Women In Motorsports: Edwards Returns to Her Roots at Mid-Ohio



Posted on 07/01/2022

Women In Motorsports: Edwards Returns to Her Roots at Mid-Ohio

As part of the Women in Motorsports initiative powered by PNC Bank, Chip Ganassi Racing is highlighting some of the women that make the program so successful. This week, the team sat down with Kenna Edwards, the Information Technology intern from Ohio that is part of the inaugural Women in Motorsports intern class. She didn’t find her way into the industry by accident; it was a passion that was fostered during her childhood.

Tell us about where you grew up.
“I grew up in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. It is right near Lake Erie, so I spent lots of time going boating there with my family.”

Do you remember the one moment that led to you getting into racing?
“I don’t exactly remember it because I was so young, but I’ve heard the story numerous times from my dad. We were on vacation and there was a little go-kart track nearby. My parents thought, ‘Oh, we’ll let her play on that for 20 minutes to get out some energy. I became absolutely obsessed, even though we were probably maxing out at 10 miles per hour. They had to pull me away, kicking and screaming. After that, my dad took me to an actual go-kart track, and I told him, ‘I want to do that.’ Soon after, he got me a go-kart and I’ve been hooked on racing ever since.”

What was it like to get your own go kart at six years old and begin to race competitively?
“I didn’t understand the difference at that age because competing was fun. Of course, my parents understood the difference logistics-wise. They did absolutely everything in their power to make sure I could do what I was passionate about. Once I got my first go-kart, there was nothing else that I wanted to do. I was still in dance classes, little league and soccer, but none were as exciting or aroused as much happiness as karting. It made sense, too, because of my dad’s background in motorsports. He was my mechanic."

You were checking off serious accomplishments as the first woman to win championships as you progressed through certain levels. Can you remember what your mindset was like then?
“I didn't really compute what that meant. To me, and for a lot of racers, you put on your helmet, and you're a driver, it doesn't matter whether you're a girl or a boy, you're just a driver. I think now, I know how important that was. People like Danica Patrick were huge role models for me. I now see how much having women in the paddock, or having women in STEM, as role models for young girls can be really important to show them that it is possible and that it's not just a boy’s club.”

What kind of advice did your parents offer to you at that time?
“The one thing that my dad always said to me, we had a pre-race routine, and within that, it was always the same thing. He would pick up my cart and we do a little burnout. Then, he'd come around the left side, and he would look at my helmet and ask, ‘What's the most important thing?’ and my response always had to be to have fun. I think that's the best advice you can give a kid or someone that's 80 years old is to just have fun because you have one life, and you better enjoy it.”

Tell me about what your dad has done with his career - and how his passion has become your own?
“My dad, Billy Edwards, had a vast career. He's lived a couple of different lives. He started out as a musician because that’s what his degree was in, jazz. He did that until his early 30’s. Then someone said, ‘Hey, have you ever considered racing?’ because they saw how he always liked to do donuts in his apartment building parking lot and drift into parking spots. He had never thought about it, but he went racing in a normal SCCA car, and he absolutely loved it. He was pretty good at it and then just continued racing. He won a couple SCCA championships and also did a world record attempt for Porsche, where he and a co-driver traveled through all 50 states. Then, he eventually worked for the Marlboro Racing School as one of the head instructors. He later made it to Mid-Ohio where he was the head instructor of the Mid-Ohio School. I remember going to the track and seeing him doing his instructing along with his other friends. I just wanted to be there all day long."

How involved was your father in your racing exploits?
"My dad became my driving coach, race engineer, mechanic and chauffeur. I think the way that his passion translated to me was just seeing how much joy it brought him. But it was also something that we could share together. I think something worth pointing out; his passion isn't the reason why I'm passionate about motorsports. It was never pushed on me. My parents would have been equally as happy if I had followed in my mom's footsteps of being a golfer and being super passionate about that. It was what I happened to love, and we got to share in that. Now, he gets to watch me pursue my motorsports dreams after his."

What has it been like to meet and work with other young women interested in this line of work?
“It has been really affirming of the path that I've chosen. People on social media talk all the time that representation is important. You don't realize it until you're in it and you are the person being the representative for other people. I’m happy that there's another perspective, and there are other people that understand what it's like to be a woman in this line of work.”

What brought you to Indiana University?
“It was definitely their computer science program. It is relatively new, started in the past few years as a joint program with the Luddy School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. You can take more engineering-focused classes, then also take the liberal arts electives, where you’re able to minor in a certain area there. I also really liked the Bloomington area and the housing arrangements that came with it.”

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
“When I do have some free time, I enjoy swimming. I swim for the IU club team and I really enjoy having that as an exercise and social outlet. I also like to go to the movie theater after work. Then, there’s playing video games, as if I don't get enough technology at work. But I have a racing simulator at home that I like to play on.”

Kenna will be working on the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at the Honda INDY 200 at Mid-Ohio INDYCAR race on Sunday, July 3rd, before turning her focus to the Streets of Toronto on Sunday, July 17.