Natya Soodeen is the only female race car driver in Barbados. She is a former world class equestrian, with many years’ experience in the saddle at the top levels of the sport. Natya has turned her passion for competition from one horsepower to another and is now an active member of the island’s motor sport scene. The Barbados Motoring Federation (BMF) has appointed Natya Soodeen 2021 as chairperson of Women in Motorsport Barbados.
WHEEL SISTERS: Natya, please introduce yourself.
Natya: My name is Natya Soodeen, everyone calls me Natz. I live in the beautiful island of Barbados. I relocated from Germany to Barbados in 2016 as my father fell ill. (I was a professional Equestrian - show jumping, in Europe and competed for Barbados up to the Pan American level)
WHEEL SISTERS: How did you get introduced to motorsport?
Natya: Racing a car was my first bucket list dream.
In 2019 I was once again standing on the sidelines cheering on my brother who races.
I decided that day that I never say to myself "one day I will race a car"!
And thus my new journey began. The following week my brother, Sacha, arranged for me to experience driving his race car on the rally track. I continued each week and about a month later entered my first race, which was a circuit race in a rented car.
I was blown away at the adrenaline rush..and was completely addicted.
After the race Sacha told me he thinks I have what it takes and I should look at getting my own car, which I did.
Unfortunately I only had 3 races before covid. As such there has been little racing, fewer rallies. Rallies have recently opened up, unfortunately it is the end of the season.
WHEEL SISTERS: What has had the biggest impact on improving your racing skills?
Natya: There are several key points on what has impacted my racing skills thus far.
First was Geoffrey Ullyett, who worked with me very patiently. As I had no foundation, no go karting experience, he helped to set up the car to compensate for my inexperience when the car drifted and understeer.
Sacha and Chris Hoad consistently, to date, showed me driving techniques and were willing to let me sit in their car with them and also to sit in the car with me while I drove..which must have been scary at times for them! lol
John Sealy from Executive Auto, whom heads my racing pit crew, mentioned several times about the benefits of learning to drive on ice. I took his advice and went to Ice Drive Sweden for 3 full days.
Once I returned to Barbados there was a rally cross event, which was my first podium! 3rd place, and only female driver. Clearly the ice driving helped.
A few months later I was told by another dear friend who advises me, Rob Holland (very successful professional race car driver in Europe and the US) to book myself another 3 full days at Rally Ready in Texas.
The amount of information I received was incredible. I needed to be a big sponge to absorb it all. I was fortunate to be there when the rally driver Dave Carapetyan was home from his rally. He arranged for me to test all the cars available and also got a rear wheel drive car in working order for me to test. It was a huge improvement on my times. The next race I was consistently about 3 seconds off some of the main contenders.
They are both on the agenda for next year.
WHEEL SISTERS: What was the most impressive moment of your career so far?
Natya: I measure success in the car and in the paddock. I want to compete, but I also want to inspire. So my the first podium in rally cars was an incredible feeling and the win at the drag races in my class was so rewarding. I love drag racing!
Within the paddock, being appointed Chairperson of Women In Motorsports from the Barbados Federation and FIA. It’s an opportunity to give back and to help influence the sport from a position of leadership.
WHEEL SISTERS: You are the only female driver in Barbados. Have you experienced any sexism during races and, if so, how did you deal with it?
Natya: As the chairman of Women In Motorsports, I would have liked to answer "no". Unfortunately, that would be a lie.
It has been difficult being a Woman in this sport. Coming from Show jumping in Europe, which is also male dominated, I thought this would be a walk in the park. I underestimated the intensity and degrees of remarks and attitude that I have received, not only from men, but also from women, and from women I would not have expected from. I was told by a man who has been in the race world for over 4o years, that he has never seen or heard a driver receive as much pressure and be scrutinized as much.
But I truly believe we can change the sport. I know many stakeholders, both men and women, that want to see change. The fact that we have a voice and a seat at the table is proof. Being passionate, professional and prepared is something that binds all athletes and leaders together regardless of gender or colour or orientation. I am committed to lean into that very foundation of our sport.
WHEEL SISTERS: What does motorsport give you personally? What aspects of it do you love the most?
Natya: I love to compete. After being a professional athlete for a decade, It is in my blood. It fills a part of me that I cannot express in other ways.
Being in a race car, is just..LOVE. It is a feeling that I have never experienced. It closely relates to show jumping, as it is split second decision making that makes or breaks you. You need to feel the car, the same way you need to feel every step the horse takes, and you are in control of making the decisions which can make you finish the competition or not. Like show jumping, every time you compete, you learn.
WHEEL SISTERS: What is important for girls who wants to get into motorsport? What tips do you have for beginners?
Natya: For girls that wish to get into the sport, just go after your dream. Do not listen to the negative that you will receive. Take note of those who truly support you, and listen to them. Find athletes that inspire you and keep their inspirational words in your head every day! I remind myself that Michael Jordan was told he would never succeed as a basketball player, but he did not give up.
When there is a practice session, I get there early, and you will hardly see me get out the car, until I am told I have to stop as practice is over. I believe I was clocked at doing around 55 laps in one training session (average is 10-15 laps). I wanted to push myself.
I had to push myself. I realized that I do not have the years of experience that the guys have. I do not have go karting experience that the guys have, and I also do not have the "Ba...s" that the guys have as such I need to find other ways for me to close the gap between our times. Practice is the way! As Kobe Bryant preached, get to practice early and leave late!
WHEEL SISTERS: What are your sporting goals in the upcoming months or years?
Natya: I am excited to be able to promote and encourage girls in motorsport. Not only in Barbados but Caribbean. There are so many areas to be involved. It is not only about being a driver, or a co driver, being a marshal, time keeper, mechanic ( I have the best female mechanic on island!! Ingrid Brath is just incredible to watch how she takes control of any situation. Very inspirational and very fortunate to have her on our team, along with Chynna Haynes who was moved from a mechanic to my co driver.
I would love the opportunity, even if it is out of Barbados, to be able to race more on different circuits, different countries. I am always open to opportunities to race, to inspire and to lead.