Beth Paretta Of Paretta Autosport – Indianapolis Monthly
You were planning on fielding a female-led team at the Indianapolis 500 in 2016 under the Grace Autosport banner, but things turned sour and you had to pull out. Five years later you are back as Paretta Autosport. What happened in the years that followed?
Well, let’s just say there’s a fine line between tenacious and stubborn. And I am tenacious.
What does this word mean to you?
Try to find a solution or workaround until the door opens. There comes a time with any idea – and you can apply it to any startup or business – when it’s not that the idea is bad, it’s just not the right solution. The key is to do the proper analysis and understand why. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to change your mind. It can mean, “OK, I have to find a different partner.”
Is this what happened in 2016?
We announced our plans for the 2016 race in 2015, and our goal with this announcement was to set the intent. It’s like shouting from the top of the mountain, “This is what we want to do. Can anyone help? ” And it worked. It piqued people’s interest. Conversations with sponsors just got a little easier, and I was able to secure guarantees and make a deal with Chevy. And then at the 11th hour, someone I won’t name involved in the deal tried to change the terms to something I didn’t agree to, nor was it something my sponsors agreed to. So I said, “Thank you, but no. I’ll take my things and go. What I do not regret. It was a lesson in justice. These things happen in the race. It wasn’t unique to us other than the fact that the person who changed the terms may have underestimated my willingness to leave.
One thing you’ve talked about a lot is your desire to use motorsport as a way to encourage girls and women to pursue careers in STEM. Can you talk about this over the line for yourself, and how they are connected from a practical point of view?
I’m probably the best example of how the connection between STEM and motorsport should have worked, but it doesn’t. I’ve been a car and racing fanatic since I was 5, but neither of my parents made STEM careers. They were lovely people, but they weren’t equipped to say, “Oh, look at this interest she has. Where is it going? There are so many kids who could be fantastic in these disciplines and who don’t know enough about them. I want to lift the veil on which educational paths lead to which careers. Why else would you care about math? Why do you care about physics? Let’s explain to kids how this STEM career is applied. This doesn’t mean that all kids will want to be a mechanic or engineer. But there are a lot of transferable skills that could pique a child’s interest and put them on a path that ultimately leads to a great job. What I mean is I actually had a passion for this stuff, and if I had had the chance as a college or high school I could have been an engineer for an automotive company. . It just wasn’t something I realized at the time.
But now you have a racing team. A pretty good ending, isn’t it?
The irony is that I did it in a roundabout way. I spent my time in business, finance, operations and marketing. There are a lot of team owners who are former pilots. They become team owners because that’s what they’ve always known. Many of them have to learn the trade later. It’s a trial by fire, or they surround themselves with people who know it.
Paretta Autosport is your team, but you have a technical alliance with Team Penske. What does it mean?
They help us set up a car and treat it like it’s one of their own, which is such a gift. We pay for all of these services, of course, so these are billable hours like any other business relationship. Another advantage of linking with them is the economy of scale. We are able to fulfill their orders for supplies and pay the same rates they pay. Even something like getting a referral for an insurance broker is made easy. It’s all inside baseball thoroughness, but it helps when you’re just starting out.
Simona De Silvestro is a seasoned driver, and she will be driving the Paretta car at the Indy 500. You have said publicly that you want to have an all-female racing team. How quickly can this happen?
It’s going to be mixed at first. It must be. There aren’t enough women at the top of the race to make an entire team without stealing them from someone else. You have other fantastic women in different roles, but they are engaged in other racing teams or series. So, will all positions on the team be filled by women to begin with? No, but it’s ambitious for us. We can hire, train and cultivate these women who can rise through the ranks and take on different roles. And I want people to understand that this is racing at the highest level, so you have to have the best person. I can’t move a seasoned guy to pick a rookie. But I can hire this young girl and train her to be this guy’s apprentice and have those skills in a few years. I really believe that if you have the interest and the right attitude to learn, the rest of the skills can be taught.
Your team is part of the “Race for Equality and Change” initiative of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, owned by Roger Penske. What is its reputation for inclusiveness?
What I really mean about Roger, because he probably won’t say it so loudly himself, is that he was already doing a lot of things behind the scenes to make sure there were women and minority-owned businesses involved as suppliers, at least in the bidding process. These things bring real, tangible change, even if it doesn’t have to be in the face of the fans. When you own a really big business like him, it makes a difference. And they’ve been doing it quietly for years. I love that someone in their position has the ability to shine the spotlight with this initiative and say, “Hey, this is important.” It comes from a really authentic place with him. It’s not just, “Let’s make sure there’s a woman in the Indy 500 for a year.”
Were you surprised by the public reaction to the announcement of the equality program?
Right after the announcement, a guy walked into the comment thread and said something like, “I’m going to apply, and then if they don’t hire me I’m going to sue them for discrimination.” I just thought, OK my friend.
How do you deal with someone like that, who makes it clear that this is symbolic and that there is something unfair about the situation?
Everyone is entitled to their point of view, of course, so I don’t really spend time on it. But what I will say is that, at least in the United States, white men have always been seen everywhere. They themselves considered them as presidents, as astronauts. They considered themselves to be everything. It is not their fault; they were born as they are, just as you and I were born as we are. But they never knew what it was like not seeing yourself in a role. So I want this guy in the comment thread to understand this, “You know what you just felt in your stomach? That hot minute you got angry and felt what you were feeling right then? Now you finally know what we’ve been feeling for centuries.
I think women have grown used to being misunderstood about this. I think it can be very difficult to have an honest conversation about this.
Right. That’s why I always say, “Look, I’m not trying to sit you down. I just want a longer table. You know the book Bend over, by Sheryl Sandberg? With all due respect, I always joke that I am going to write a rebuttal book titled Scooch Over. An engineer and supplier in Detroit once said, “I’m so tired of hearing about bending over. I lean so far that I sleep at the table. And that’s true. It’s not about bending over or working harder. We are already working at 120%. The reality is that there is enough for everyone, so check it out.
Why do you think your 5 year old was so interested in cars and racing?
It was a connection with my father, and also with my brother, who died of leukemia when I was a child. My father’s hobby was restoring cars. He was not a pioneer and was not in the race, but his interest was more in historical preservation and respect for old cars. We went to auto shows. My brother died when he was 17 and I was 6, but he was diagnosed right after I was born. Since then, I realized that watching the races calmed me down. I would flip through the canals and every time I ran into a run I would leave it on. There was something about the cadence that I found comforting. Maybe it was the colors, the noise, or the repetitiveness. I am not sure. To date, if there’s a long race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the Indy 500, it’s on my TV.
What are the biggest misconceptions about motorsport for people who aren’t die-hard fans?
It’s not just the cars going in circles; there is so much more. And each series is so different. The analogy I make is that of ball sports. Just because you’re a basketball fan doesn’t mean you’re a baseball or tennis fan. IndyCar and NASCAR are as different as basketball and baseball. They have different rules, different environments, and different superstars. And then you can go even further in the technical level. Think of it as a science fair. Who builds the best mousetrap that day? Who installed the car? Who cracked the code? It’s like sports for geeks that way.
What brings you joy on race day if you don’t win a trophy?
Camaraderie – when you feel like you’re in the trenches and working side by side with your team. And that means everyone, including the front office people. They’re the ones who put the trade deals in place, and they’re just as important as the people who put the car in place. Everyone puts it all out there. I did the 24 hour endurance races, and it’s like going into battle together. There is a real sense of accomplishment. Sometimes you can have a terrible race, and the fact that you completed it can be a victory. It makes those days when you get a trophy even better. In this business, you cannot dwell on things. You have to learn from your mistakes and move on. When you see people at the highest levels of racing, they all have this skill. Without it, they wouldn’t be where they are, including me.
What kind of mainstream car does a racing fanatic dream of? Do you have a favorite?
Oh, it’s impossible to choose if you’re a motorist. How can I reduce it to 10? But in the end, I am Italian. I have a special affection for Ferraris and Lancia Stratos.