Phoebe Dale Nongrum
Today, we meet a trailblazer from Meghalaya, India. Phoebe Dale Nongrum tells us how motorsports went from being her childhood dream to her reality – and how she made history in her state.
WHEEL SISTERS: Phoebe, please introduce yourself.
Phoebe: Hello ladies, I go by the name Phoebe Dale Nongrum and I’m from the state of Meghalaya in the north-eastern part of India, from a small town called Shillong. Currently, I am driving for the first all women Indian Formula4 team called Ahura Racing. I have been participating in the Jktyre National Racing championship for circuit racing and, in addition to circuit, I also participate in some dirt racing events.
WHEEL SISTERS: Phoebe, as a woman you are a trailblazer in motorsport in Meghalaya, India. How did you get introduced to motorsport? Can you please describe your motorsport background?
Phoebe: When I was a young girl I had this passion for engines, cars and bikes. As I grew older, I developed the desire to one day become a race car driver, but that seemed impossible at the time, since motorsports was not a common sport in my town. And being a girl made it even more difficult to start. The only thing I could do was watch Formula1 and MotoGP on television – the only motorsports available to me back then. But I never gave up hope and kept the fire in me burning until there came a time when I decided to take a break for a year and I moved back home to give motorsports a try in 2017. By then, motorsports was well known and a friend of mine invited me to an event that was happening in my town – little did I know that my friend was going to ask me to participate in the ladies category. To my surprise, I actually won my first trophy and that’s how my motorsports journey started. Now I represent my state at national championships and am the first professional woman race car driver from my state and from the north-eastern part of India as a whole.
WHEEL SISTERS: Can you tell us your achievements so far?
Phoebe: I began with some autocross, I was even a co-driver for a friend in two rallies, and then I started driving circuit racing. In total, I have competed in 13 races, some on dirt and some circuit, including formula seasons. Of a total of 13 races competed in, I have achieved 12 podiums so far.
WHEEL SISTERS: In your opinion, what does a Formula4 driver have to have in order to become successful?
Phoebe: In order to become a successful Formula4 driver the first step is to work hard, day in, day out, to train hard each day to perfect yourself and your skills. Starting early with karting helps make it easier to learn. Exercise is part of the journey: keeping fit is important, consistency is key.
WHEEL SISTERS: Why is it so difficult to be a woman in motorsport in India? Which prejudices do you have to deal with?
Phoebe: Now, there are quite a lot of women who have taken the step to give motorsports a shot in India, but it’s still a difficult journey for each woman. There is still a lot of criticism; most times, people still cannot wrap their heads around the fact that there are women who can drive. The one thing that I have come across is that people say, but you’re a woman, motorsports is for men, you’ll never make it out there, it’s very difficult. Coming from a small town it did seem impossible, but then, being criticised like that made me work harder and prove them wrong – yes, it’s a difficult journey, but nothing is impossible when you work hard enough.
– yes, it’s a difficult journey, but nothing is impossible when you work hard enough.
WHEEL SISTERS: Have you experienced any sexism when racing, if so, how do you deal with it? Does it bother you?
Phoebe: Yes, I have, but only from a few people. I have very supportive male friends. I deal with it by brushing it off, I tell myself that if they have to be sexist then they are worried that I, as a woman, may get better than they are… Motorsports knows no gender, it is determined only by one’s skill, talent and love for the sport – in my opinion, anyone can race.
WHEEL SISTERS: What was the most impressive moment of your career so far?
Phoebe: Since I am the first woman from the north-eastern state of India to ever take up motorsports and to have broken barriers, this was the most impressive part – winning and getting a podium at the jktyre national racing championship recently means that I have made history for my state and for the northeast as a whole.
WHEEL SISTERS: What are the biggest difficulties you experience in motorsports?
Phoebe: The biggest difficulty is lack of training. I barely get training. I arrive before the race weekend and try to fit in with the rest. The reason for that is lack of sponsorship… Sponsorship is something I am still really struggling with.
WHEEL SISTERS: What does the motorsport landscape in India look like? What are the most common disciplines? Motocross? Rally? Circuit races?
Phoebe: India has different kinds of terrain – the landscape here is suitable for motocross, rally and circuit racing, too. All three are very common here in India. We also have the Desert Storm challenge every year in India’s Rajasthan desert.
WHEEL SISTERS: What is important for girls who want to become race car drivers in India? What tips do you have for beginners?
Phoebe: For girls who want to take up racing as their career, it is important to start young and start with some go-karting to understand the mechanisms and improve. For beginners, it’s key to allow time to get better because it’s a learning process and you become better with each step of the way. Keep working on it until you achieve your goals.
WHEEL SISTERS: Who’s your personal motorsport hero or role model?
Phoebe: My motorsports hero and role model would be Niki Lauda, of course, for never giving up and giving it his best even after a bad crash. The other would be Michael Schumacher for being such a brilliant driver – he’s one of my heroes/role models too. And I will always have a great deal of respect for Jessi Combs who holds the record for the fastest woman in the world – she will always be a hero of mine.
WHEEL SISTERS: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Phoebe: My aim is to one day be able to drive outside India – maybe the W Series or any of the international circuit. I would love to aim for the Dakar too… So, I’m going to work my way up as far as I can.
WHEEL SISTERS: What is your education and your job?
Phoebe: I hold a degree in finance, income tax and marketing. I recently moved back home from a different city in India where I did my studies and worked for 12 years. I’ve now come back to my hometown to start up my own business here.
WHEEL SISTERS: How do you spend your free time?
Phoebe: I go into the wild and try to visit places that I haven’t seen before – nature is what attracts me the most. Apart from that I do some gaming and some singing.
… I have made history for my state and for the northeast as a whole.
WHEEL SISTERS: What does motorsport give you personally? How does it make you feel? What aspects of it do you love the most?
Phoebe: Motorsports has been one of my greatest achievements – personally, for me, it is my dream come true. It makes me feel like I belong when I don’t seem to fit in, because I’m not a girl who likes to play dolls – I am the rough one and fitting in has been difficult for me. I love the fact that I can go flat out and feel the rush of adrenaline – I love speed. It makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.
WHEEL SISTERS: What are your sporting goals in the upcoming months or years?
Phoebe: My only aim as of now is to be better than I was yesterday, to work harder to achieve more and to climb higher each year and in the years to come.
WHEEL SISTERS: What else would you like to tell us?
Phoebe: If you have goals, aim for them, start somewhere and work your way up to the top. Consistency and patience are key. The journey may seem impossible but you’ve got to keep going until you cross the finish line.
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