Racecar Driver Samantha Tan on Eczema, Mental Health, and Why Asian Representation Matters

How do you take care of your mental health with such an intense sport?Right before I get in the car I have really bad anxiety. I always try to tell myself that it’s good because it keeps me on my toes, but it’s hard to not overthink things. It’s important in racing to be able to minimize that anxiety and compartmentalize, and really focus on the task at hand. Most race car drivers have this thing called a race ritual. For me it’s just finding a quiet spot in my trailer and listening to music. I actually used to draw a lot before a race so, if I have time, I’ll sit down with my sketchbook and doodle something. It just gets me in this really calm state. So that’s what helps me the most.I also had to come back mentally and emotionally from the biggest crash of my career in 2017. I was at this race called Road America in Wisconsin, which has a notorious corner called the kink. It’s a very fast kink that you’re supposed to flat throttle through—I hit the wall going 100 miles per hour. It was pretty terrifying. They teach you to pull in both your arms and legs the moment you know you’re going to hit the wall, but, unfortunately, I had my foot on the brake, so I sprained my ankle. Other than that I walked out of the car unscathed.That’s how safe race cars are nowadays, but it definitely destroyed my self-confidence as a driver. I basically lost faith in myself in that moment. That was a turning point in my career because it made me question all of my motives, all of my goals, and whether this was something I really wanted to pursue or was even capable of pursuing as a young Asian woman. I got back in the car a week later and pushed through it. Three years later, I went back to that track for the first time and thought, This is my time to prove myself. I podiumed and it was a very emotional moment for me because I really reclaimed that experience for myself. I showed that I put in so much work, so much time, and it finally paid off.I don’t really think about that crash anymore—I’ve moved past it. But now I use it as part of my race ritual. I think about all the times I have overcome challenges and performed at my best, and I really put myself in those happy moments where I’ve even surprised myself a little bit. That proves to me and my brain that I can do this, I am good enough, and I can go out and kick ass.As one of the few female Asian racecar drivers, do you feel like you have to deal with stuff that your male counterparts don’t?One of the reasons I love racing is because everyone can compete on an equal footing. It’s 85% mental, and in general, physical strength isn’t a factor. But, I did get my period the past two race weekends and it was terrible. I was so tired, and literally sitting on the grid with cramps. I remember talking to one of my guy friends afterward and being like, ‘Can you imagine having cramps?’ And he was like, “No, I literally cannot imagine.’ This is something that female athletes have to struggle with and something that my male competitors don’t even have to think about at all. But I did win, so it just shows that, yes, I can still compete—and win—on my period.

How do you take care of your mental health with such an intense sport?

Right before I get in the car I have really bad anxiety. I always try to tell myself that it’s good because it keeps me on my toes, but it’s hard to not overthink things. It’s important in racing to be able to minimize that anxiety and compartmentalize, and really focus on the task at hand. Most race car drivers have this thing called a race ritual. For me it’s just finding a quiet spot in my trailer and listening to music. I actually used to draw a lot before a race so, if I have time, I’ll sit down with my sketchbook and doodle something. It just gets me in this really calm state. So that’s what helps me the most.

I also had to come back mentally and emotionally from the biggest crash of my career in 2017. I was at this race called Road America in Wisconsin, which has a notorious corner called the kink. It’s a very fast kink that you’re supposed to flat throttle through—I hit the wall going 100 miles per hour. It was pretty terrifying. They teach you to pull in both your arms and legs the moment you know you’re going to hit the wall, but, unfortunately, I had my foot on the brake, so I sprained my ankle. Other than that I walked out of the car unscathed.

That’s how safe race cars are nowadays, but it definitely destroyed my self-confidence as a driver. I basically lost faith in myself in that moment. That was a turning point in my career because it made me question all of my motives, all of my goals, and whether this was something I really wanted to pursue or was even capable of pursuing as a young Asian woman. I got back in the car a week later and pushed through it. Three years later, I went back to that track for the first time and thought, This is my time to prove myself. I podiumed and it was a very emotional moment for me because I really reclaimed that experience for myself. I showed that I put in so much work, so much time, and it finally paid off.

I don’t really think about that crash anymore—I’ve moved past it. But now I use it as part of my race ritual. I think about all the times I have overcome challenges and performed at my best, and I really put myself in those happy moments where I’ve even surprised myself a little bit. That proves to me and my brain that I can do this, I am good enough, and I can go out and kick ass.

As one of the few female Asian racecar drivers, do you feel like you have to deal with stuff that your male counterparts don’t?

One of the reasons I love racing is because everyone can compete on an equal footing. It’s 85% mental, and in general, physical strength isn’t a factor. But, I did get my period the past two race weekends and it was terrible. I was so tired, and literally sitting on the grid with cramps. I remember talking to one of my guy friends afterward and being like, ‘Can you imagine having cramps?’ And he was like, “No, I literally cannot imagine.’ This is something that female athletes have to struggle with and something that my male competitors don’t even have to think about at all. But I did win, so it just shows that, yes, I can still compete—and win—on my period.

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