SEMA eNews Vol. 15, No. 31, August 2, 2012

YEN Member Spotlight: Brandy Morrow on Winning Respect in a Male-Dominated Industry

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Brandy Morrow
   

Growing up, Brandy Morrow, 28, didn’t envision herself behind the wheel of a race car or working on cars in the hot summer sun. Her father Mike, who was a professional motorcycle racer and transitioned into performance sales and marketing, never forced the car hobby on Morrow. In fact, while pursuing martial arts and other mainstream pursuits, she didn’t even get her driver’s license until she was 17. Her father then taught her basic vehicle maintenance and enrolled her in a defensive driving course. A year later, looking to learn a little more about vehicle control (after wrecking her first car—a Saturn), Morrow enrolled in an all-women’s autocross school at El Toro Airbase in Orange County with her Honda Del Sol.

That experience, where Morrow was surrounded by fast women in fast cars and competition drove a more thorough understanding of vehicle control, lit the fire. From there, she attended several karting schools, and SCCA and NASA races and eventually came to be one of the fastest drivers on the Goodguys Autocross circuit. After obtaining a degree in psychology from UC Irvine, Morrow went to work at a medical office, keeping her passion for competition as a weekend hobby with her father and brother. However, she found office work a little slow, so she chose a different path. Four years later, as marketing coordinator for Spectre Performance, she now tours the country, explaining performance induction to consumers at car shows, working on marketing materials and driving Spectre’s ’70 “Carbon Camaro” Pro-Touring autocross machine.

How did you transition from psychology to the aftermarket?

I was working for a medical office and was looking to escape to something else. I was bored, and my job position wasn’t really what I wanted to do. Spectre was putting a marketing program together with a semi truck to travel around the country and educate the public about its products. They were looking for an outgoing young person to join the team and travel 11 months out of the year. I had really never been out of California, so I jumped on the opportunity. I would get paid to travel and visit new places, while attending car shows every week. What could be any better than that? I have met some fantastic people along the way and have seen more random things than most can say they’ve seen in their lifetime.

How did you start racing and how did you pitch Spectre to put you behind the wheel?

I was first given the opportunity to race for Spectre about two-and-a-half years ago. In 2009, the TV show, "Truck U," wanted to film a segment at the Goodguys Autocross course in Nashville, Tennessee. I jumped at the opportunity. What I didn’t know was that being a female behind the wheel of a car on the autocross would get so much attention. I came in dead last every single race but still received praise and attention just for going out there and participating!

I started in Spectre’s ’70 Mach 1 and ’70 El Camino. Neither car was set up for autocross; it was a constant struggle to improve. The crowd response we got just from taking our cars out to the autocross, racing them a couple times and then driving them back to the booth was amazing. When the car was back in the booth, people who were interested in both the car and the products we had on display filled the area. It was one of the best marketing moves we could have made with the truck and trailer program. Not only was it getting the consumers' attention, but we also started to receive a lot of press from the media and events we attended.  

In 2011, I finally got my hands on a car set up specifically for autocross. Spectre built a ’70 Camaro to showcase our bolt-on cold air intakes. The car was built with me in mind, taking my height and size into consideration (I had to use a booster seat in the El Camino). Instead of worrying about little things, such as seeing over the steering wheel, being secure in my seat or having no power steering, I could focus on my driving. With each event I got a little better, but it wasn’t without the help of others. Brian Finch is my autocross driving instructor. Somehow, he just knew how to get through to me to help me with my driving; prepping me mentally before each run, guiding me through each turn and giving me pep talks at the end to either knock me from my pedestal or reassure me that I would get it next time. 

The one thing that dad always reminded me was that winning was one thing, but marketing the car and the company were my top priority. Though it was pretty cool to win a couple of events, it was even more important to get people in the car with me, offer strangers a ride and get younger people interested in what I was doing. So, in 2011, I set out on a mission. I tried not to ride alone. I tried to find someone in their late teens, early 20s to come for a ride. I tried to educate youth on what I did with my job, on the road and with my racing. This was more of a personal mission at first, but it turned into a great marketing opportunity for Spectre. Not only did people enjoy going for rides in the Camaro, but I also made sure to make an extra effort to leave an impression on those people and, far more importantly, make sure they were having fun.

What do you like about being on the road?

My passion was always the competition. My problem was I would get intimidated when other people got into the car to go for a ride with me. I would tense up, get sick to my stomach and feel that I needed to take them on the ride of their lives, which usually ended in complete failure with me running over half the cones with a couple stuck under the car by the time I crossed the finish line. This was how I earned my nickname, “Cone Queen.” In 2011, it was a different ballgame. I had a car that was actually set up for me, I was comfortable and secure behind the wheel and my confidence grew with each race.  

With a few wins under my belt, I was determined to get over my fear of having passengers in the car, while also encouraging more people to get interested and involved. This has been my new passion ever since—educating the public on autocross, taking people for rides, making them smile and building friendships. It’s not too often that people have the opportunity to travel the county and talk to as many people as I do. The ability to meet all different types of people, build relationships and get people involved in the automotive industry, whether it’s marketing, engineering, racing, etc., is what I love about being on the road. Making a difference (even if it’s a small one) in people’s everyday lives is what I enjoy most.

There aren’t very many women in motorsports. Is being female an advantage or disadvantage?

I struggled with the concept that I was a woman racing in a man’s sport. When I first started racing, there were more bad than good comments each time I went out and drove. I heard people say they shouldn’t let females go out there and drive, that I was in last because I was a female, etc. These did not get to me as much as the sexist comments did. I had guys who would approach me with the intent to hit on me—they didn’t take me seriously as a competitor. At the time, Stacy Tucker from DSE and I were the only women consistently competing in the Goodguys autocross in the Midwest and on the East Coast. It was definitely tough. In 2010, more and more females started coming out with their cars. The West Coast always had female drivers, such as Mary Pozzi. As more females started to come out, people weren’t as shocked to see a woman behind the wheel. It was also nice because all the women started to form a close bond and help each other out—and we started to win.

On the flip side, our industry still has a gender bias. I can’t express how frustrating it is when someone walks up to our trailer to ask a question and will refuse to talk to me, wanting to wait for one of the guys to become available so they can ask them. I had a particular case during one show where a guy refused to talk to me because he didn’t think I knew what I was talking about since I was female. When he finally spoke with our truck driver, our truck driver referred him right back to me. I ended up building a custom intake for his car right at our booth, and he came back the next day saying how happy he was.

It’s extremely hard not to get upset at the time, but I have learned to make these my little missions. I know that I will not be the woman to break down all the stereotypes about females in the automotive industry, but if I can work on one person at a time, that makes a difference.

What would you tell girls who see you race at events around the country?

Have confidence! Females, males, young, old… I can’t tell you how many people I have had come up to me and say, “I wish I could do that, but I don’t think I would be any good.” I am a strong believer that any type of racing will make you a better driver. Autocross helps teach car control and forces you to get to know your car better. I like to talk to my passengers now and point out things the car is doing while we are on the course. This way they are also learning. 

My confidence speech goes way further than just the automotive and racing realm, though. I usually reassure any girl who comes up and asks me questions to just be herself. Don’t try to fit in with the guys, don’t try to talk like them or be over confident to make an impression. I have learned that people respect you for just being yourself.  

Everyone always comments, though, on how I always have a smile on my face; I am always laughing and how it looks like I am always having a good time. There are times when I am frustrated at my driving for the day or the track may not be ideal, and there are times that I have let my frustration show. So the most important lesson I have learned while on the road is positivity. No matter what happens, what place I am in or anything for that matter, as long as I keep a smile on my face and stay positive, it really makes a good impression on others. Fake it till you make it!

Final thoughts?

I am not a dress up, wine-and-dine kind of gal, but I have a lot of respect for those types of businesswomen. I prefer to get my hands dirty, work on the Camaro, go out and beat up on the boys. With that, I have control over how I am perceived and how I can encourage other younger females to get involved and have the confidence to succeed in anything they do.

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