You’d have to say it was against the odds.
A girl who grew up in Brisbane, one of four sisters, surrounded by all the usual trappings of a female upbringing, drops everything to go car racing in Sydney.
It’s true, and all the more remarkable for the grit and determination that Emily Duggan mustered to make the decision. Emily’s story is not your typical car racing story, and is all the more extraordinary because she has done it on her own.
But years ago, for a young girl in Brisbane, it was all a world away.
“I grew up with three sisters. It was all hair, makeup, fashion and Barbie dolls,” Emily told Sydney Hills & Hawkesbury Living. “But I always had a fascination for cars, and on Sunday drives I’d always watch Mum and Dad driving. I like the process. Speed is awesome, but my fascination is car control and how cars are made and work together as a unit.”
School was not her thing, she frankly admits, but she had other plans.
“I was terrible at school. The only thing I ever studied for, and wanted to study, was my learner’s test. My fascination for racing built from there.”
After finishing school, Emily found a full-time job and started saving for a racing car. At the age of just 18 she moved to Sydney by herself to pursue her dream. She approached the venture with a crystal clear focus.
“I put it down to steps,” she recalled. “I needed the race car. How do I get it to the track? I needed a trailer. How do I get the trailer and the car to the track? I needed a tow car. So I bought a Falcon ute, then a race car, hired a trailer, and then bought one. I stored it at a Kennards unit until I had some space to keep it all.”
But how to break into the racing scene? There was only one thing for it: go to a racetrack and start driving. So Emily did.
“I didn’t know anyone in motorsport. I had no clue about it, no friends in it, but I wanted to get into it so badly, so I decided I just had to go out and get it,” Emily said. “I did some research and found that the Excel Series was where I should be to get a start. I could drive a car, but I had to learn race craft.”
Emily took her new racing kit to Wakefield on a test day and simply took to the track. She confesses she never really thought about what she was getting herself into — it was simply a matter of leading herself “blindfolded” and racing to beat at least one other car on the day.
She did. Five, in fact. But she learned a valuable lesson — in the last lap of the last race that weekend she missed her braking marker and span off as she envisaged herself winning.
That lesson learnt, Emily applied herself and soon came to the attention of sponsors and managers. She has earned a reputation as a serious contender, and someone to watch.
“I’m a very competitive person. I want to win. I started winning and getting podiums, and it fed itself.”
She has had another very successful year racing in New South Wales, and her prospects for next year look exciting. She had a successful season in the Excel X3 Series racing her own Hyundai Excel, and came very close to a top-three season finish. Earlier in the year she was scouted for the Kumho V8 Touring Car Series at Sandown, scoring a top-11 finish, and won the marquee event for Series X3 NSW, the one-hour McAlister Hyundai endurance race at Wakefield Park.
“Luckily, I was scouted and I got to V8s sooner than I thought. It puts pressure on you but I think the right amount of pressure is sometimes good because you have to do what you think is right and trust your gut, and that is usually the best thing to trust.”
Applying the pressure
Rather than wilt under pressure Emily is thriving on it, and uses it to push herself to new levels of fitness and skill.
“I’m bitten. Bitten hard! There’s no other course for me now. I train hard. I cut out a lot of things in my diet. Mentally I just think about winning,” she said.
“My next step is to get a full-time drive in the Kumho V8 Touring Car Series next year. Then hopefully I’ll progress to the Dunlop Series for three or four years, and then to the ‘main game’ — the Supercar Series. I’d love to drive the Nurburgring [in Germany], but right now all my thoughts are on getting a start next year.”

##Game girl Emily takes the perennial question of a woman in a man’s game in her stride, just as she took on the pressure of competing. “I know I’m a girl but when I’m on a racetrack I’m a racer. That’s what defines me, not my gender,” she said with a determined look. “Coming into motorsport you know what it’s going to be like — there aren’t many women involved. But it’s one of the very few sports in which men and women can compete evenly at the same level. Gender isn’t even written in the rule book. It’s surprising that there aren’t more girls in it.”
##Mean it and do it Emily overcame any prejudices by competing on equal terms, and quickly proved herself. “When I first started everyone was very nice, but you realise that they’re just dismissing you because you’ll be at the back of the pack. Which is fine, because you go out and show them that, ‘Hey, I’m here to play’. Then it becomes, ‘Damn, I got beaten by a girl’. “But now they don’t mind if I beat them because they know I’ve done the hard work for my achievements, and if I beat them now it’s not ‘a girl beat me’, it’s ‘Emily beat me’,” she said proudly. “But having the spotlight on me as a woman I do have to prove myself a bit more than the men do. In motorsport you don’t get there because you’re female, you get there because you have a job to race hard, and you have to get the results. You don’t get sponsors by just saying, ‘hey, I’m a girl’, you can’t just make up the numbers on a grid, you have to win races.”

Off the track

Emily has lived in the Hills for over three years, and says that it feels like home to her now. There was something about the Hills that felt like home as soon as she arrived.
“I love the Hills, especially when you get to Dural after being in the hustle and bustle of town and you feel the calm. I’d love to have a bit of property in the Hills area. And I like going out in the Hills to eat and shop.”
Emily lives in “a cute but rundown shack” on seven acres, with plenty of room for the cars. She’d rather spend money on racing than on “unnecessary stuff”, as she called it.
When Emily isn’t racing on weekends she’s … at the racetrack watching others race.
You could say she’s got a one racetrack mind. ❐