Women in Racing Series - Malee Gunaratne
Track Attack is excited to launch a new blog series ‘Women Who Race’, featuring awesome women who are pursuing their dreams and paving the way for the next generation. #womenwhorace
Novice female racer Malee, is a recent college grad with no prior racing experience, proves that you don’t have to be strapped with cash to race. Creativity, volunteering, passion and commitment allows for networking and therefore opportunities to abound.
Who: Malee Gunaratne
What: Novice female racer
D’Laina: “Please introduce yourself”
Malee: “Hi, I am Malee Gunaratne and I currently live in Beaverton, after graduating from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!) and I work in Tualatin, OR. I am an amateur racer who has only been involved in the car/racing industry for the last couple of years.
D’Laina: “How did you first get involved in racing?”
Malee: “I was introduced to racing through a co-worker while I was working in customer service at a luxury car dealership right after college. One weekend, I saw Eric Blois waist deep in his race car where the engine was supposed to be. To the untrained eye, the car was painted in a ridiculous color scheme and was completely consumed by stickers: official-looking numbers, Thunderhill, Bimmerworld, Toyo Tires, NASA, people’s names, flags, etc. He had brought it into the dealership to use an obscure tool, where I observed and lent a hand, so Eric decided to let me take the car for a spin after the necessary work was completed. I was all too eager to strap in. Eric, a driving instructor at Portland International Raceway and local hobby race team owner of Bloising Saddles Racing, invited me to participate in a Track Day and I was absolutely hooked. I didn’t realize the commitment was already solidified in my own mind until later when I continued to opt in for more and more racing related activities.
It has now been 2 years of car parts, go-karting, attending local and national events, volunteering as a flagger, interning, track days, and constantly working to better myself as a driver.
Malee: "The Bloising Saddles Racing Team consists of several members who also instruct at Portland Internal Raceway; Brett Mckown and Tucker Sheppy. They are longtime members who have also contributed to my experience as a driver. Whenever the team was working on a car, I showed up and just got involved with whatever the next plan was to improve, fix, experiment with the car(s). I started with simple tasks, such as learning how to handle power tools, changing tires, etc. Eventually I graduated to more extensive tasks like changing spark plugs, grinding piston chambers, assisting to mount/dismount engines, etc. The BSR team took me under their wing, were willing to teach a newbie with just about zero prior knowledge but an immense passion for the sport."
D’Laina: “How did you make the decision to actually race?”
Malee: “The decision was basically imminent from the first track day. At first it started out as a way to become a more confident driver and learn how to handle cars better. The more events I went to and the more exposure I got, my passion for driving became quite apparent. At first I was a complete amateur and felt out of place. NASCAR and Formula 1 were the only aspects of racing I had even heard about – they were so far out of my league.
During the second year of involvement, I invested some time volunteering as a flagger at Portland International Raceway to learn the safety aspects and walked away with so much more! I was impressed by the immense focus on safety on the track - ambulances and sounds techs at every event, and the camaraderie and sense of community! It was only natural that I was hooked.
D’Laina: “What are your goals this year?”.
Malee: My goals this year is to obtain solid racing time. So far I’ve completed 3 novice races this year with significant personal improvements. At first, I was a little disheartened as it seemed that everyone in the novice group was pretty fast and had a lot more experience than me. My amazing team stepped in once again and showed me data that tracked accurate performance, which also helped set realistic goals and decipher where and how I could perform better. Although I am currently a novice, I believe I am somewhere in the middle. I’m not exactly a gear head or mechanical genius but the more opportunity to get involved, the better.
D’Laina: “How do you work on your skills and improve your driving?”
Malee: “I am currently interning with Lux Performance, with Cindi Lux and team. I was connected through a mutual race group and had the guts to ask to be an intern with their team. They saw my passion and excitement to get involved, so they took me under their wing. My main goal is to learn how a crew works – for every minute that goes into the race there, there are a countless hours that go into the preparation. How an actual team works, including learning how to work on the cars and use available resources is invaluable. Another major part is to learning how to talk about performance with my coaches from watching videos, go karting, racing simulators and video games. You have to be so focused and physically in tune so that you can use the off-track training on the track. It’s good to get in any kind of practice as possible!
D’Laina: “What is it like for you to be one of the few women drivers?”
Malee: “Racing – it’s not something many women are exposed to. I have never felt this way about anything before racing. Nothing has hooked me like racing. At times it’s isolating – not many of my female friends understand my passion and then most men in racing already know so much that I get overwhelmed at times.
D’Laina: “What do you wish other women knew about racing?”
Malee: “Do not be intimidated by it! The biggest hurdle is most likely just not knowing people who are in the sport. But there is plenty of support in the local scene. The more you attend the local car events and racing events, the more you’ll see the same people who will recognize you in turn. Don’t be afraid to talk. There are plenty of local hobby racers that are willing to rent out their cars once a trusting relationship is developed. In fact I was able to find a racing car to rent.
Just get out there – if it interests you at all, start by doing a track day. Track days are broken down into 2 days – first class day is 2-3 hours and includes a verbal lesson from an instructor. The next day, you’ll go out 4 different sessions of 20 minutes throughout the day to get used to the car and how it moves. I encourage women to have a good time and learn. Eventually when I become an instructor, I plan on taking my mom.
We have a special message for Malee from Eric Bloise, owner of Bloising Saddles Racing:
“I've met a lot of people in my life and very few have been as bright as Malee. She is always nice to everyone, is always willing to go the extra mile and is the bright spot for most of her friends. She came to me 2 years ago and wanted to know more about racing. I asked her a few questions and I was very surprised on how little she knew about motor-sports but the interest was there. She preformed extremely well in go-karting I suggested she do a track day. She was nervous and didn't think her car could complete a whole day. She took on my suggestion of renting a car and completed her first track-day with a giant smile and the look of ‘I want more of this’. Later that year I offered up my race-car for her to complete a track-day, she was hooked again and improving at a good clip. This year I asked her 'is driving on the track enough for her?', she responded quickly 'NO, I want to compete against others.' I put her in touch with my friend, Shea Holbrook, to mentor her over the winter. This year she has rented my race-car to compete in ICSCC Novice Program. It’s been great to help coach during her first 2 races and she’s improved every time out. It’s an honor watching this great young racer bloom. Sincerely, Eric
Malee, thank you for sharing your story with us and proving where there’s a will there’s a way! We’re cheering you on!
View additional photos of Malee's racing journey.