Shillong: When you first meet Phoebe Dale Nongrum, her turquoise tresses will surely catch your attention. But her get-up will belie the fact she has broken the glass ceiling in a sport which is strictly considered a male bastion.
Phoebe is one of India’s first women Formula 4 drivers, and the first from Northeast. She is now inducted into Ahura racing, a professional racing team formed in 2017, owned and managed by three-time National Champion Sarosh Hataria.
“I saw this advertisement about Ahura racing selecting women drivers for the first Formula team for India. I immediately got in contact with them. However, getting into the racing team wasn’t an easy one. I had to compete with 60 other women to make it to the team,” she explained.
Phoebe is one of the lead drivers for Ahura racing. The team is made up of 12 women drivers — six lead and six substitute drivers.
She learnt driving as a 12 year old on the twisty roads of Shillong, perfected her skills on the turns and corners, encouraged by her father. Little did she know then, this is what that would bring her into prominence. “While growing up as a little girl, I always had this passion of driving a race car. I loved cars so much, but then coming from a small town like Shillong, I never really thought that I would get there one day,” she added.
There was a 10-year hiatus in between, studies and jobs, but when she returned to her home town in 2016, she was back on the road and shortly after conquered the dirt track that won her first autocross.
“As I went along, I thought this is the end of the journey, my dream of being a race-car driver will never happen. But then you know how life takes a turn sometimes for everybody when you least expect it. So, I think that’s when my turn came in 2017… I started picking up on the racing line. I started with one Autocross and from there I started participating in many others and my journey from there went head on,” Phoebe said.
From participating as a co-driver, Phoebe had to practise hard to reach where she is now. “After Autocross, I went into rallying but as a co-driver to a friend of mine. We did two rallies, picked up trophies, got a podium there when we least expected it and that’s when I saw the advertisement for Formula 4 racing,” she added.
When the trophies from the various podium finishes arrived home, her dad, O Pasi, who had not been otherwise happy about her career choice, was finally convinced. Pasi, an IPS officer, had been emphasising on a career out of IAS.
“I came back from Bengaluru thinking I would sit for the UPSC exams and my dad insisted that I should give it a try. Joined a coaching and started my preparation but then along the way, I got the chance to race. So, I took the chance did a few race and kept coming home with trophies. I think I kind of changed my dad’s perspective of the whole idea that I should write a government exam to be somebody. You can build yourself and be that person you want to be,’’ beamed a confident Phoebe.
Overcoming all odds here she is now, breaking the glass ceiling in a sport which still accounts for perhaps only 1% of race drivers globally.
“Personally, I never thought it’s a man’s world. I mean we are all human-beings; it’s always upon us as to what we want to do, how we want to do and when you want to do it. I think the decision lies in us,’’ she said.
Behind this calm demeanour is a spirited girl with many hobbies to pursue — gaming, jamming and the favourite among them all, no prizes for guessing, hair colouring.
Sure, she shows us you can be many things and don’t have to be one way in order to do an extreme sport like racing. Asked if she has a role model, someone that she looks up to, considering her choice, she came with a unique reply.
“I don’t believe in something as a role model. I believe that when you as a person want something you’ve to go out there and get it. I do look up to some people but I don’t believe in having a role model,” she said.
From conquering the dirt tracks as an Indian National Rally Champion, to a Formula 4 driver, she aims for a podium finish now. From Formula 4 her eyes are now set on bigger dreams. “I can dream bigger, you never know, maybe one day, I can race in the F1 as well,” she said with a smile.
As they say, nothing is impossible if you put your heart to it. For Phoebe, who likes to hum a heavy metal song or two before a major performance to get the adrenaline set in, she has already carved a niche for herself and set an example for other women to follow.