Renée Brinkerhoff is a racecar driver in La Carrera Panamericana and founder of Valkyrie Racing. In 2013, at the age of 57, in her first car race of any kind, she became the first woman in the history of the race to win her class, in their debut year, Renée achieved something beyond her wildest dreams.
In the following few years, she has improved her time and overall standing and continues to be one of the only women drivers to compete and succeed in what is known as the most dangerous road race of its kind in the world. But how did it all begin?
Primarily raised in California and Southeast Asia with her parents and three sisters, Renée had an unusual upbringing. Her father was a marine, businessman and diplomat and her mother shared her husband’s life and passion. Together they took their daughters into experiences that would shape Renée’s enthusiasm for participating in life’s diversity. She lived in Hong Kong at the height of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Laos during its own secret war and the neighboring Vietnam war, and California in the midst of a different kind of turmoil: a social and political maelstrom that saw women awaken to possibilities far beyond their former prescribed roles. These memories and experiences had a lasting impression on Renée.
The passion for racing a car began as a teenager after her father taught her to drive a stick and bought her a 2nd hand, souped-up VW Bug. Right from the start she found herself putting the “pedal to the metal” and quickly fell in love with the craft of driving smoother and faster!! After marrying her husband and starting a family, she decided to forego her professional ambitions to be a doctor and devoted her life to raising their four children.
The desire to race would live as a private dream for decades and flamed her hope that one day she would live this dream. For nearly 35 years, this silent dream lay dormant. It was when her kids were grown and gone that one day she realized she was still dreaming of racing someday. The reality and possibility of making her dream come true looked her in the face and she needed either to pursue the dream or stop dreaming altogether—but the fears involved were enormous. Even so, the thought of only being a dreamer and not a doer was something she couldn’t live with. To die and never have tried was an actuality she couldn’t accept. How could she respect herself if she didn’t try?