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First Women in Motorsports Panel Event Set to Kick Off Grand Prix of Portland

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As a much-anticipated bookend to an eventful summer of racing at Portland International Raceway, the Grand Prix of Portland makes its return to the venerable track the weekend of Sept. 2-4.

The action-packed weekend will feature nine total races and five different racing series, including the marquee NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on Sunday. Friday’s slate features USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 races, and Indy Lights and ARCA Menards Series West practice sessions. NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice and qualifying takes place on Saturday, a day that also includes a USF2000 race at 10:15 a.m., an Indy Pro race at 2:20 p.m., Indy Lights practice and qualifying and the ARCA Menards Series West Race at 5:30 p.m. Sunday features an Indy Lights race at 10:20 a.m., followed by the NTT INDYCAR Series Grand Prix of Portland at 12:30 p.m.

As a special kickoff to this year’s Grand Prix of Portland, Sport Oregon is teaming up with PNC Bank to present a panel event on Thursday, Sept. 1. The event – An Evening with Women in Motorsports Powered by PNC – includes an engaging panel discussion with five prominent female leaders in motorsports. The panel includes SJ Luedtke, the vice president of marketing for INDYCAR; two members of the Chip Ganassi Racing team, Angela Ashmore and Anna Chatten; engineer Claire Binci and 14-time road racing champion and team owner, Cindi Lux. The event will be held from 6-9 p.m. at the Alpha Media Live Studio at 1210 SW 6th Ave. in Portland.

Earlier this year, PNC, which also sponsors INDYCAR driver Scott Dixon and his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, teamed up with Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) to launch a new gender-equality initiative – Women in Motorsports Powered by PNC – to create awareness and hands-on experiences to educate, advocate and advance career path opportunities for women in traditionally male-dominated careers, such as motorsports.

“PNC Bank is committed to creating more opportunities for women innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders,” said J.T. Hutchinson, PNC regional president of Portland. “Our Main Street Bank model allows us to be intentional in how we impact the communities where we live and work, and this program is a great example of how we are doing just that.”

The program provides a three-month paid internship at Chip Ganassi Racing to five college women in roles ranging from mechanic and athletic training to engineering and IT. The program also launched a video content series showcasing women leaders in the industry that CGR already employs, including engineers, mechanics and drivers. The inaugural class of student workers is nearing completion of the first group of internships provided by the program, with applications for the second class opening this fall.

Women in Motorsports has received great interest and overall engagement thus far in conjunction with other NTT INDYCAR SERIES races throughout the country, and Portland PNC officials are excited for the opportunity to showcase the new initiative on the local level in conjunction with this year’s Grand Prix of Portland.

“The response has been overwhelming and this is our contribution to that overall effort of promoting our new Women in Motorsports initiative,” said Brian Stewart, PNC’s director of client and community relations. “We’re lucky to be able to partner with Sport Oregon on the event, and it promises to be a fantastic panel discussion.”

From a Sport Oregon perspective, the Women in Motorsports initiative is a natural extension of the organization’s SHE FLIES initiative. Through SHE FLIES, Sport Oregon strives to empower girls and women through sport to overcome barriers and challenges, ultimately to unleash their full potential.

Those goals are very much in line with that of Lux, a featured panel participant and lifelong native of the Pacific Northwest. Growing up around the sport, she knows first-hand the barriers women wanting to enter the field can often face. But she’s quick to point out that, especially with how much more sophisticated and involved the industry is, the opportunities do exist but that there’s no substitute for hard work and persistence to succeed, especially in such a competitive field.

“Any position available on a race team is open to a female,” said Lux, whose Lux Performance Group is based in Aloha, Ore. “There are so many other avenues besides just the driver on professional teams these days. That’s kind of what the journey is, to really open up these doors.”

Through her vast experience, she can list off a dozen or so different areas of expertise available to women within the sport just off the top of her head, including team executive positions, truck drivers, engineers, mechanics, accountants, marketing and public relations, social media and the many functions of the sport’s expansive hospitality programs, to name a few.

Lux enthusiastically embraces her role as a leading voice for women in the sport, especially her upcoming participation in the Women in Motorsports panel discussion in her hometown where she hopes to make connections that continue well after the event.

“Being involved with this event is really important to me,” she said. “If there’s a handful of people from the Portland area that I can be a local resource for, that’s great. Basically, if you want to talk further, give me a call.”

It’s a great time to be involved with motorsports in general, but particularly so here in Portland and at Portland International Raceway. After several years without top-level events, the track once again is rumbling with premier races as it did in its previous glory years. This summer marked the return of a NASCAR series event to PIR for the first time in more than two decades, and with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returning in 2018 after an extended absence of its own, Northwest racing fans are being treated to a host of high-level racing action once again.

“For a city-owned facility like PIR to have two top-tier racing events on each end of the summer is a huge win for the entire city,” said Sport Oregon CEO Jim Etzel, who credits Green Savoree Racing Promotions for its vision and partnership in making the two race weekends such a success. “Premier motorsports events are back as they should be in Portland, and that’s been huge for fans of the sport in the Pacific Northwest.”

For those who can’t make this year’s Grand Prix of Portland, the race will be televised live on NBC, including locally on KGW, with race coverage beginning at 12 noon.

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