In a recent interview, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Linda Daro, the Executive Director of the Midwest Racing Preservation Association (MiRPA). This insightful conversation marks the third installment in our Women in Motorsports blog series, highlighting the remarkable journeys of women who have made significant contributions to the automotive industry. Linda’s story speaks volumes about her lifelong connection with automobiles, from her childhood days surrounded by gas stations to her current role leading MiRPA.
A Heritage of Mechanics
Linda shared her childhood memories, stating, “My father had gas stations back in the day when gas stations had repair shops. He was a mechanic, and having cars around, the smell of fuel and gasoline was very natural to me. He was also a tinkerer who could fix and build anything, and so we would always help. ‘Hold on to this or hit a hammer with that.’ I’ve always enjoyed doing physically mechanical type things. I think that’s where my interest started. It evolved; I imagine over time. But that’s where it started.” Her early exposure to the automotive world ignited her passion for mechanical work, setting the stage for a lifelong journey.
From Vintage Racing to MiRPA
Speaking on the evolution of her passion, Linda stated, “More recently, I’ve started a Motorsports Preservation Association, so we’re a little bit involved with vintage racing as well as the current series, like Indy Car and NASCAR.” The pivotal moment that led to the formation of MiRPA was Linda’s discovery of a forgotten gem—the Meadowdale Raceway. As Linda said, “There’s what they call a ghost track in our area here, which is now a Forest Preserve, but the footprint still exists.” Linda’s revelation about the rich history embedded in the ghost track fueled her determination to establish an association dedicated to the preservation of motorsports heritage.
Under the MiRPA banner, Linda and fellow enthusiasts organize an annual car show on the old racetrack’s straightaway, monthly Coffee and Cars gatherings at her memorabilia shop in Cary, and a prestigious winter banquet honoring influential figures in motorsports—an embodiment of Linda’s commitment to keeping the engines of history roaring. As MiRPA approaches its 15th year, the association stands not just as a guardian of the Meadowdale Raceway’s legacy but as a vibrant community of car enthusiasts, united by a common passion for racing history.
Memorable Road Trips: Riding the Historic Route 66
In 2008, Linda Daro embarked on an unforgettable road trip down Route 66 with her father. The decision to undertake the journey materialized when Linda rekindled her love for motorcycles. Encouraged by her father’s persistent inquiries about a Route 66 trip, Linda decided it was time. “After about the third or fourth time he said it, I’m like, that’s it. We’re going.” Armed with determination, they set out with a motorhome and trailed their motorcycles, embarking on a comprehensive exploration of old Route 66, spanning from their starting point in Chicago to Arizona.
Linda vividly describes the charm of the trip, “We would stop and just pull over in a ghost town and we’d set up our lawn chairs and have a happy hour.” The spontaneity of their roadside stops added a touch of serendipity to the journey, allowing them to soak in the ambiance of deserted towns and historical relics. As the journey unfolded, Linda and her father found themselves in New Mexico, a juncture where they stored the motorhome for five days, opting to explore the back roads on motorcycles.
The experience, according to Linda, was nothing short of fabulous. Riding through the scenic back roads of New Mexico, the duo encountered the untamed beauty of the landscape, creating lasting memories. Reflecting on the adventure, Linda emphasizes, “That was one of my most memorable trips ever. We just had so much fun, and it was great that I could do it with my dad too.” The road trip not only served as an exploration of historic landmarks but also became a cherished chapter in Linda’s life, strengthening the bond with her father. Linda’s love for road trips, as she puts it, lies in the desire to “see what’s between here and there.” Flying may expedite the journey, but it is the road trip that allows for an intimate connection with the places along the way.
Inspirational Women in the Automotive Industry
Linda Daro paints a vivid portrait of inspirational women who have left an indelible mark on the automotive industry. Reflecting on Linda Vaughn, often dubbed the ‘First Lady of Motorsports,’ Linda shares, “She started out as a beauty queen in her day and then became what they would call a Trophy girl now. She turned that job into a very influential marketing career to this day.” Vaughn’s transformative journey from a beauty queen to a marketing powerhouse exemplifies the resilience and innovation required to navigate within this traditionally male-dominated field.
Lyn St. James and Beth Paretta emerge as another luminary. Lyn is a racer and co-founder of Women in Motorsports North America; St. James not only excels in various racing arenas but actively champions the cause of women in motorsports. Beth Paretta, co-founder of Women in Motorsports North America and the owner of Paretta Auto Sports, stands as a testament to the diverse roles women can play in the industry. Linda stated, “These women are great ambassadors to the sport and are working hard to promote women in the field.” St. James’s and Paretta’s commitment to creating opportunities and fostering a supportive community embodies the spirit of progress within the industry.
Linda’s admiration extends to the legacy of Janet Guthrie, the first woman to race at the Indianapolis 500. While reflecting on Guthrie’s groundbreaking achievements, she also faced immense challenges as the first woman to race at the Indianapolis 500. Linda recalls hearing of the hurdles Guthrie encountered, sharing, “They didn’t even allow women into the paddock area. They only had male bathrooms, not female, so there were definite, definite roadblocks.”
Daro acknowledges, “These were all women who didn’t do what they did because they were trying to prove something; they did it because it was their passion.” Linda’s admiration echoes a broader sentiment within the industry, emphasizing the need for continued efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, ensuring that women continue to redefine and enrich the landscape of the automotive world.
Breaking Barriers in a Male-Dominated Industry
Reflecting on her experience as a female enthusiast in a male-dominated industry, Linda noted, “Growing up with my dad as a mechanic, he was always like, ‘Oh, we can fix this.’ It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do something.” Despite acknowledging the gender disparity in the industry, Linda’s personal journey was marked by support and encouragement.
Advice for Aspiring Women in Motorsports
Linda’s wisdom for aspiring young women resonates with a profound understanding of the diverse opportunities within the automotive and racing industries. In Linda’s words, “I would say no matter what you do, you should find your passion, whatever that is.” Her advice extends beyond the automotive field, emphasizing the vast career options available, from engineers to drivers and hospitality roles. Linda’s counsel is clear: identify your passion and navigate your path within it.
For those encountering obstacles, Linda advocates for persistence. “If you come across issues that you have to get around, you should be persistent. If that means you need more education or more contacts or more experience or intern, just pick your path and keep figuring out ways to get to it.” Linda’s emphasis on perseverance echoes through her encouragement to go all in, urging aspiring young women to commit wholeheartedly to their chosen paths and discard backup plans. Her belief in a step-by-step approach, coupled with unwavering determination, becomes a guiding principle for those navigating the complexities of career choices.
Drawing from her personal experiences, Linda shares, “Some of the best things that I’ve accomplished were because somebody said that can’t be done or you can’t do that.” While acknowledging that not every venture may be straightforward, she underscores the importance of remaining undeterred. “Don’t be deterred. You might have to go a different direction or find another way through the door. But you can get there.”
Discussing MiRPA’s commitment to safeguarding history, Linda stated, “Our mission is to promote and preserve the history of motorsports, the people, and the vehicles. The past history is really important, and we don’t want that rich legacy to be lost.”
Highlighting MiRPA’s volunteer-driven approach, Linda mentioned, “We are 100%, an all-volunteer organization. We are a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit, charity organization. So things get done as they can, on a volunteer basis.”
Paving the Road Ahead
Linda’s journey encapsulates a passion for automobiles, a commitment to preserving racing history, and an inspirational outlook for aspiring women in the industry. As the Executive Director of MiRPA, Linda’s dedication mirrors her fervor for the open road and the stories echoing through its bends.
As we conclude this chapter of our Women in Motorsports blog, Linda Daro’s story leaves an indelible mark—a celebration of women finding their passion, breaking barriers, and inspiring the next generation to accelerate toward their dreams, fueled by those who paved the way.