In our most recent feature, Business Awards UK engages in a candid conversation with Jess Shanahan, the winner of our Small Business Diversity and Inclusion Award for 2023. As the innovative brain behind Racing Mentor and a motorsport diversity champion, Jess is now a Motorsport UK LGBTQ+ Committee member, and has curated a safe space where business acumen and motorsport passion intertwine seamlessly. Racing Mentor, under Jess’s stewardship, has blossomed into a nexus for training and coaching, focusing on amplifying business skills and sponsorship acquisition in the racing arena. Dive into our discussion as Jess navigates us through the evolutive journey of Racing Mentor, exploring the genesis, challenges, milestones, and successes of a business leading the way on diversity in motorsport.
The below is a concise transcript, we recommend watching the video for all the details.
Can you give a brief description and history of your business?
“Of course, thank you for having me. So, I’m Jess Shanahan, and I run something called Racing Mentor, which is a very niche brand that I set up at the end of 2017 after I’d been working in a Porsche race team.
So, I had the pleasure of working with Turn 8 Racing, which was my own brand at the time, and two fantastic drivers with a Porsche 924 in the Porsche series on the BRCC, and it was during that time I got a tonne of sponsorship for the car, and we were doing really, really well. But loads of people were coming to us saying, you know, “How are you doing this? How are you able to do this?” And I realised that not many people knew how to get sponsorship, and with my background in sales and marketing, I was like, right, I need to set up something, and that’s kind of how Racing Mentor came to be. And essentially, what we do now is we provide training, courses, and coaching to racing drivers and other athletes who are looking to build their business skills and gain sponsorship to go racing.”
What challenges or problems did you face when you first started up Racing Mentor?
“Yeah, I feel like there was a lot of proving myself. I think racing, especially in the UK, is quite cliquey, so people use the people that they know. But I was coming into it with a brand new thing; no one else was offering this at the time. So, I had to do a lot of work, gave away a ton of free content and coaching to get recognised and seen as the expert. There was also a small challenge in being a woman in Motorsport.
There are many women across Motorsport now, but you don’t necessarily see women like me, tattooed, neuro-diverse and not necessarily the typical grid girl. At the time that’s what people were used to, so while people wouldn’t be overtly sexist, I think there was a perception of being a woman that had never raced. So, I had to lean on my experience, running a team, working with drivers, doing PR, and that kind of thing. It remains a challenge because people aren’t quick to trust in Motorsport because there are so many people out there looking to rip you off.”
As winner of the Small Business Diversity and Inclusion Award for 2023, what drove you to establish a diverse and inclusive environment for motor racers?
“It almost happened by accident. We realised that we were creating a safe space that Motorsport didn’t necessarily otherwise have. We attracted a much higher proportion of LGBTQ, neuro-diverse, and people of colour within our audience. It’s so good to go to an event, do a lot of Motorsport events, and collect people as we go because they know they’ll be safe if they’re hanging out with the Racing Mentor entourage. We also aligned ourselves with Racing Pride and offered scholarships to some of their audience. I now sit on the expert committee for Motorsport UK, which is humbling and wonderful.”
What advice would you give to someone who wants to create a diverse, inclusive environment, not necessarily even in racing, but just anywhere?
“I think it’s about listening to your audience and the minorities that you’re tending to attract or want to reach. It’s important to listen to those voices and include them. Regardless of what industry you’re in, it’s vital to go out and speak to those people, find out the challenges they’re facing, and how your business work can support those people and help provide solutions or just give them a platform to be seen and heard.”
Why did you choose to enter Business Awards UK specifically?
“We really wanted to start pushing the brand outside of motorsport, and felt Business Awards UK fitted what we wanted to do. Seeing the Diversity and Inclusion Champion award we thought how great it would be if we could win something like that, as it broadcasts that we’re a serious business. We wanted to show we’re doing what we do for good reasons and champion people who might not otherwise have a voice in the industry.”
Since winning the award, has that affected your business? Have you seen more diverse people coming in? Have you seen more word of mouth about it?
“I think it’s still early days in terms of how this one is going to affect us, but the attention has been really exciting. We’ve had a lot of people coming to us saying, “Wow, you’ve won an award, that’s amazing!” It’s helping people who are already in our audience realise that we are bigger than just me, and we’re a proper business with a team of people doing this for the love of Motorsport.”
Would you recommend Business Awards UK to any other businesses, and if so, why?
“Yeah, the whole sign-up process, the application process, was really straightforward. We had a lot of fun putting together our application, and being shortlisted was exciting. I certainly recommend it for that.”
What is the next big step for yourself and the business? What does the rest of 2023 and 2024 look like?
“We’re doing something really exciting. At the end of 2018, I released a book called Get Paid to Race. The second edition will be coming out towards the end of this year, and I’m really excited about that. We’re also doing a pre-order phase now, so we’ve already pre-sold a bunch of the books, and it’s nice to see that we’re starting to generate that excitement for when it comes out.“
Fantastic! If they want to find the book or find Racing Mentor, where can they find you, Jess?
“I’m on pretty much every social platform just at Racing Mentor, or there’s tons of information, free resources, and a link to the shop where you can buy or pre-order”