The Game Changer
Meet Beth Paretta, Owner of Paretta Autosport and Her "Scooch Over" Philosophy
In my book FASTER, I chronicle the remarkable story of Lucy Schell, the first woman to own, finance, and run her own Grand Prix racing team. In the process of shattering her own barriers, she recruited a Jewish driver named Rene Dreyfus, and together with a down-on-its-luck French car company, they took on Hitler’s Silver Arrows and crushed them at a race shortly before the onset of WWII. Despite Lucy’s success, the barriers to women in the sport continue to this day, whether in Europe or the United States.
Beth Paretta is trying to change the model and break that cycle. The CEO and team principal of Paretta Autosport, she fielded an INDYCAR race team in the Indy 500 in 2021, ran four road and street circuits in 2022, and aims to have an organization made up mostly of women in the near future. That means everyone from its leadership (her) to its drivers to its mechanics, engineers, and beyond. “Women have been in racing throughout history,” Beth says, “But the fact that we can recite all their names is the problem. I like to use the analogy that women in the paddock have been like drops of food coloring in the ocean. I’m just trying to put all the drops of coloring in one glass. We’re not doing anything differently from the women who have already been in racing, but the visual of us working together is powerful.”
One could easily argue that Beth is a modern-day Lucy Schell, but with even greater ambitions than her predecessor. She got her start in the automotive world soon out of college, working at a car dealership. This led to a job at Volkswagen as a manager in their credit division, offering finance and lending services for franchised dealers. From there she hopped over to Aston Martin as an operations manager until she was lured away by Ralph Gilles and Sergio Marchionne of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. They hired Beth to be the director of marketing and operations for the company’s performance division and motorsport activities. While there, her teams won several national racing titles. Prior to starting Paretta Autosport, Beth also launched a program to promote STEM education for girls. She’s been named everything from Autoweek’s “Secret People” who will revolutionize her industry to a “Game Changer” and “Power Player” by the sporting press.
This dry recitation of her resume does little justice to the force of nature that is Beth Paretta. To have even a brief conversation with her is to know plainly the passion, drive, charm, and perseverance that gave velocity to her meteoric rise in the automotive and racing worlds. But at the heart of her story is the inspiration behind her workcraft. Let’s start there.
Join my weekly newsletter for more illuminating profiles.
Beth grew up in Farmington, CT, a mid-sized town in the heart of the state and a ten-mile drive west of its capital. Neither of her parents had anything to do with the automotive business, nor were they much into car racing. That said, her father liked vintage cars, and as a child, Beth and her older brother Michael rode around Farmington in their restored 1930 Model A Ford. It had no heat, and Beth still remembers the feel of the wool blanket that they would wrap around themselves in the back seat.
It’s a cozy recollection, but not the kind that sets one irrevocably on a certain path. For Beth, that was the leukemia that ultimately took her brother’s life. Michael was eleven years older than Beth. He was diagnosed with cancer of his blood cells when Beth was only a couple of months old. Throughout her first years, Michael’s illness shaped their family’s existence, whether it was trips to the hospital or his struggles at home after chemotherapy. His illness threaded into conversations over the dinner table, and with his hair having fallen out from treatment, it colored even a simple trip to the grocery market.
Beth did not know it at the time, but she was suffering from her own trauma of living this very unsettled life, never knowing if the brother she loved would be okay. There were remissions and relapses, late-night emergency room visits, hours in the pediatric wards, and many nights alone being watched by a family friend while her parents stayed with Michael at the hospital. To distract herself, Beth watched TV. She had two favorite programs. The first is Saturday Night Live. The second is racing. Whenever she was clicking through the channels and there was a car race of any sort, she would watch it. “I found the rhythm of it soothing,” Beth says. “It was simple to watch. There were numbers and colors and a cadence to it, whether F1, INDYCAR, or NASCAR. The sounds of the engines were almost hypnotic. I had a chaotic life, and racing was soothing. Even to this day when I’m on the track and it’s loud and there’s all this chaos, if you see me, I’m completely Zen. It’s literally as primal as that.”
Added to this early love of racing, Beth spent a fair number of hours of her early youth in the family’s detached garage. At 14, Michael had asked their father if he could restore a truck to give him something to drive when he was legal. “Absolutely,” he said, then bought a pair of 1952 Ford trucks, one to work on, the other to use for spare parts. For the next couple of years, they spent weekends and many after-school nights on the restoration. Always the welcoming big brother, Michael gave Beth the task of cleaning and degreasing parts amidst the beehive of activity. She was not yet in kindergarten.
Early in his senior year of high school, Michael passed away. He was just seventeen, and the old truck was not yet finished. Beth poured some of that loss into her burgeoning passion for all things automotive. She started voraciously reading car magazines, any she could get her hands on. For a reward for good grades, she asked her parents for a subscription to the new, glossy Automobile Magazine. Only decades later, Beth would come to understand that she was trying to make “everything okay” in her family. Since Michael and her father had this connection with cars, she instinctively wanted to take his place.
Regardless of the reasons, tragedy had sown in Beth a love for racing and cars. She would take that passion to blaze a path for women in this world. Here’s my Q&A with her:
Explain to me the genesis or inspiration behind launching Team Paretta?
The idea was simply to get more women into racing in a variety of roles, and in fairness, you could say any new group, people of color, just diversity into racing. The more we do that, the more we grow the fan base because people will see themselves and see racing as something relatable. I love racing. It's something I've been passionate about my whole life. I want other people to like it as much as I do. I want the future of racing to be healthy. So on a selfish level, I see Paretta Autosport as an investment in making sure that racing exists for the next 100 years. What's great about the sport is it can be completely co-ed. Of pro sports that are televised on this scale around the world, it's really the only sport where men and women can be on the same team, shoulder to shoulder, because racing is a lot more than the physical effort of driving. It’s strategy and mechanical expertise and engineering prowess. I want to show what’s possible and available to women on a race team.
Talk to more about some of these roles? Obviously, there’s the driver, but this is only the beginning.
You have the strategist who plans out every part of the race. You have the engineers. Data acquisition engineers make sure the sensors on the car are working and that the information is getting to the rest of the team. You have performance engineers and the overall race engineer, who is basically making all the decisions on the setup of the car. None of these people are actually touching the car during a race. For that, you have the technical staff over the wall. In INDYCAR, that’s seven people. You’ve got the car chief, who communicates directly with the race engineer. You’ve got the tire changers, the fueler, the windscreen tear-off, the air-jack person. Behind the wall, there’s a tire tech, who makes sure they’ve got the right tires and the right pressures for the stint. Over-the-wall people often have dual roles, and in the garage, they can cover different responsibilities: front-end mechanic, rear-end mechanic, and gearbox mechanic. The rest are usually assembly mechanics, who pitch in with pit equipment set-up and whatever else needs doing. Ideally, techs start in this role. Then you rotate around the car with every year of experience and ultimately you become car chief after you’ve done every role yourself.
What’s the biggest challenge you face?
It’s a shortage of labor. There aren’t enough women who have the combination of knowledge, skills, and experience to be on the race team. We have to build that staff from scratch. We have younger women who are willing to learn, but then I also need experienced veterans who can bring them up to speed. These veterans are in short supply because of the expansion in IndyCar and sports car racing. There’s a shortage of labor everywhere, and people are paying ridiculous amounts to poach these people away from teams. If we don’t have a full roster, then we can’t run in a lot of races and that abbreviates our season. It’s a scramble, and I’m looking to train younger women as well as pull in some veteran mentors from Europe or even some part-time local people. I have one tech who works for FedEx, another in commercial real estate, as their day jobs.
What’s the next step for Paretta Autosport?
I have a mission and a plan. I’ve got some investment and I’m getting more. In the previous two years, we rented the car and equipment and expertise. Now I want more of those assets within Paretta Autosport. I want to pay wholesale, not retail.
Spoken like a true businessperson…
That’s what I am. A lot of team owners have historically been ex-drivers and they’re not running it like a full business. In terms of staff, you normally would actively, deliberately, make sure you’re hiring new people every year, building out your own pipelines. Most teams don’t do it, and that’s why everyone is caught out right now. We should have farm teams like Major League Baseball so we’re constantly developing people.
Taking a break from your racing team, what was your first job?
My first real job was at a ski shop and outdoor sports store. I was in high school. It was great because you get free lift tickets and other discounts. In my era, men sold equipment (or “hard goods”) and women sold clothing. It was the first time I’d dealt acutely with sexism. I didn’t like that, mainly because I was fascinated with the skis and boots and other equipment. So I left this store to work at another one across town. The pay was a $1 more an hour, and I told the manager, “I sold hard goods.” He was surprised, asked again if that was true, and when I lied and said yes, he gave me the job. I had just missed all the meetings about the new season of gear, and the manager offered me the tech manuals to catch up. For five days, I studied these manuals at home, memorizing them before the first day of work. I knew everything from top to bottom. I wanted to be sure I couldn’t be asked a question I didn’t know the answer to. Turns out the guys selling…not so much. At the time, as a young woman, I didn’t know the guys had been faking it the whole time. How could I? I’d never been allowed in the room before.
Speaking of the sexism you faced at the ski shop, what is your perspective on why more girls don’t pursue STEM paths that would then seed a crop of potential recruits down the line for your racing team?
They say you can affect a kid's trajectory of what they want to be when they grow up between the ages of 10 and 12. That's the sweet spot where they start connecting what they see to actual careers. A lot of girls drop out of a STEM track at that age or soon after. Sometimes it’s because their peers or adults minimize their intelligence or socially they don’t want to be the only girl in the room or considered a ‘smarty pants’. Another reason is this tendency to try to comfort girls when they fail in STEM subjects with comments like, “It’s okay, sweetie, you gave it your best shot. Maybe this isn’t for you.” While with boys, if they stumble, it’s more, “Get back out there, tiger.” These kind of things, often subtle, discourage them from continuing on their path. They fall through the cracks. This is critical, as the numbers add up at the top of the funnel over time. Then, at the end of the funnel where I am, there are so few young women available.
What advice would you then give to students who ultimately do choose STEM-related careers?
First, build your network, even as a young person. There’s going to be times you need advice and help and connections. The other thing is to let them know it’s okay to ask for help in the first place. There’s this specter for women not to show weakness, because if they do then there’s this fear that they’re feeding into the stereotype that they don’t belong or deserve to be there. Because of this, women tend to be 150% prepared because we don’t want to be called out. We’re certainly our own worst enemies and don’t need to be. Finally, I would say help other women. That tends not to happen. If you look even at a board of directors, typically there’s one seat for a lady. And so what's happened is we're fighting against each other. The irony is if women were to link arms, we’d be formidable. Right? Look at the old boys network, they’ve been helping each other for centuries.
I’d read somewhere that you have some criticism for Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean-In?
Yes, I wanted to write a rebuttal. The punch line of Sheryl’s book places more of the burden on me—or women—to be more assertive and fix the system. A woman I know, who is the head of engineering at a big supplier of ours, said “I’m tired of leaning in. I’m leaning in so far, I’m asleep at the table.” I was like, that’s good. How about instead of lean-in, it’s ‘scooch over’ to men? Do you not bear any responsibility for us not being at the table? It’s not because we don’t work hard enough or aren’t 150% prepared. We’ve been doing that all this time. So, scooch over. Make some room. I don’t want your seat at the table; build a longer table.
I could probably double the size of this Q&A; such was my robust conversation with Beth. You’ll be sure to hear more about Paretta Autosport in the news as she advances her mission, perhaps one day with an Indianapolis 500 win.
That said, I’ll wrap up with the story of what happened to that 1952 Ford pickup. After Michael’s death, Beth’s father did not have the heart to touch the truck for almost a decade. It remained in their garage in pieces, gathering dust. Then he started again on the restoration. By the time he finished, Beth was long gone from home. In 2010 she visited her parents at her childhood home in Connecticut. She came into their driveway in a Lotus Elise. At the time, she was working for Aston Martin, and the fun, little two-seater roadster could not have looked more different than the Ford truck she parked it next to that afternoon. After a short while, she and her father began hand-washing their respective vehicles, passing the bucket, sponge, and hose back and forth. Beth’s mother was gardening just out of earshot.
“You know, Beth,” her father said. “I think I’m going to sell the truck. I mean, what are you and Mom going to do with it?”
Beth was surprised by the statement. “You can’t sell that truck,” Beth said. “It’s not leaving the family. I can trace my entire life’s story to a VIN number, and it is on that 1952 Ford.”
Her father dug the keys out of his pants pocket and passed them to her. “It’s yours. It’s always been yours.”
With the holidays, I’ll be taking my first break from the newsletter since I launched it half a year ago. It continues to be an absolute thrill, and I am so happy that this community has grown so fast (now over 5,000+ subscribers!). We’ll talk again early in the New Year, same time, same band, same place.
p.s. If you’re interested in motorsport pioneer Lucy Schell, here’s a post and excerpt from my book FASTER. Might make a nice stocking stuffer or the like.
Loved this story. Her point about drops of water color on the ocean is spot on and creating an all-female team to drive visibility is vital. This is exactly what RBG was getting at with her “when there are 9 response.” When women is historically male dominated spaces are so common as to fill a whole team, you will know we’ve reached equity.
“Make some room. I don’t want your seat at the table; build a longer table.”
Thank you!👏🏼 Loved this post!