top of page

“My biggest mission is to use racing as a platform to empower" : An interview with Amber Balcaen

Conducted by Isabel Brito, Written by Arriana Rivera, Edited by Meghana Sree

Amber Balcaen watching the action on pit road during practice for the ARCA Series BRANDT 200 on February 16, 2023; Image Credit: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In 2016, Canadian racecar driver Amber Balcaen made history by being the first Canadian female to win a race sanctioned by NASCAR in the USA. Balcaen is a business graduate who founded her own company, Amber Balcaen Racing Inc., and is a motorsports influencer and TV personality.

She created history in 2023 at Daytona International Raceway with Venturini Motorsports, continuing to inspire others and advance in the NASCAR ranks. She currently races in Nascar's ARCA Menards Series.

Isabel Brito had the honour of having a chat with Balcaen, understanding topics such as the current series she races in and her endeavours outside of motorsport. 

Balcaen explains ARCA

Isabel Brito: You've raced in a NASCAR series for some time; ARCA being a subsidiary of NASCAR, how would you explain how it works?

Amber Balcaen: So, ARCA is considered one of NASCAR's development series. In order to get up to trucks, Xfinity, or the NASCAR Cup Series, you have to build your skills, right? You have to be able to have testing time on the types of tracks that the NASCAR Cup Series goes to. 

Prior to ARCA, your only opportunity is to race short tracks that are in the NASCAR Cup Series. But there are also bigger tracks like Daytona, Talladega, Kansas, [and] Michigan.

You know, the Super Speedway is the mile and a half that drivers need to learn before moving up into Xfinity or NASCAR Cup. So the ARCA Menards Series is a great development series to help drivers like me get that seat time that is needed to develop [the necessary skills] and become a winning racecar driver to be able to move up into the next series.

Amber Balcaen (#15 ICON Direct Toyota) races down the front stretch during the ARCA Menards Series General Tire 200 at Talladega; Image Credit: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

IB: I've been able to talk to other women from European series, but obviously NASCAR is different, and I would like to know how your experience has been as a woman in this sport.

Balcaen: I think being a female in NASCAR and motorsports in general is harder than most people think. I think a lot of people think that sponsorship and opportunities come easy when it's actually the exact opposite. For every dollar that's spent on women in sports, $100 is spent on men.

So it's difficult for us to get people to take chances to know that we are serious and dedicated. It's harder to be taken seriously in general, and we have to work that much harder, not only on funding but also on our skills in the racecar, to prove that we deserve to be here and that we have the talent to be here. So, it's definitely been a difficult journey, but it's also very rewarding.

Balcaen went on to emphasise that who you surround yourself with is important when it comes to facing challenges. “At the end of the day, those are all external factors that you kind of have to push to the side and not let yourself make excuses because of them.

It just requires you to dig deeper, to work harder, and to surround yourself with people who do believe in you.” She also believes in building a mentality where one should feel comfortable within themselves. 

Balcaen’s Side Quests

Outside of the sport, Balcaen has made a name for herself in avenues such as hosting and reality TV. In 2017, she co-hosted Cars That Rock with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. In 2019, she starred in the NASCAR reality show Racing Wives on CMT. The show followed Balcaen’s journey not as the wife of a driver, but as the racecar driver.  

IB: You've co-hosted season three of Cars That Rock. Why did you decide to host that show? And how was your experience?

Balcaen: My biggest struggle in racing has always been a lack of funding and sponsorship. So for me, with any opportunity that comes my way, I have to make the most of it.

Whether that be TV shows or co-hosting,. You know, your path isn't always straightforward, and the opportunities you're fighting for don't always come your way. But when other opportunities do get presented to you, I think it's important to capitalise on them.

IB: Outside of racing, I've read that you are a motivational speaker as well. What is the message that you've been wanting to transmit with this?

Balcaen: It depends on who I'm speaking to and what messages I want relayed at that time. But I think the overall message is just never giving up, and always believing in yourself and your potential, and working towards your dreams and goals.

A lot of people think that because they're born in a certain city, look a certain way, or come from a certain financial situation, they aren't able to make their dreams come true, and that's just completely false.

I really believe that if you can push past all the excuses and learn how to turn your weaknesses into strengths and opportunities, anything's really possible. You don't need all the tools in the toolbox to build the life of your dreams. You just need to learn how to be resourceful, work really hard, be super disciplined, and never give up. 

IB: Do you want to convey a different message through racing than you do through motivational speaking? 

Balcaen: No, I think it aligns really well. I think my racing career and racing in general have so many parallels to life. You need to feel fulfilled,  you need to be confident,  you need to be self-aware,  and you need to have the self-confidence to be able to do what it is you set your mind to. I think there's a ton of similarities between racing and life. So the messages are definitely the same.

Back to Racing…

IB: A lot of being a racer involves training your physical and mental state. How have you managed mental health in this industry?

Balcaen: To me, mental and physical health go hand in hand. I think they're equally as important. For me, I've always been really athletic. I've always worked out,  but as a racecar driver, I've stepped up my game. I work out pretty much every single day. On the mental fitness side of things, I think mindset is so important.

You need to discipline [yourself]. You [also] need to have self-assurance. And I do a lot to really build those skills as well, because I think ultimately they are skills [to be mastered]. 

You don't just wake up and have confidence; you need to do hard things to prove to yourself that you can do things to give yourself confidence.

So for me, that looks like everything from working out every day, because I think that working out really helps you out mentally. I also read ten pages of a self-development book every day. 

I journal every day. I meditate every day.  And I also just started working with a mindset coach. So as much as I do my own learning and exploring when it comes to the mental performance side of racing, I think there's always more to be learned, and that's why I recently just started to work with a mental coach.

Amber Balcaen, Ford Icon (30) during practice for the ARCA Menards Series; Image Credit: Jeff Robinson

IB: In such a male-dominated industry, have you had all the opportunities you wanted, or have you ever wanted more?

Balcaen: No, I haven't gotten nearly the opportunities that I would like. I mean, if I had it my way, I'd be racing in the NASCAR Cup Series by now, but it's very tough to get there. All I can do is keep working hard and keep putting myself out there to create these opportunities.

I want to be racing full-time. I want to be racing as much as possible. Thankfully, last year, I was able to race full time in the NASCAR ARCA Series, but now I'd like to race full time in Xfinity. There's always that next level, that next step that you want to fight to get to.

IB: Besides being a driver and wanting to get into the NASCAR Cup Series alongside being a motivational speaker and host, is there anything else outside of the racing industry that you'd still want to do?

Balcaen: I think for me, my biggest mission and purpose is just to use racing as a platform to inspire and empower other people. I want to be able to win races, and I want to be able to show people that you can break those barriers.

You can do those things because, a lot of times, people have a hard time believing [that] they can do something unless they see someone else do it.

So I think that's my responsibility as a female in the sport to not only do as well as I can on the racetrack to prove that we can be here, but also off the race track, be a positive influence and someone that moms can look up to and say,

“You know, I would like my daughter to listen to this person or hear this person because I like the head that that girl has on their shoulders.” 

As far as branching outside of racing, I think I'm really just passionate about the mental aspect. The mindset, the mental toughness, and the mental side of performance in the sport.

When you're not on track, I think mental health is just as important as physical health. And if I can help people be mentally or physically healthier, then that's a huge win.

IB: You were also the first Canadian woman to win in a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the US. I want to know how that moment was for you, how you felt, and what was going through your mind.

Balcaen: It felt really good at the moment, but that moment was quite a few years ago now. So I'm always thinking about the next thing, the next goal I can accomplish, and the next way that I can leave an impact. 

On Representation

As the only Canadian woman in all four NASCAR series, Balcaen stated that she feels a responsibility to represent Canada and to represent women in the sport. “For me, kind of being that underdog in all the ways, I feel the responsibility to prove myself right and be that inspiration for others,"  says Balcaen. Her advice to female drivers facing challenges in the sport is to focus on skill development and develop a habit of cancelling out the noise of everyone else. 


IB: What is your opinion about women in racing and how it's changed in the last few years? Do you think there's more opportunity now?

Balcaen: I think that we're getting there; it's getting a little better because there are more females in racing now than ever before. So, as far as women being involved in the sport, I think that's gone in the right direction for sure. There's more and more females in the sport wanting to be here, and that's absolutely fantastic. 

Where I think it needs work is females getting opportunities and having the sponsorship backing and financial help that is needed to get up to the next level. I don't think we've really seen that in any big way yet. There are companies that act as if they are going to help women, but when it comes down to it, they don't.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies like to say they're helping women or involved with women as [part of their] positive PR image. However, when it comes to actually putting the money where the mouth is and actually helping those women get to the next level, I think [it needs to be improved]. 

There are more women in the sport [that] I've seen, especially in, at least I've seen a lot in the European series, but, in the American series, there's a lot of work to still be done. 

IB:  If you were to tell us a good thing about the sport and then a bad thing about the sport in general, what would you say? 

Balcaen:  I would say a great positive for women in the sport is that we're getting a lot better at supporting each other rather than seeing each other as competition. I've definitely seen that from my side, and I think it's absolutely fantastic because only we women know what it's like to be us as women in male-dominated sports.

I think that being there for each other and cheering each other on is a great thing. And then as far as negatives, again, kind of just what I said to the last question, just the lack of support and funding for women.

L to R, Amber Balcaen, Reagan May, and Nicloe Behar at the NASCAR DRive for Diversity Developmental Program at New Smyrna Speedway on October 18, 2016 in New Smyrna Beach, Florida; Image Credit: Brian Cleary

“A great positive for women in the sport is that we're getting a lot better at supporting each other rather than seeing each other as competition," says Balcaen.

IB: What does your representation in the sport mean to you?

Balcaen: I think it's important. I think that having a female out there to show other females watching that we can do it. When I was young, I watched NASCAR on Sundays every weekend with my parents. And for me to be able to see Danica Patrick out there was huge. Like, wow, there's a woman racing the NASCAR Cup series. Like, maybe I can do that someday. 

And again, I believe that a lot of people don't know that it could be possible for them unless they see someone else do it. So I think it's really important to have females represented in the sport [NASCAR] in motorsports. 

IB: We already talked about a message that you could give the drivers in the sport. This last question is about giving a message to inspire people who want to enter the sport.

Balcaen:  I would say that racing is a very difficult sport to be in. It's one of the very few sports that you need a ton of financial backing to even get to the racetrack. And then, on top of that, it's also one of the few sports [where] there are so many variables that [aren’t] under your control. Like having a flat tire, your engine blowing [up], or someone crashing you out, or a wrong call.

There's so many variables in racing, and it's the only sport you can play without ever knowing what it's like to win. Like in American football, there's a 50-50 chance of winning or losing. So mentally, it’s a very difficult sport. 

However, that feeling of winning, that feeling of passing, and that feeling of being in the car and going 100mph and 180mph [170kph and 290kph] makes everything else worth it. And that's what we're all chasing at the end of the day.

So, I would say if  you want to be in this sport, it's the best sport there is, but it's also one of the most challenging because you need to be mentally tough and you need to be ok with the struggle of it and the downs of it because [that’s] part of it, and you know, it looks really cool on the outside too [like], “Oh yeah, I'm a racecar driver, and this is what I do.”

I think our lives look cool and glamorous, and parts of [them are], but there's also the other side that's really gruelling and really mentally taxing, and it really tests you as a human.

So if you're learning, if you're wanting to really grow and see how tough you are, this is a great sport to be [in]. It's great for character development, for confidence, and for everything. 

Balcaen will be racing for the 2024 season of the ARCA Menards series, which goes underway on February 17 at Daytona. She also has a blog of her own on her website, Amber Balcaen Racing, which comes in handy when following her career. 


bottom of page