Racing in the Out Motorsports Rallycross Made Me Feel Great About Being Gay
Initially, the idea of a “gay car event” was just a little off-road get-together with some friends. Now it's growing in a big way.
It’s not that easy being gay, I promise you. For every out person in automotive journalism, or motorsport, or some other place in the automotive world, there’s probably at least one more gay person afraid to be their true selves.
For my entire teenage years, that was me. I was in the closet, terrified to come out, living life in a low-income, midwestern town, not exactly the bastion of acceptance and understanding for the LGBT community. My parents, my friends, my community, all fundamentalist Christians, who made it very clear that they would not be okay with anyone ever being gay.
And yet, I still was gay. Everyone knew it. I tried to deny it, my parents tried to deny it, my family and friends, and associates, all told themselves, that I could not be gay. “Oh, he likes cars!” Gay men don’t like cars, they don’t know anything about vehicles, all they know is shopping and fashion. I even convinced myself, I was not gay — I liked things that gay men were incapable of liking, I can’t be gay!
I didn’t understand until my late teens that liking cars doesn’t correlate with sexuality (or gender identity). Unfortunately, not everyone has learned that lesson; motorsport and cars are seen as archetypal “cis men’s” spaces. Women, queer people, and anyone else are secondary. I mean, just ask any woman in motorsport how they feel about respect and representation in the industry.
True, things have gotten better, moves have been made, and attitudes have shifted positively. Still, there’s always that lingering feeling, “am I safe to be out here?” If I talk about my partner or my friends, how will everyone take me? Will I be welcomed? Or should I brace myself a homophobic cold shoulder? That uneasiness, however, was completely absent at the Out Motorsports “Rainbow Road” Rallycross event I went to this summer. As you can probably guess by the name, this was a racing event specifically designed towards inclusivity for the gay community in cars.
I met Jake Thiewes, the event’s organizer, three years or so ago, in an unsearchable Facebook group, meant for gays to connect about car things. I had a few car gay friends, but the more the merrier, right? I knew Thiewes was an admin of the group, but at the time, writing about cars for a living wasn’t anywhere on my radar. After I started writing here at Car Bibles, it really was only a matter of time until two East Coast gays who make car content, crossed paths.
Thiewes and I talked a little on the phone about how the whole thing came to be. Initially, the idea of a “gay event” was just a little off-road get-together with himself and some friends. “We wanted to do Top Gear-style challenges, but none of us had any money, let alone a production company that could spend [thousands] of dollars to get those broken cars running,” he told me.
The first Out Motorsports rally was just a small group of friends, off-road with some beater SUVs. Things were very much ad-hoc, run through Jake himself, corralling AirBnb’s and using Facebook and Venmo to organize a gaggle of gays to tromp around the Virginia wilderness.
The next year, the group grew a bit bigger — the invitation spread outwards, more people came in with $1,500 beaters, as they crashed an SCCA event.
Now, it has its own event, with its own organizers. This year’s event, held at Summit Point Raceway in Summit Point, West Virginia, had more than a hundred attendees. Drivers, crew folks, and organizers all came together to put on a show.
“[Someone] told me that they pulled onto the paddock, to Carly Rae Jepsen blasting, and that set the tone for the weekend,” Jake said. And, that was his entire goal. The event was deliberately queer, designed to be from the start. Someone can present however the hell they want (show up in cutoff shorts, wearing nail polish, as Jake put it), with no judgment. Well, maybe if your lewk isn’t coordinated, you’ll get dragged, but it’s all in good fun. You get my drift, right?
I tend to overpack whenever I prepare to go out of town, and the rallycross was no exception. I had packed essentially two wardrobes; my “gay” wardrobe with three-inch inseam shorts, crop tops, and tank tops, but also more conservative outfits, just in case the event wasn’t as queer-friendly as I thought it would be. The Out Motorsports rallycross wasn’t like that. I could be out, myself, without worrying about how I would be taken. I wasn’t the gayest one there, my outfit of short shorts and a tank top was the defacto uniform of most of the participants. I didn’t feel awkward, or too exposed, wondering “are my shorts too feminine, or am I putting myself in danger with what I’m wearing?” I didn’t have to protect myself, managing my voice inflections (do I sound too gay?) or how I walked (does my ass switch too much when I walk?), or how I presented — I was free to be who I was.
It was like being at your favorite gay bar. Sure, the world is significantly more accepting of gays today than it was 10 years ago, with society improving leaps and bounds for queer people, even just within the last ten years. Some even ask “what’s the point of gay bars at all?” It’s different, though. A gay bar is a space for people like you. It’s a space where you’re supposed to be able to be unapologetically yourself, without pretension. A place where there’s no threat of bashing or homophobia from the patrons. A shared reason, and sense of purpose and place. A place where a queer person shouldn’t have to worry about the world outside. Even the most friendly and accepting straight space, can’t ever give the peace of mind and freedom of identity that a deliberately queer space can.
On our call, Jake agreed too. “When you have someone othered in leadership roles, things go a little differently,” he said. The otherness, what would a space look like if an “other” ran the show? The rallycross showed that. It was curated by queer people, for queer people, and it considered queer people’s needs. Like, it was considerate of those of us with lighter budgets, with a very reasonably priced entry fee. There was no room for anyone’s pronouns to be disrespected. There was no weird and sexist harassment from organizers, insinuating we aren’t capable of racing or wrenching. It was just about the cars, the fun. It made us feel comfortable.
The Out Motorsports rallycross had the charm and camaraderie found at a gay bar in a tight-knit community, on a racetrack. It had queer people, gay men, transgender, lesbian, nonbinary, and allies, all flogging cars, in a safe space, without inhibition. It felt like home; like the first time I went to a gay bar, and I knew that I would be okay. I knew I was in a safe space, without judgment.
I wish my teenage self would have been able to see what a wonderful event the Out Motorsports rallycross was, but it’s great to be able to experience it now.
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