Julia Ballario: Racing in a male-dominated career
By Laura Rodriguez Claros
When she was just seven years old, Julia Ballario drove a karting, a small racing vehicle, for the first time, and that’s when she discovered her passion. So while her female friends played with dolls, her dream of being a motor racing driver was born. Shortly after, she was already racing on dirt and pavement runways, at speeds of between 80 and 150 kilometers per hour. Says Ballario, “Since I was a kid I knew that racing cars was what I liked the most.”
Born in Marcos Juárez, a town in the province of Córdoba in central Argentina, Ballario, 24 years old, recalls those beginnings: “My family loves car racing (she uses the Spanish term“fierrera”), my dad raced and so did my uncle, but the decision and the desire to be a pilot were mine. At first, they did not want me to drive cars. They were afraid, and I was very young. But since I got into a car the first time, they have supported my decision and they accompany me.” In May 2016, Ballario made history in Argentine’s motor racing when she became the first woman to win a race in the Top Race Series, on board a Mercedes-Benz CLA Of 3M Racing, at the Santiago “Yaco” Guarnieri Race Track, in the province of Chaco.
It was a tough competition, in the midst of unpleasant weather and a wet track, but she managed, with safety and professionalism, to win a victory that made her the subject of television interviews and newspapers’ front covers. Says Ballario, “After that triumph, I feel that I am making my place in motorsports. I’m one more in this field. I want to show that women can also win in a male -dominated sport. That this is what I like doing the most and what I worked so hard for.”
But getting to the top of the podium was not a fluke on a lucky day. Ballario has taken motor racing as a profession for years, reaping experiences in different categories such as Formula Renault, Tourism Track and TC 2000, as well as the Pro Mazda Championship, in the United States, where she lived for a couple of years. The physical training is key: she goes to the gym twice every day and performs strength and balance exercises to be able to give her best on the tracks. She completes her preparation for each race with study of the circuits, looking at cameras on board.
Ballario received her degree in graphic design, but being able to live off of motorsport is still her main dream. However, the race to reach her goal doesn’t come without obstacles. Indeed, the barriers posed by being a woman in a predominantly male-dominated profession are not easy to cross. In Argentina, it is very common to hear men say the famous phrase “go to wash dishes!” when they consider that a woman who drives makes a bad maneuver. This sexism is exacerbated in the competitive sport: “Women are seen with different eyes when they get into a race car. People doubt about our conditions,” admits Ballario. “But I am happy and proud because, little by little, I’ve been demonstrating that women have the same skills and that it is not a gender issue, rather the experiences and the learning that each one has had in his or her own sports career.”
Ballario acknowledges that “motorsport is a macho environment”, where gender stereotypes must be tackled and which often lead to negative comments towards women. Ballario notes that these remarks are “coming especially from some teams and pilots, not by journalists and the public who watch the races. I always try to be seen as one more, not to make the gender difference, and I try to adapt to this environment in which I live every weekend surrounded by men.”
Ballario’s cheerful and spontaneous image is also reflected in her social network: “I like to show myself as I am, a normal life of any other girl my age, but who, on weekends, gets in a racecar.”
In short, the young driver is positive about the future: “Women are not the same as men, but we are making our place,” she says. She even highlights the relationship with the sponsors: “I think the fact of being a woman attracts many more sponsors, even the ones that have nothing to do with motorsport, to join the project.”
After her transcendent victory in Chaco, Ballario was recognized by the INADI (National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism) as a Goodwill Ambassador and Positive Leader, an acknowledgment for her work in favor of the visibility of women’s rights and non-discrimination by gender in the motorsport environment. Such work is important in this sport that, unlike others, unites participants of both genders in the same competition.
“Since I was appointed INADI Ambassador, I feel even more committed to the struggle for gender equality. I know that today I am a reference for many women and perhaps I can help open the way to those who are in doubt about getting into generally masculine environments. I feel a responsibility for that, and I want to continue working on this same road,” assures the young pilot, who aspires in her sports career to “be the feminine reference in motorsport.” Ballario wants “to be a guide for other women to reach the equality we all seek so much. I do not aspire to compete in any other particular category where I do not feel competitive and strong.”
With Ballario’s triumphs, she gained another race victory last October. The Argentine motorsport has left behind the time in which a woman pilot was a rarity on the tracks.
The feminine presence in national sports was also seen during the 2016 Rio Olympics Games with a large Argentine delegation of women (74), where, for the first time in history, two female athletes obtained a gold medal: Paula Pareto in judo and Cecilia Carranza Saroli in sailing.
With energy and determination, Argentine athletes are conquering places until recently unimaginable. These are the same qualities that Argentine women exhibit in other areas in society in their struggle for equal opportunities and the visibility of their rights, a movement that finds its peak with the #NiUnaMenos massive marches against gender- violence.