• Leanne Tander wears her pink with pride. (Wade Aunger)
Leanne Tander wasn’t always happy to be known as a female driver, but she's since embraced the moniker - and the colour pink.
Leanne Tander

28 Jul 2016 - 8:30 AM  UPDATED 28 Jul 2016 - 8:30 AM

20 years ago, if anyone had suggested I paint my helmet pink or put a splash of pink on my kart, I would have had to restrain myself from punching them.  Just like I wanted to punch the CAMS staff member who, instead of helping me get the National level licence I wanted so I could move up to Formula Ford, suggested I get “a pink car and a pink suit and just do some hill climbs.”

Yet today I have a pink car and a pink helmet.  In fact, over the past few years I have driven in a number of pink cars and worn several different pink suits and helmets.

So what has changed?

Well, mostly me.

You see, 20 years ago, I did not in any way want to bring attention to the fact that I was a girl.  I wanted to be seen at best as one of the boys and, at worst, a genderless racer.  

It had nothing to do with me wanting to be a boy but, back then, there were even less girls than there are now and some boys/fathers still had problems with girls racing.

I was told, “Girls should sit home looking pretty” and asked, “Why don’t you go play netball or do ballet instead?”  I heard fathers berating their sons for being beaten by a girl and invariably would find myself the next race being punted off the track by that berated boy, fearful of his father’s reaction should I beat him a second time.

I was serious about my racing and was not there to look good, pick up boys or gain attention for anything other than my driving ability.  One of my proudest moments when I was karting was when I came back into the pits after a really good race.

Two young men stood next to the scales and called out to me “Great drive, mate!”  As I took my helmet off and they realised I was a girl, their mouths literally dropped open.  “We thought you were a boy!” said one.  “Yeah, you drive like one,” said the other.

To me, the colour pink was an invitation to my competitors to treat me differently and not in a good way.  I felt it would make me a target on track and undermine my abilities as a driver.  Generally speaking, by not flaunting my femininity I was taken more seriously by my fellow competitors.

I continued with that theory for a long time and, for me, it worked.  I walked a fine line between not flaunting my femininity but also not acting so much like a male that I would be labelled “butch” or “dyke” (and yes, I did hear those things said about other girls). I saw other girls and women posing for raunchy photos or wearing their full faces of make-up to the track and I heard the comments that were made about such behaviour.

However, at the end of 2007, after I narrowly missed out on the Australian Formula 3 Championship/ Australian Drivers Championship by 2 points, my mind-set changed.  A very high-ranking CAMS person said to me “You nearly ruined Australian motor sport.”

I was confused, and asked what he meant.  “Well, if a girl had won the Australian Driver’s Championship it would have lost all credibility.”

This time I WOULD have punched him, had it not been for Garth dragging me away before I got myself into trouble.

That comment still makes me angry to this day and, at the time, made me realise there is no escaping the fact that I’m a girl.  No matter what I do, I will always be a girl and really, I should just be proud of it.

It took me a super long time to come to that realisation so it makes me really happy when I see young girls in karts and cars proudly wearing pink suits, helmets or number plates.  I am so glad they feel comfortable being themselves in this sport and it gives me hope that their path might be just that tiny bit easier than mine.

So, even though I don’t particularly love the colour pink, I now wear it with pride.  Yes, I am a girl and yes, I am good.  Deal with it.


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