Raise Your Game talks to Liz Halliday, Californian racing driver and professional international equestrian.
Raise Your Game: Why motor racing?
Liz Halliday: My father was a racing driver, his name is Don Halliday. I grew up with it all around me. I have always been into fast, dangerous sports, even as a child. As soon as I got in a car I knew it was for me and that I would enjoy racing and competing. My mother was also involved in Solo One. She always said I was like my father and would want to compete one day.
RYG: How did you start?
LH: I started at the age of sixteen. I didn't take the karting route like most do. I shared a car with my father for two years. It was a 1967 Datsen 510. I then took a couple of years out from racing as my father went to Europe competing and at the time he wouldn't let me race without him being around as I was still very young.
I was also at the University of California Santa Barbara around this time, so I focused on my studies and I continued with my love of horse riding. I was always involved in low level motor clubs, competitions and with the Vintage Auto Association, and I believe this really helped me on my way.
RYG: Was it difficult starting out?
LH: Yes. I have only been a professional seriously for two years, including this year. I'm very lucky to be at this level and it is very hard to catch up. It is all about holding on and it is very important to learn from the other drivers. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself, wanting to be very good very quickly, which forces me to up my game.
RYG: What do you gain from being a female driver in a male-dominated sport?
LH: The main thing is media attention which is good publicity for the sport. As I'm the only women in this championship I would like to think that it encourages other young females to get into it. Also the media helps me in getting sponsorship. Confidence is something that has developed over time which is a very positive thing to gain. Respect is also very important, both giving it and receiving it from other drivers in your team.
RYG: How do you prepare and train before an event?
LH: I horse ride. I find it is the best way to maintain my fitness and stay physical. I have to practise anyway for my equestrian front. I do dressage and schooling too. I also do physical training where I work on my neck and upper body strength. Racing is a high endurance sport and you are in the car for a long time so this area is crucial.
I believe the more prepared you are physically, the better prepared you are mentally and the more you can then cope. Mentally you have to focus on the job in hand 100%. In the build-up to a race I begin practising two days beforehand with two other team members. We have an hour and a half practise run together. Then on the next day we have another practise in two separate hour long sessions. On the actual day of competition we do a warm-up run in the car before the race.
I think I would improve a lot more with more testing next year but at the moment I take what I can.
RYG: What qualities and skills do you need to be a first class racer?
LH: Determination is number one! You have to be trained physically. You have to have a good mental attitude - wanting it and enjoying the thrill of going fast. There is a certain level of aggression with competing at professional racing level but you have to control it as it is a high reaction, fast sport.
I would say being able to work as part of a team is essential. You learn to give as well as receive support. I have learnt to be focused and I have carried this with me elsewhere in my life. I am also a safer driver and I am a stronger person mentally as I am constantly under pressure and have to deal with things.
RYG: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
LH: I am the woman with most wins in the history of the Le Mans series and that has made me the most successful women in the 54 years the event has been running. Also the Intersport Racing Team I race with came in second overall behind the Audi squad in the Sebring 12 hours. Both experiences are wonderful things for me to have achieved so early on in my short career.
RYG: As well as being a racing driver you are a professional equestrian. How do you balance the two sports?
LH: In Britain I focus on my horse riding. I ride everyday no matter what. I have a wonderful trainer called Joe Meyer. He is from New Zealand and competed in the World Games this year. I have been with him for four years and we have a good rapport.
At the start of each year I sit down and look at both calendars and plan it that way. Obviously sometimes there are some overlaps but I have to be organised. At the moment motor racing is taking precedence and I have been quite lucky this year in picking and choosing. I tend to compete every weekend with racing so I'm very busy training for both. The travelling is a lot but I have been living this lifestyle so long now that I am used to it. I am so busy the only proper rest I get is when I'm sitting on the plane.
I like having the two sports in my life. It is nice to have a change. They are both intense sports, but the balance I have is working for me at the moment and I find they compliment one another.
RYG: Are there any skills that are transferable between driving cars and riding horses?
LH: Yes, there are skills that parallel in both. They are both all over physical sports that require being focused, accurate and having good strength. They are both fast with big consequences if things go wrong, so I have to be alert and aware at all times. With racing there is much more endurance and technical skill.
Interestingly I find that the weight changes and balance that I have become accustomed to in riding have helped me to feel what the car is doing. It has become instinctive to me and I think that has something to do with why I am doing so well in my passion for racing.
RYG: Are there any sacrifices you have made in order to be successful in your two sporting ambitions?
LH: I have no social life. There is no time for one. Once in a while I may go to dinner with a friend but that is it. However I am much happier travelling and being busy competing in both my sports than having time off.
The sports are also hard on my body, and I do have a longstanding bad back due to an injury some years ago. I don't regret any part of it though. I love what I do and my sporting career has taken me to some wonderful places and seeing the world.
The satisfaction of achieving goals is the greatest thing for me. There is nothing like a great race or ride that gives you an amazing boost. It is very rewarding when you win or do well.
RYG: What's next?
LH: Today I fly to the La Guna Seca in California, which is a very famous track in the states, and it is my last race of the year. Then I will have a week off and I come back to the UK. I will be involved in a television show when I return to the UK as I am involved in a programme at the Silverstone Race Way. I will be co-presenting on this so that is quite exciting as I have never done anything like that before with my racing expertise.
In the future I would like to try other forms of racing, testing Formula cars or single seaters would be good, but again it is finding the time as I am incredibly busy. I don't think I have the time to try any other new sports. I have already cut skiing out of my routine in order to manage the racing and riding relationship. By the looks of things I am going to be busy for quite a few years.
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