goal of my career against South Africa during the Rio Olympic qualifiers. I was equipped with my normal determination, and I actually believed that I could let it rip. That was the turning point for me, and since then I have been able to further grow my belief system and continue to push the boundaries of what might be possible. I believe Carmen that this is possible for anyone, male or female.

 Being the best I can be continues to be my motivation. I do not focus on whether something is male dominated, or whether a team is more decorated and ranked significantly higher. As long as I am improving myself and my ability, I know I can continue reaching new levels. At the end of the day nobody owes you anything; life in general owes you nothing. You reach heights using steps on the ladder you yourself create. 

This is now my mentality for anything I do in life. Being the best motorsport engineer I can be is the next step on the ladder. I look forward to challenging myself and learning more about myself along the way. And Carmen, I also look forward to seeing a female racing in Formula One someday. A female who believes she can do it and equips herself with the determination to reach for the stars.

But for now, my focus is on being the best hockey player I can be and the best team mate to the Green Army. My team are a group of empowered women who have broken all the boundaries with me over the last eight years and become their own champions of the game. It is encouraging to grow together to be the absolute best we can be. Please support us as we prepare for the biggest competition the Irish Women’s team have been involved in since 2002 when we compete in the Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup in London this July 2018.

Carmen Jordá Buades is a Spanish motor racing driver. From 2015 to 2017, she was a development driver for the Lotus and Renault Sport Formula One teams.

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