Sport

Touring car driver Melinda Price on her return from a 10-year break from racing and the thrills of competing in a male-dominated sport. By Alana Schetzer.
Credit: Supplied

Back on track: Melinda Price, 47, race-car driver

I was always into sports, plus I was a tomboy. I was into BMX riding and stuff like that, and riding my skateboard. As soon as I was old enough to go to the go-kart tracks, I was there. My dad used to race and I was the eldest child, so I was raised to drive and he was mad about racing. His whole family raced and I was just thrown in the go-kart at the age of seven and as soon as I was old enough to get my driver’s licence I was racing.

Racing cars as a young child was a wonderful way to grow up. I’d go to “show and tell” at school on a Monday morning and say, “We went to New South Wales and I raced in the championships and here’s my gigantic trophy!” It was fantastic, we travelled all around the country and I had friends and pen pals that I would see a few times every year and we’d write to each other and be great mates. It was very much a big extended family. There’s also the competitiveness of that and the satisfaction of winning, and the thrill of driving something really fast.

There is certainly quite a lot of sexism in the industry. It is, for sure, a very male-dominated sport, there’s no doubt about that. When I was growing up racing, there were boys and girls, and there was no problem, because I used to beat them, and they would beat me, too, so there was a mutual respect there. Being a women in this sport can be a double-edged sword; it gives you a point of difference in marketing, so that’s in your favour, but that tends to make you a bit of a novelty, as opposed to being a serious competitor. It can make it a lot harder.

I took a 10-year break from racing because I simply needed a break. I’d been racing forever, and I was studying as well – I was doing a PhD in immunology – and I’d also gotten to a stage in which there were a few things about the sport that I didn’t like and it also wasn’t an easy way to make a living. Drivers weren’t getting paid loads and loads of money, and I didn’t want to get to 40 and have nothing.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was pregnant in 2011. By the time all the tests had come back, I went into hospital to have the baby induced, but she was due in a couple of days anyway, so in terms of awful timing, it wasn’t too awful – I didn’t have to make any awkward decisions. It’s been six years now and I was given the all clear.

I made my long-awaited return to racing at Bathurst in 2017. It was incredible to be racing in Bathurst again after 14 years, although the car I was racing had a lot of problems and it made it really tough and really stressful. Bathurst was amazing. I remember thinking after that “I have to do it again”. There was so much support from all the other drivers; they were just amazing and everyone was so happy to see me back. There were fans who recognised me and it was such a special week for me. The pink ladies from breast cancer were there supporting me. It was quite a magical time for me.

I get asked whether I’m an amateur or professional racer now, and I’m actually not sure. I’m not really sure where’d you place me at the moment. I raced professionally for a long time, then I had children and I had 10 years or so off, and I’ve just started racing again. Last year was really the first time I’d gotten serious again, chasing sponsorship and racing. I’m in the midst of making a comeback.

I’ve been lucky enough to race some fabulous cars during my career. I did a race in a Porsche [911] GT3 many years ago and that was an incredible car to drive, just sensational. But racing V8 touring cars is the highlight for me.

My daughter Lily is showing signs of following in my footsteps. Yes, she loves it. She goes out to the go-karts and she’s always at the racetrack. She’s almost old enough to race, so we’ll see what happens, but I don’t know yet whether that’s a fantastic or horrible idea. If she fell in love with racing, that would make my side of the family very happy. We’d just hope she hasn’t inherited her driving skills from her father. He’s hopeless.

This week’s highlights…

Netball: Melbourne Vixens v West Coast Fever

Saturday, 3pm (AEST), Hisense Arena, Melbourne

Soccer: FIFA World Cup, round 1 – Socceroos v France

Saturday, 8pm (AEST), Kazan Arena, Russia

• Cricket: Australia v England, 2nd ODI

Saturday, 8pm (AEST), Sophia Gardens, Cardiff

NRL: St George Illawarra Dragons v Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

Saturday, 5.30pm (AEST), WIN Stadium, Wollongong

• Motorsport: Darwin Triple Crown Supercars Championship, Race 16

Sunday, 1.30pm (ACST), Hidden Valley Raceway, Northern Territory

AFL: Geelong v Richmond

Sunday, 3.20pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 16, 2018 as "Back on track". Subscribe here.

Alana Schetzer
is a journalist and co-founder of Women in Media.