From becoming the first transgender driver to take part in the Nürburgring 24 Hours to leading the drive for diversity and inclusivity in motorsport, there isn’t much Charlie Martin hasn’t achieved. Ahead of the opening round of the Britcar Endurance Championship this weekend, Charlie explores her career so far and looks forward to an exciting year ahead.
With no motorsport background to call her own, Charlie’s introduction to racing came through a family friend and, once bitten by the bug, she never looked back.
“I guess it’s the speed and adrenaline,” Charlie said. “I wanted to be a fighter pilot as Top Gun was my favourite film as a kid!
“At school, my friend Hamish’s dad raced and we used to go away racing with him at weekends. I just fell in love with the buzz of the paddock. The year I graduated from university, I made up my mind to start competing. Hamish had been racing for a few years and it made me feel like I could do it too so I saved up from a summer job and bought a Peugeot 205 off of Hamish’s dad. It took me a year to rebuild it, and I started hillclimbing it.”
Charlie holds fond memories of her first race weekend, even if it was a less-than-conventional affair.
“My first event was a sprint at Curborough,” Charlie explained. “I’d never even driven the car before as it wasn’t road legal. Hamish won the previous day in his Morgan three-wheeler at the VMCC event with me as a passenger so technically I’d been around the course.
“My two elder brothers came along to watch and I got beaten by a Lotus Sunbeam being driven sideways by a rally driver!”
Charlie’s journey through motorsport is a truly unique tale. Overcoming several challenges, her story is one of inspiration and admiration. In entering a sport with little to no LGBTQ+ visibility, it would be all too easy to feel out of place. Reflecting on her journey so far, Charlie has one piece of advice for her younger self, and to anyone else experiencing a similar journey: believe.
“Believe in yourself and the power of your dreams. Don’t feel discouraged because you can’t see anyone who looks like you doing the things you aspire to do. Keep going, work hard, don’t give up and you’ll surprise yourself how far you can go.”
One of the way’s way’s Charlie has helped make motorsport a more inclusive environment for all to compete in is through her work with LGBTQ+ charities Stonewall and Racing Pride. In highlighting LGBTQ+ visibility, their work has taken many forms but one of the most memorable for Charlie came during the Silverstone round of the British GT Championship in 2018.
“One of the most successful pieces of activism was asking all the drivers to run Pride stickers on their cars,” Charlie recalled. “It was simple but highly effective, not least of all because it was both visible and easy to implement. Pretty much every car racing that weekend ran a sticker - I ran out of them - and it created a huge impact. I think the story went across 30 websites and it showed that motorsport can be inclusive - sometimes you just have to use your initiative and make it happen.
“I feel proud to be using my profile to create an impact because I know first hand how it feels when you can’t see anyone who represents you in the sport you love. When I came out as transgender in motorsport back in 2018, it honestly felt like a leap of faith. I worried so much about how it would affect my career. I want to change that for future generations, and so seeing positive change starting to happen in motorsport fills me with hope.”
Charlie’s ultimate goal would mark a world-first, and would include an entry in the Guinness World Records. For her it marks the culmination of everything she’s worked towards over the past 15 years: becoming the first transgender driver to line up on the starting grid of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“I went there three years running from 2001, the years that Bentley raced and took the outright win and it left a huge impression on me.
“In 2017, I did my first endurance race on the Bugatti circuit in the Norma CN and finished in 3rd place. Standing on the podium that day, I remembered back to 2001, before I was racing, before transition seemed possible. I never imagined back then that I would one day be stood where I was in that moment.
“That’s when I knew I have to make this happen. It’s about believing in possibility.”
This weekend marks the start of the 2021 Britcar Endurance Championship, where Charlie will make her debut in the series and compete in the newly-formed Praga class at the wheel of a Praga R1 alongside Jack Fabby.
Looking ahead to the opening round, Charlie can’t wait to get back behind the wheel and is quietly confident about the team’s chances.
“There’s a few things to look forward to,” Charlie said. “The first is driving the Praga R1 which is just an incredible car with so much potential. I’m also looking forward to racing with Jack, who knows the car inside and out after narrowly missing out on the overall championship win last year.
“Together, we make a great driver pairing. We’re both very focused on what we want to achieve this year and I couldn’t be more excited about the season ahead. Lockdown restrictions have meant that testing has been limited, but I’ve done well driving sports cars before so I’m confident that I can quickly get to grips with the Praga’s performance.
“Having Jack’s previous knowledge of the car to draw on is a big help too - we’re feeling confident that we can use our combined experience in endurance racing to good effect and we’re gunning for the championship win.”
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