Editor’s Note: Wednesday, Feb. 3 is the 35th Annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day. This story features Paretta Autosport Team Principal Beth Paretta.
On Tuesday, Jan. 19, Beth Paretta walked down the main straightaway at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a group of close friends and co-workers. Coming from Turn 1 toward the Yard of Bricks, she saw her name lit up on the Scoring Pylon as she approached the iconic Pagoda.
For the first time in days, Paretta had a moment to take a breath and appreciate the momentous turn her life had taken. After years as an automotive industry executive, she had just announced the formation of Paretta Autosport, which will compete in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30 with driver Simona De Silvestro.
“It was having those few moments with my friends and loved ones out on the actual track, standing on the Yard of Bricks and seeing the Pylon, it was like, ‘Wow, it’s here,’” she said. “And there’s something different about seeing your name like that.”
Seeing her name featured around the Racing Capital of the World meant a lot, though she was quick to say this is less about her and more about the people that helped get her to this point.
Paretta is naming the team after her family. It’s a nod to her deceased mom and dad, who supported her back to the days when she watched racing and read car magazines at the age of 5, and her brother, who passed away when she was a kid. This is her chance to see “Paretta” live on in history.
“With my family name, (my brother) was the last male in the family with our name,” she said. “Obviously, me being the daughter, I was always just aware of that. Unfortunately, both my parents have passed, and I don’t have any immediate family. I feel this is a nice nod to them.
“I had a call from a dear friend who works in racing, and he knows that story, and he just said to me, ‘Your mom and dad would be proud.’ I had the most amazing parents, and they were very generous with their love and support. I just know that they would get the biggest kick out of this.”
Paretta is hoping her team’s legacy lives on in auto racing history. She’s striving to make real change in motorsports, and she’s starting with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, helping foster change to a business model in motorsports.
In a male-dominated sport, Paretta is fielding an all-women race team in this year’s edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with the hopes of going full-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES racing as soon as 2022.
By breaking the business model, Paretta doesn’t mean she wants to start from scratch or replace people’s spots in the sport. Instead, she wants to add more places for women and people of color.
“I don’t want to take someone else’s seat,” she said. “I want to make a longer table. Listen, if it’s expanding the grid, then it’s expanding the grid. If there are 24 cars in a regular NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, maybe there can be 30 cars.”
The other aspect of changing the business model she has in mind is by investing younger, with the understanding that the results might take 10 years or more to come to fruition.
Paretta’s biggest hope with an all-women race team is that young girls will see her, De Silvestro or the plethora of women she will employ as engineers, PR reps, marketing specialists and more and see something they can be.
She believes people and businesses need to invest in children between the ages of 10 and 12-years old, because that is the age at which children’s life trajectories can really be shaped as they begin to wonder what they could grow up to be.
To be clear, this isn’t a new mission for Paretta. It actually goes back five years to when she attempted to field a car in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016 under the Grace Autosport banner. Her mission then was that an all-female team would spearhead a new generation of women to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). That unfortunately didn’t come to fruition, but the mission of Grace Autosport is still alive.
She said what she learned from five years ago is that the race team and the mission must be separate. Paretta Autosport will serve as the representation young girls need to see to believe they can achieve a career in the automotive, motorsports or STEM industries, while Grace Autosport will serve the off-track goal of bringing young kids to the racetrack to give them a more immersive experience and pique their interest.
“It also allows me to be in the sports car paddock or maybe it goes global and work with kids in karting,” Paretta said. “There’s just so much more opportunity. I like the separation because I can get more people.”
She also insisted that while she says her focus is to introduce young girls to the sport and business, it’s really children as a whole, because she knows her mission can have an impact on young girls and young boys.
“If I have female race engineer teaching about cars and ambient temperature to a group of co-ed kids, the boys get the lesson, the girls get the lesson, but the girls also notice that there’s a woman talking about this,” she said. “That’s the difference. Boys will still get the same lesson, and it will resonate to them.”
This well-designed plan comes from experience. Paretta has served in roles with some of the most respected performance brands, including SRT (Street and Racing Technology) at FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), where she was the first female director to lead a performance brand and motorsports for an original equipment manufacturer.
She worked with Roger Penske in that role, back in 2012 when Dodge won the NASCAR Cup Series championship with Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski. For her efforts in the championship run, Paretta received a ring, which she now considers her lucky charm.
The ring features her name on one side, and Team Penske’s on the other. It was quite fitting for the Jan. 19 announcement at IMS. Her team will receive technical support from Team Penske, and it’s an extension of INDYCAR and IMS’ “Race for Equality & Change” initiative led by Penske.
Paretta was wearing her lucky charm on that cold day at IMS, and you can be sure she will wear it this May when De Silvestro competes in her sixth Indianapolis 500 and what is sure to be the first of many for the Paretta name.