She is fast! She is passionate! And she loves to race and fly! Her recent lap time of 1 minute 12 seconds at the 13th JK Tyre National Racing Championship has made her the only sponsored driver by IndiGo and JK Tyre for the Formula 4 Racing Championship. She laughingly tells me how ironic it is that she got her flying license before her driving or racing license. So how did a woman born in India’s middle-class home dare to dream so big?
Sneha tells me that she always loved speed. ” Since my childhood, I was a fat kid so I couldn’t run much. I liked cycling, sailing and other fast things.” So when she heard that Go-karting was in town, she decided to give it a shot! That started the unending romance between Sneha and speed. She says,” I never had anyone to train me so I made friends with mechanics and asked them for training.”
Was it love at first sight?
Sneha sailed all over India with her father who was in the Merchant Navy. She recalls how she was awed by machines and all the equipment aboard. And not just that. She tells me how she fell in love with flying. ” You’re somewhere in the middle of the Pacific and you look up and see stars. You see only one moving star, which was a plane. That is when I fell in love with flying.”
Is it a man’s world?
Certainly not! says Sneha. She admits it is difficult to make it big in a male dominated profession. Being the only girl on the track mostly and leaving male drivers in the dust doesn’t sound like a girl who men would let go very far. ” I faced a lot of comments like ” Go back, you can’t drive”..” You’re wasting the sponsor’s money” and they would actively try to hit my car. 3-4 drivers would gang up against me and try to throw me off track.”
And being more emotional as a woman helped
” A lot of times I would sit alone and think I should leave. But I never did that. My desire to race has been very strong. And to win. I have this fight inside of me that until I finish something, I don’t go to sleep,” says Sneha. It’s okay to be emotional. She says that she doesn’t need people to like her, just respect her. Since success was always kept away from her, she reached harder to get it.
Challenge is the most exciting part of the job
Sneha bubbles up with excitement when I ask her what she loves most about racing. ” Challenging yourself! Most often it looks like you’re racing a car. But you’re actually racing with yourself. It’s the only sport in the world which allows men and women to compete at the same level. I love the sound of the engine. I love the adrenaline rush which comes when the flag drops.”
And the excitement continues
Also a commercial pilot with Indigo, Sneha says she felt particularly honored to chip in the J&K rescue operations during floods. You can hear the passion and drive in her voice when she exclaims,” I love landing the aircraft. Fighting with the weather. The situation is very dynamic. Low visibility landings are amazing. I love handling emergencies.”
What will you say to women looking to be in male dominated professions?
Finally, I ask her the age-old question expecting a cliched response. But her response quietly sums up how a woman from India’s middle-class home dared to dream so big.
”Don’t find a profession that has a place for women. Go and make a place for yourself. That’s what I did in racing. Also, don’t worry that women are more emotional. Even men are overly-emotional. I learned this long back on the track that I don’t need you to like me. I need you to respect me. They’re a bit scared of me too,” she giggles.