Shift Up Now | Advocating for female athletes in motorsports

Steven Cole
By Steven Cole Smith
Jun 24, 2022 | Shift Up Now | Posted in Features | From the Dec. 2021 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Dave Green

In February of 2010, 67-year-old Burt Kehoe died, his family by his side, including his wife, Lynn Schultz Kehoe, who was suddenly adrift. What to do? She tried various distractions. None stuck. “I was looking for anything that could take me out of the grief and loneliness I was experiencing.”

She worked in real estate, and a fellow real estate executive, part-time Trans Am racer Mel Shaw, put up a prize at a charity auction: two days behind the wheel of a real race car at New Jersey Motorsports Park. 

I’d always liked driving fast and thought the adrenaline rush of doing it legally on a track would push me out of my comfort zone, and maybe give me a new life perspective,” she wrote in a memoir. “My first day at the track was miserable. I just didn’t get it. But my second day, when it all came together, was magic; I was hooked. I started taking driving lessons and hitting the race track every weekend that I could, no matter where the race was located.”

Little did Kehoe know just how completely her life would change. She knew little about cars, even less about racing, but she was determined to learn. She worked her way through various series, earning the nickname Gypsy Lynn for her tendency to wander through the garages and pits asking for advice and borrowing tools as she taught herself how to bleed brakes and change tires. She will never sit on the front row of the Indy 500, but she found that distraction she so desperately needed in NASA, where she drives a Spec BMW E30, and other series.

And then, in 2014, she decided to help other female racers do the same thing.

After falling into racing about a decade ago, Lynn Schultz Kehoe started Shift Up Now to help more women experience the thrill and empowerment of driving on track. Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Shift Up Now is the name of the organization Kehoe founded, and it’s a “collective” of female motorsports enthusiasts–drivers, mechanics, public relations representatives and just interested parties. Men are welcome to join, too.

I first met Lynn a few years ago and ever since then, Shift Up Now has been a huge part of my racing career,” says Sarah Montgomery, the first woman to podium in the Mazda MX-5 Cup series. “Shift Up Now has made many introductions for me to different racing teams and has helped me find funding I needed to finish a season in 2019.”

This is not an us-against-them [organization],” Kehoe notes. “This is a ‘Let’s work together to raise the tide.’”

Montgomery says she’s seeing some progress: “Even though Shift Up Now is a female-dominated program and focuses on the females in racing, I find that I don’t have many issues with men respecting me in the sport anymore. When I first started racing, it was very much a struggle for me to get my foot in the door in certain racing series because I didn’t have a name for myself yet.

Now, since I have made somewhat of a name for myself, I find it very easy to compete against guys as they respect me for who I am and why I’m here. I would hope for the future of Shift Up Now that it would consist of continuing to help other female racers get into the sport by giving them the tools and resources that they need to help them find partners and everything else involved in getting started.”

I started racing at 6 years old,” says Hannah Grisham, who competes in Miatas and works as a test driver for Pirelli. “I was usually the only girl. Shift Up Now has brought many like-minded females together, and because of this I am constantly surrounded by other women racers. We support each other on and off the track. It’s a breath of fresh air. Having other successful female racers to ask advice has helped me a lot in my career. Knowing they are available to answer my questions or just give feedback is extremely helpful. 

For the future,” she continues, “I see Shift Up Now becoming a beacon for females in motorsports. I hope that through this women-led organization, more large corporate sponsors will recognize that there are many talented and dedicated women who are ready and able to bring public attention and, ultimately, sales to their business. And we will continue to get more women into motorsports.”

About a year ago, Kehoe decided she’d taken the organization as far as she could. She turned it over to Pippa Mann, the seven-time Indy 500 racer, and Shea Holbrook, who has won in everything from Pirelli World Challenge to jet dragsters.

Indy 500 driver Pippa Mann, in the pink helmet, now runs the group with Shea Holbrook, longtime racer and owner of BSI Racing. Photography Credit: Low Shutter Media

As one of the athlete leaders of Shift Up Now, we’re trying to create an environment where women are helping one another rise,” Mann explains. “All too often, female athletes in all sports struggle to be paid equally or even an appropriate amount when compared to their male counterparts, and in motorsport this manifests in a lack of funding for female racers to continue competing. While funding struggles are significant for everyone in motorsport, they are generally more significant for female racers.

So far, in the 10 months since Shea and I took on Shift Up Now, we have achieved an increased brand recognition that has helped us both start and evolve conversations with some brands that will hopefully help us make a significant impact in the future. We’ve continued to build on the relationships that started to form under our former management with several teams and sponsors, such as TLM, Round 3 Racing, Cooper Tire and Hagerty, who have helped our girls find opportunities to gain seat time in endurance racing events.

We’ve started to build our membership base and provide resources for the women and men who sign up as members. Our membership is about 70% racer–whether club racer, kart racer, fellow female racer or male ally–and around 30% race fans who just want to help support us in our mission.”

These funds help Shift Up Now exist and allow us to keep the lights on,” Mann continues, “and we’ve just hit a number this year where we’re also able to offer our girls help with smaller but important costs, such as contributing to at-track photography costs. We’ve also held our first series of webinars this spring and summer, including two very popular fan forum events.” More webinars are planned for 2022, covering social media, data analysis and more. 

Finally, we’re also looking to add corporate membership to try and help small businesses get involved with supporting our mission, too. Our goal is to help women succeed and to help them find the support and funding to climb the ladder.” Word is there’s also the inevitable reality TV show in the works.

Some of Shift Up Now’s athletes include (above, left to right) Hannah Grisham, Holbrook (via Facetime), Loni Unser and Sarah Montgomery. Kevin Tong crew chiefs for Unser and Montgomery. Photography Credit: Low Shutter Media

Probably the seminal moment in the advancement of Shift Up Now came in 2018, when Kehoe spearheaded an effort to get not one but two cars entered in the prestigious 25 Hours of Thunderhill, the eclectic NASA endurance race held in Northern California at Thunderhill Raceway Park. 

Both cars–Kehoe’s personal Spec E30 and a Sarah Montgomery-sourced Miata from John Dean’s Sick Sideways team–finished the race, though both had only one gear at the end. The Miata team consisted of Montgomery, Holbrook, Mann and Amy Dilks, while the E30 was piloted by Mandy McGee, Ashley Freiberg, Kristina Esposito, Kehoe and Dr. Karen Salvaggio, who teamed up with Kehoe to author “Drive to the 25!” The book chronicles the effort and sets an in-print baseline for what would become today’s Shift Up Now. It’s available on Amazon and is a solid tutorial for preparing for any endurance race.

To oversimplify, Pippa Mann heads up the experiential aspect of the organization, including social media and programs, while Holbrook takes care of the day-to-day chores. Holbrook has stepped away from the driver’s seat to start a family–her daughter is 1 and a half, and a son is due about Christmas. “But,” she notes, “I’m really more involved than ever in racing since my husband Nick and I bought BSI Racing,” a Miata repair, prep, sales and rental shop located just minutes from Daytona International Speedway.

Where can you find Shift Up Now members? Several of them, including Sarah Montgomery, Shea Holbrook, Kristina Esposito and Loni Unser, compete regularly in World Racing League events. Photography Credit: Low Shutter Media

Holbrook, Mann and Kehoe all credit racer Lyn St. James for lighting the tunnel, and Shift Up Now is intent on raising the candlepower. “Lyn has been the most pioneering person for us, and to this day she holds a lot of merit. She was my mentor,” Holbrook says, “and she’s largely responsible for the rebirth of women in racing.”

No one, interestingly, mentions Danica Patrick. Why not? “That’s a good question,” Kehoe says. “I think Danica’s success on the race track makes her a great role model, however she didn’t necessarily set out to be one. It was important to her to succeed as a driver, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way she achieved just that. Honestly, most female race drivers had to scramble their way up and focus on their careers and their driving. I don’t think, as they were making their way up, that there was time to do much else. Because the journey is so hard, right? 

I talk to Lyn St. James now, and Lyn is fighting very hard to make it all happen. She has paved the way for many female athletes in motorsports,” Kehoe says. “After she made her mark is when she started to do that. I think one of the reasons I’ve been able to do what I have is because I wasn’t struggling to make a career path as a racer. I cared more about the collective. I cared more about others coming up. I didn’t have that distraction. I didn’t have that future in my sights.”

Total membership in Shift Up Now is nearing 300. Yearly dues cost $100; you can join at shiftupnow.com.

Being a part of Shift Up Now means the world to me,” says racer Loni Unser, daughter of five-time Indianapolis 500 competitor Johnny Unser. “I love being able to help pave the way for girls and women in the sport I love so much. Through Shift Up Now I have made some of my best friends, and it is so cool to see a community of us coming together to support other women.”

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