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Majority-Women's Team Trying For Indy 500 Debut

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For the first time in Indianapolis 500 history, a majority women's team is aiming to compete at this year's race. The so-called greatest spectacle in racing has long been a male domain. Only nine women drivers have competed over the years. This team is part of a broader effort to diversify motor sports. Here's Samantha Horton of Indiana Public Broadcasting.

SAMANTHA HORTON, BYLINE: I'm here on the first official day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Indy 500.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS RACING)

HORTON: The No. 16 car pulls into the pit lane. And crew member Caitlyn Brown climbs over the wall to service the inside front tire.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOOL WINDING)

HORTON: Brown is one of the women on team Paretta Autosport. About 70% of the team members are women. Brown is really excited to be in the public's eye.

CAITLYN BROWN: It's definitely something that's - it's still hard to wrap my head around right now because you don't really understand the impact you're making until it's over. It's just incredible to be able to have the opportunity. And I can't imagine what it's going to feel like come race day.

HORTON: The team was announced earlier this year. Team owner Beth Paretta says if it qualifies, it will be making history. She's quick to note the women who got them here.

BETH PARETTA: We stand on their shoulders. There have been women that have been mechanics that had to hide the fact that they were women, you know, had to wear bandanas over their hair so that, you know, people wouldn't be heckling them.

HORTON: This team is a part of track owner Roger Penske's Race for Equality and Change initiative that launched last summer. Paretta Autosport is allied with Penske's team. With that comes guidance and crossover employees like Brown, who's been working as a mechanic for Team Penske in the NASCAR series. Penske executive Jimmie McMillian says this is one of many initiatives being made to make the speedway more diverse and inclusive.

JIMMIE MCMILLIAN: This sport and maybe even the facility has gotten the reputation of being, you know, the place for white males or the place for white people. And that's just not true.

HORTON: Driver Simona De Silvestro is excited to return to compete at the Indy 500 with Paretta. And she embraces the mission.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO: When we on pit lane, you know, I think all the other teams kind of look at us. But, you know, we just do our job. And that's what it is. And hopefully, you know, I think if somebody is good at what they do, they should also get the shot at it.

HORTON: For owner Beth Paretta, getting more women into the sport is just a first step. She wants to see more diversity on all the racing teams.

PARETTA: Racing is the only sport today that can be coed at the pro level. And I think that's a really amazing comment because if you look at everywhere else - business, industry, science sectors - life is coed

HORTON: Paretta's team is making its debut at what is considered the Super Bowl of racing. She likes the attention it draws and hopes that having more women in different roles might inspire future generations to get involved in motor sports.

PARETTA: The best thing for me is if there is a young girl watching at home and she sees herself. That's all we want to do. And maybe 10 years from now, she'll be on pit lane.

HORTON: The Paretta team will compete for one of the 33 spots in the Indy 500 this weekend. The race is scheduled to run Sunday, May 30. For NPR News, I'm Samantha Horton in Indianapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOANNE SHAW TAYLOR SONG, "BONES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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