TikTok-inspired 18-year-old car enthusiast Gwen Høeg to start training for and racing in motor sports competitions
By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Gwen Høeg, 18, was scrolling through social media last June when a TikTok video piqued her curiosity, changing the course of her life. The short clip showed a speeding race car rounding the curves of a circuit track and said girls and women 17 or older with little to no racing experience could apply for a chance to become a professional racing driver.
The Northwood High School senior immediately responded to the call for action. She passed a series of mental acuity tests, go-kart assessments and interview questions and beat out more than 800 applicants from 28 different countries to compete against 75 women in a final shootout in the United Kingdom in March for the chance to earn a spot in the driver seat of a McLaren 570S GT4 race car. The competition was organized by Formula Woman, a motor sport subsidiary searching for the next generation of female drivers in racing – a sport that demands intense concentration, mental strength, physical fitness, driving technique and fearlessness.
“I feel like being a female race car driver is so badass – pardon my language,” Gwen says. “It could be a super cool opportunity to inspire other people.”
Gwen, who is of Danish heritage, is a Formula One race fan and looks up to another Dane – Michelle Gatting, a Ferrari challenge driver and part of the Iron Dames project that supports women in motor sports.
Gwen, a 5-foot-10.5-inch student-athlete, sweeps strands of blonde hair away from her eyes as she gushes about her dream.
“Formula One is the best, the pinnacle of motor sport,” she says. “I think it’s so cool. The pit stops are sub-two seconds. Everything about it is insane. They go 200-some miles an hour. It’s different than NASCAR. … It’s the most intense thing ever, and I just love that. It’s very exciting.”
Her face beams and, without a doubt, racing cars is thrilling compared to what she’s driving now – a 2006 Ford Freestyle she calls “Sparky.”
“We traded the dishwasher for the car,” says Jens Høeg, Gwen’s dad, of the deal they made with a neighbor when Gwen received her full provisional driver’s license in 2020.
Erin Høeg, Gwen’s mom, recalls her daughter’s affinity for Matchbox cars. “She does get passionate,” Erin says of Gwen’s tendency to lock onto a goal and energetically pursue it. “She knows what every car on the road is. The car thing has been long term. This one is here to stay.”
Gwen has an easy smile and a competitive spirit. She grew up skiing and enjoys snowboarding. She played lacrosse as a freshman and sophomore, loves her dance classes at Northwood and surfs in the summer. Her broad shoulders hint at her talent for the butterfly stroke that helped her high school swim team win silver medals in two different relay races at the state championship in mid-February.
Recently, Gwen and her dad drove to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to learn a few driving techniques from a BMW team. She walked into a room, and all heads turned. “They’re all wondering why I’m here,” she says. “They were all men from like, 40 to 70, and I was [thinking], ‘Welcome to motor sports.’”
Gwen has great expectations for herself. She applied to colleges that offer opportunities in motor sports, like North Carolina State University and Michigan State University. She wished she had applied to University of Texas at Austin, which is near the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and currently the only track for F1 races in the U.S. In fact, Gwen attended her first F1 race at COTA for her 18th birthday last October. Gwen and her mom spoke with a UT representative about a program where students build a race car. Gwen had only one question: Who gets to drive it?
“The nice thing about being a woman is that people want you in motor sports,” Gwen says, referring to the W series, a championship launched in 2018 that provides equal opportunities for women in the male-dominated industry.
“The W series is fully funded so those [women] don’t pay anything, because they’re trying to give these women a platform very similar to Formula Woman,” Gwen says. “It’s a nice perk to being a woman at the moment because there are more opportunities coming up.”
Gwen sees herself in the industry, and she’s exploring options beyond the driver’s seat, like engineering, marketing or business development in motor sports.
“It’s a nice way to get into the world and find a different path,” Gwen says. “I just want to do this and see how far I can make it. If I win, great; if not, I’ll just go to college. The whole point of the competition is to give women an opportunity.”
Though Gwen didn’t move on to the next round that would have taken her to Sweden, she is automatically entered into next year’s competition. Meanwhile, she’s still got Sparky and is keeping her eyes on the road ahead.