Wheel Sisters: Uniting women in motorsport

Monika Graber has created a community to encourage female motorsport participation

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What use is a passion if you can’t share it with others? What good is an achievement if you can’t enjoy it with your friends? What use is a fight if you’re not doing it united?

As you’ve hopefully learned and discovered already throughout DirtFish Women’s Month, women have far more representation in motorsport than ever before. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not still work to do to level the gender split and kill all cases of sexism.

There’s several ways that this can be achieved, but Monika Graber’s idea is that we do this as one. Allow us to introduce you to Wheel Sisters – a self-titled “sisterhood” platform for all women in motorsport to share their stories and help others get involved.

“At the time I started as a co-driver there weren’t so many girls in the motorsport area, not in the rally area,” Graber, Wheel Sisters’ creator, tells DirtFish.

“I think I wanted to motivate more girls to get into motorsport at the time, and to show them ‘I can make it, I had no motorsport background, and if you want to you can do it too, and I can help you get into a rally car.

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“‘I can help you to drive your slalom races, to smell a bit of the motorsport air’, I don’t know, I thought it was a good idea to transport my passion to encourage more girls to get into this.”

Graber’s first motorsport experience came at home in Austria, but it hasn’t been a life-long obsession for her.

“My parents were not into motorsport. I grew up on a farm and was a farmer girl and didn’t know anything about motorsport,” she says.

But since being introduced to motorsport by her boyfriend, that passion has only grown over the last 15 years: “My first race was on a frozen lake in Austria,” she remembers.

“I was the only woman and I was in the middle of these competitors and I thought ‘hmm, it’s fun! I’m not that bad at all, maybe I should race again’ and so I started with motorsport.

“It all started with my boyfriend, he brought me into motorsport and at first I raced with his racecar and a few years later I got my own racecar, and I drove these hillclimb races and slalom races in Austria.

“After about five years of hillclimb races and slalom races my boyfriend started with rally, and I was his navigator. Now we have been together as a team for about 10 years and drive rallies in Austria and the neighboring countries of Austria like Slovenia, Italy, Czech Republic.”

And if you think that’s cool, wait until you hear what car they’re competing in.

“We are competing in classic cars with an Opel Ascona like from Walter Röhrl, this makes it really fun,” says Graber.

“We are now building a second Opel Ascona 400 Group 4 – really nice! And we want to start with this new car but it isn’t finished yet.”

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But what about Wheel Sisters? When was the idea born, and what’s the ultimate purpose?

“To be honest Wheel Sisters is a one-woman show, it’s mostly me, my boyfriend and some friends that help me with some designs or make some other little decisions in this project.

“It all started, I think it was in 2018, I got pregnant and I had a little bit of time for such ideas, and I wanted to make a T-shirt for women in motorsport. That was the main idea, because I had Googled it and there were no T-shirts where I can transport the passion for motorsport for women in motorsport.

“I have a design background, so I tried myself with [Adobe] InDesign and Illustrator to design a T-shirt. I showed the T-shirt to a few girls in the motorsport area and my friends, and they all loved it.

“The T-shirt very quickly developed into the Wheel Sisters project and worldwide platform for women in motorsport.

I thought 'oh my god, we are in the 21st century, we are all fighting for equal conditions and human rights, female rights, and this couldn't be real Monika Graber

“It really quickly developed into a platform, and I recognized that girls would like to have a hoodie, would like to have a jacket, a beanie and it got more and more into a shop.”

This isn’t some side hustle for Graber to make some extra pocket money though – far from it. Merchandise sales aren’t done to generate revenue but instead to spread a message and create a community. And it’s already working.

“So many girls who recognized this initiative came to me and wrote me emails or messages on Instagram and Facebook and told me their stories,” Graber explains.

“They told me their stories when they get treated very bad in their motorsport discipline, for example I can remember a motocross driver, a pro, female who told me that at the beginning of her career she got kicked off the bike during a race because she was female and she was faster than a man.

“Or in go-karts, a girl told me for example that she won the race and was the only person at the podium, because the second and the third place [finishers] were boys and they didn’t want to stand with a woman on the podium.

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“So many girls told me such stupid things and I thought ‘oh my god, we are in the 21st century, we are all fighting for equal conditions and human rights, female rights, and this couldn’t be real’.

“And so I thought let’s interview some women in motorsport in different areas and disciplines, also in the mechanic area, and tell their story, tell their ways to success, tell their failures and hints for beginners and this is how the blog started.

“And because of these stories I got a lot of feedback again from the girls who said to me ‘oh my god, Catie Munnings, she’s such an inspiring girl, I’d love to read how she started with her career’ or ‘oh my god I didn’t know that this girl had any pain in some races and had to come back stronger’. That was really heart-warming and I loved it.”

There’s a strong chance that reading this, you’re learning about Wheel Sisters for the first time. But, male or female, it’s an initiative that’s well worth supporting as it’s rallying for a cause we can all get behind: to get even more women involved in motorsport.

“The best way to support the project is to write me a message. So many girls write me a message saying they are not into motorsport yet but they want to be and I try to connect them with racers or co-drivers in their country,” Graber says.

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“I try to help them and get the impression of what they want, what they need. And then if they want to get into this community, I always say buy one T-shirt, that helps me and it spreads the passion and the philosophy of the community, and then you’re presented on the website [under the ‘Our Sisters’ page], you can come into the Facebook group and get to know so many girls from around the world.”

Graber’s ambitions are for more too. She shares that her “great plan” is to sponsor a female racing team or create a rally school to invite more women to try their hand behind the wheel.

It’s fabulous what she’s trying to achieve and already achieving. Hopefully this DirtFish feature can help raise more awareness for Wheel Sisters.

“I’m really interested in Women’s Month of DirtFish, Michèle Mouton is the special guest. I really hope that any initiative in the future will help to get a woman into Formula 1, that would be great, or again into rally like Michèle Mouton,” Graber concludes.

“We need to get women into motorsport in higher positions and we shouldn’t see each other as enemies, we should work together to get more women into motosport.”

Words:Luke Barry