“I’m a big believer in the power of dreams,” says Charlie Martin. “If you don’t have dreams or things like that, then you’re never going to get there. You have to aim high and dream big.”
Charlie is a remarkable racer aiming for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Faced with ups and downs throughout her career, this is the story of how she is fighting for equality in motorsport.
Charlie has been a familiar face in motorsport paddocks for a number of years now. She started out in hillclimb where going to the events was just a hobby. But then Charlie decided to become the person she was always destined to be, and transitioned.
For a while, she considered giving up motorsport for good, crippled with the fear of the unknown. How would people react? What would people say?
Thankfully, Charlie found the strength to continue on her motorsport journey and, now, she’s a role model for many facing some kind of adversity in their life as well as being no stranger to scoring points and a podium in this year’s Ginetta GT5 Challenge.
“When I was growing up and getting into motorsport, I really loved the whole romantic idea of Le Mans,” Charlie says. “It’s the original one, and the most special out of all of the races. I went several times in the early 2000s and it etched itself in my memory. It’s a motorsport spectacle for me and the idea of racing there one day is incredible.”
The idea of racing at Le Mans itself was just an abstract idea, but now Charlie has raced there – on the Bugatti Circuit – coming third in her first ever endurance race. The goal is the 24 hour race and it’s beginning to feel like a possibility.
“Each time you go back you feel further towards the idea of going and competing there one day,” she says. “You do reach points where you think ‘wow, I never thought that I was going to do that’. So then you have to set new goals and look for what’s next. While I’m still a long way off, the dream feels like it’s more than just that now.”
After completing a graphic design degree at university, Charlie’s lifestyle changed. Each day was about living a healthy and balanced approach. The gym became a frequent place to hang out instead of spending nights at the pub. Now, everything she does “leads into the time that you spend into the car”.
While motorsport is a key positive in her life now, it was a daunting place when she began her transition in 2012.
“I nearly gave up motorsport all together to transition,” she says. “It feels crazy to me now, given how important motorsport is to me. But that’s how I felt back then. I’m a hell of a lot more confident now.”
After her transition, the first paddock she went to was in hillclimbing.
“I was absolutely terrified,” Charlie admits. “ I couldn’t look at anyone. It’s an older kind of age group and it was my perception that younger people would perhaps be more in-tune with the idea of being trans. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what I thought.”
Now, Charlie is leading the way in promoting equality for the LGBTQ community. Earlier this year she provided stickers for racers to wear on their cars to showcase Pride.
“I found that nobody was never unkind to my face,” she says. “All stigmas went away and people were really friendly. I came out to everyone in France on Facebook – nobody knew then and everyone was lovely. I was worried that people would look at me different.
“This year doing it in England was different again, trying to judge people’s reactions in the circuit racing paddocks. I was scared. Naomi, my PR, has been brilliant – I really value her judgement. We were talking about what we were going to do – I felt like it was going to go wrong, but I just didn’t know. I didn’t know if I’d get trolling.”
While Charlie’s experience has been largely positive, she still feels that there’s always more that can be done.
Danny Watts – an ex racing driver who has competed in 24 Hours of Le Mans – came out as gay last year. Charlie supports Danny’s decision to come out to the public, as it could help support someone else.
“People said it shouldn’t be a story,” Charlie says. “ We shouldn’t have to have a thing about this – but yes, we do. It’s an environment now where they feel like they can come out, and people need to see that in order to know that they aren’t going to be laughed at or abused online.”
Charlie knows that her brave move to come out as transgender was, and still is, important for the motorsport community and beyond.
“No matter your sport, we should be free to do the sport we love, be who we want to be, and be who we want to be with,” she says. “We shouldn’t be judged by that. The more people who are visible, the more people will feel less at risk to come forward and be who they are.”
Her own story has translated into more confidence when it comes to competing on the track and it’s made her “bold” in terms of what she’s set out to achieve.
“I’ve gained so much confidence after transitioning,” she says.” I never thought that transitioning would be possible for me. If I can do that, what else can I do? Maybe it’s just not being afraid of failing, but I’ve succeeded so far. If it doesn’t work out, then it’s not the end of the world.
“Transition isn’t an easy ride. I’m lucky to have had the way things have gone. There’s a lot that needs to change in terms of society’s treatment of trans people. I’m in the position where I can play a part in that. It’s a small part, but it all helps.”
Her slogan “your mountain is waiting, so get on your way” is also another way of helping. Although she didn’t coin the phrase herself, it was on a piece of jewellery she purchased when she was a year into her transition. It resonated with her and grabbed her immediately.
“With hill climbing at the time and my situation, it was how I felt about life,” she says. “Everybody has their mountain and you just have to give it a go. You have to get out there and try and climb it.”
With that in mind, Charlie is continuing on her incredible journey to one day reach LMP3 after testing a Ligier JSP3 during summer.