An Interview with Sheena Monk, Pro Racecar Driver
During her debut racing weekend, Sheena Monk wowed spectators at the 2017 North American Lamborghini Super Trofeo Series in Imola, Italy, when she finished 3rd in class. And that was just the beginning!
From there, Sheena has competed fiercely and made a name for herself in raceways across the country. As a woman in a male-dominated sport who has overcome major injuries to continue her career, Sheena consistently inspires fans with her determination and talent. A savvy self-marketer and social media guru, the pro driver is building a name for herself both as an athlete and as a brand.
Now she races in the in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, driving the JG Wentworth Ford Mustang GT4 #877 as part of an exciting brand partnership that aims to educate racing fans about JG Wentworth’s mission of serving people undergoing financial hardship.
We caught up with Sheena, who talked with us about all things racing, life, and her partnership with JG Wentworth.
Tell us how your career in racing started.
My dad raced motorcycles professionally, so speed has always been part of my life since I was very young, and my older brother and I shared a dirt bike and an off roading go-kart. He is five years older than me, so I was always learning to ride or drive something that was maybe a bit too big for me until I grew into them. I also took a keen interest in reading car magazines and remembering all the stats about the latest sports cars coming to market.
Once I was old enough to drive, my personal car became my biggest hobby, and I eventually discovered recreational track days that I could attend. At the time, it was more about satisfying my own desire to go fast and never something I imagined competing in.
Fast forward a few years and I was at a similar track event where someone noticed I had some poise for my limited formal experience. From there, I had an opportunity to attend a Lamborghini event where drivers learn how to operate a factory racecar, and if you prove your ability to manage the vehicle, you can test for your professional racing license.
What most motivates you to do what you do?
I'm still the little girl in the backyard laughing inside from taking a fast turn, but I now harness a lot of competitive energy with that fun spirit. I'm motivated by my mom, since she has always displayed grit and an ability to keep fighting. But I think more than any personal reason, it's neat to see how many females are finding passion in motorsports.
Although it's still a bit rare to encounter other female drivers, year after year, I am steadily watching female trackside participation grow through team owners, team managers, mechanics, engineers, track side officials, marshals, and even fans. I hope more people, and especially women, are able to experience how alive and empowered cars and racing can make you feel.
What is your training routine like?
Practice time in the racecar unfortunately doesn't happen very often, so it's important to find ways to supplement that. Ideally, I spend time in a racing go-kart since that best replicates the physical effort of my racing and keeps my hands and eyes sharp. Fighting the G-forces in the car requires a strong core, and the pedal effort of the brakes is akin to doing a heavy leg press hundreds of times in a session. Combine that with the need for precision focus and the biggest challenge of all—the 130-degree plus cabin temperature inside the car.
It's difficult to say anything prepares you for those conditions except repetition and time, but I trained with a jiu jitsu fighter who really improved my tolerance of the heat. I wear a sauna suit (think shower curtain made into pants and a long sleeve top) with sweats over it. The goal was always to exert myself as much as possible but then immediately test my mental focus at the most exhausting moment by doing math problems or catching playing cards.
It sounds bizarre but I learned so much about breathing techniques and setting mental checkpoints when it feels too difficult to keep going. Training is simpler now on my own, especially since COVID, but those same ideas apply when I'm riding a stationary bike or boxing at home.
Beyond driving, what skills have you had to learn to advance yourself to the position you’re in today?
Racing requires unbelievable focus, and I've learned to maintain that for longer periods of time and basically reach Zenlike states where I don't think about other things. I like to call it being "in the zone," where you're doing everything from your subconscious, but it can still be difficult to achieve that with so many variables while you are racing.
I've also learned to be more patient and let things unfold how they will—but be ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself.
What are your goals in and out of the racing space?
My goal in racing is to take the next step up the sports car ladder and race a GT3 car in IMSA full time. This would also open opportunities to compete in other countries and maybe someday at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. I'd also love to do some NASCAR racing if the opportunity presented itself.
Outside of racing, my goal is for my family and me to remain happy and healthy. I'd like to pursue some personal interests, like learning to play piano and buying real estate.
How do you get pumped up on race days?
My pre-race rituals change depending on how my mood is. Sometimes things can be rather hectic, but if I have a few spare minutes, I like to do some light exercise inside the team trailer while listening to videos about visualization. It helps me regain focus, get rid of some jitters, and think about the task at hand.
I usually have a shot of espresso during the fan walk, but the most significant "flip of the switch" happens when I put the helmet on and the National Anthem plays. There is almost no greater sense of pride for me than that moment.
Tell us about the JGW car. What are its features, and what is it like to drive it?
The JG Wentworth Ford Mustang GT4 is a through-and-through, proper race car. It's a fairly heavy car, but it's incredibly powerful and has an aggressive racing gearbox—so you really need to drive it hard for it to behave the way you'd like. I'm still relatively new in the Mustang, but it's very rewarding to figure out what the car likes and how to garner the most performance out of it since it's considerably different from anything I've raced prior.
What role does teamwork play on race days?
Without the team, there is no racing.
The amount of effort and dedication the crew needs to put the car on the grid is almost difficult to comprehend, but everything, including the drivers, has to be working in unison to find success.
The relationships are also very important since there is an eminent trust that each team member is performing their job to the best of their ability. We usually go against close to 30 cars, so it takes proper execution from everyone on car preparation, strategy, tire changes, fueling, and so much more to even be a contender.
What do you do outside of racing?
I spend a lot of time at home with my mom and my dogs and enjoy cooking. My hobbies outside of racing are snowboarding, golfing from time to time (although I haven't done that regularly in many years), and watching the 76ers and the UFC. For the most part, though, my time away from racing is actually spent watching other kinds of racing.
Tell us about some of your career highlights so far.
It doesn't seem like much of a highlight, but my return to racing after a crash in 2018 was maybe the biggest achievement I will ever have, just based on the severity of my injuries.
In a more conventional sense, our win at Road America in 2020 is my biggest moment to date, making me the third woman to ever win overall in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge or any of its previous iterations, and the first woman to do so since 2015.
What makes you proud to partner with JG Wentworth?
I'm proud to be partnered with JG Wentworth because they help people navigate life's challenges and ultimately give them financial flexibility. Nearly everyone has experienced hardship at one point or another, so it's motivating to know that JG Wentworth is a resource to help people regain control of their lives.
I'm also extremely inspired by the amount of female leadership within the company and believe the support for our racing partnership parallels an environment that helps women grow in the workforce.
What can JG do for you?
Take the next step toward financial freedom. Contact JG Wentworth today to explore your options.