By Lauren Filippini (Alpha Chi, Butler University), editor
The neon Lamborghini race car shoots down the course’s straightaway at 170 mph. At the bottom of the hill, the car brakes hard and veers to the right, carrying as much speed as the racing tires will allow. Behind the wheel, strapped into the driver’s seat in a fireproof suit and helmet battling temperatures of 140 degrees, is 22-year-old Sydney McKee (Zeta Theta, Brown University).
During the week, Sydney attends class and studies engineering and economics; on the weekends during competition season (condensed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic), she travels across the country for the Super Trofeo series, where she races sports cars at the professional level.
Sydney was first introduced to racing by her father, and the two have since paired up to create a racing team called FaDa Racing (short for “father and daughter”). After her first ride in a race car with an instructor, Sydney was hooked.
“The actual act of driving separates you from everything else in your life,” says Sydney, who points to the laser focus she needs behind the wheel to stay on track and navigate around other cars. “It just all melts away when you’re in the car. It’s a moment of chaos mixed with a moment of peace.”
Once she got her regular driver’s license at age 16, she began competing in autocross events, and after her junior year of high school, she decided to build her own race car. With her parents contributing half the cost, Sydney cleaned office buildings and houses to fund the remainder of her Spec Miata, which she named Penny.
“I remember the first thing I did was take the seats out of the car, and the bolts were so tight I couldn’t get them out!” she recalls. “[Building it] was a really big point of independence for me.”
The sport of racing is largely male – Sydney’s first professional race in January 2019 saw her as one of two women out of the 120 drivers – and that dynamic has its pros and cons.
“It’s a mixed bag,” she explains. “Especially when I first started out, I had a lot of people think I was there to simply support my dad, not to compete. You get dismissed. The flip side of that is the other group of people who want you to be there, who want to help you.”
Sydney remembers the first year she and her dad shared a car for a series. One driver made some “not so great comments” about her but later became frustrated when Sydney’s skills progressed and he could no longer tell if it was her or her father in the driver’s seat!
“That makes it even more fun to go beat them,” Sydney says of the naysayers. “The car doesn’t know or care about the gender of the driver.”
Sydney is part of Shift Up Now, a collective of female racers using motorsports to inspire confidence and courage.
“I think it’s so important for young girls to have role models and think, ‘I can be a driver or an engineer or a mechanic,’” she says. “I’ve always aimed higher, and I’ve never thought of my gender as something that would get in the way. I don’t think anyone should see their gender as a disadvantage, and I want to be one of the people to encourage those girls to do whatever they want.”
Sydney admits that very few drivers can pay the bills entirely with racing, but she knows the sport will always be part of her life. She has set her sights on a career in finance and hopes to one day run or own a race team. She explains, “I would love to mesh the business and finance side with my love of racing.”
The close-knit community is one of the things Sydney loves the most about racing. And she found a second community in a place she never expected – a sorority!
“I never thought I’d join a sorority; I never thought it would be a community I’d want,” she says. Sydney met Alpha Chi Omegas through a friend and joined the Zeta Theta chapter her sophomore year. “It’s become a great community. It’s become what a sorority should be.”