Trans racing driver Charlie Martin is on track to create LGBTQ+ history

Trans racing driver Charlie Martin

British racing driver Charlie Martin has always been a fan of high adrenaline activities, but it’s the adversity she has overcome that sets her apart in the world of motorsports.

While speaking to PinkNews about her new role as FIA Girls on Track UK Ambassador, Charlie’s eyes widen as she recalls how her favourite film – Top Gun – sparked her childhood desire to be a fighter pilot. 

But Charlie swapped that dream for something more grounded – but equally exciting. At the age of 11, she discovered motorsports through her best friend and his dad.

However, falling in love with a sport that would shape the rest of her life coincided with a tragic life event – losing her own father.

The 41-year-old, who grew up in Leicestershire, spoke openly about the loss she has suffered in life with an infectious sense of strength. 

“My dad passed away when I was about 11 years old, so I never had the opportunity to do any karting or anything like that,” she said, explaining she had no one to show her how it all worked.

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“Adversity pushed me to do things in life I never thought were possible”. 

Charlie Martin
Charlie uses her platform to improve transgender awareness and acceptance in the world. (Jamey Price Photo)

Charlie’s new-found hobby “excited and fascinated” her, but shortly after taking it up she became aware of the obscene amounts of money she would need to participate in it. 

Charlie passed her driving test first time round aged 17, after six months of lessons. 

Her blue eyes are alert as she recalls getting involved in motorsports at age 24, when she saved up £1,500 to buy a rundown Peugeot from her friend’s dad. She smiles when she mentioned her purchase “wasn’t even road legal”.

“I worked really hard at it and figured out loads of stuff and a year later the car was ready to go racing with.” 

Charlie began competing in hill climbing, which she describes as a “very short rally stage”, at Curborough Sprint Course in Lichfield. She says taking part in it “felt like a huge accomplishment” after a year of restoring the car. 

In 2020, she made LGBTQ+ history as the first trans driver at ADAC TOTAL 24 Nürburgring-Rennen – “arguably one of motor racing’s toughest endurance races in the world”, she tells PinkNews. 

But it was coming out as transgender in professional motorsport in 2018 that Charlie pinpoints as a pinnacle of her career. At the time, she says there was “no LGBTQ+ visibility in the sport at all”.

Charlie Martin at a race track
Charlie Martin says adversity has pushed her to do things she thought was possible. (BMW / Yannick Wolff)

Sadly, at 23, Charlie lost her mum, seven years before she began to transition. She remembers feelings of being “ashamed” of who she was, and having to “grind through transition” to find her happier self. 

“It was incredibly scary, especially as a driver that doesn’t come from a huge trust fund or have rich parents.

“I need to get money from sponsorship and commercial partners, which is hard to get anyway.” 

Charlie says as a trans woman, she felt different to 99.9 per cent of people, which was accentuated in the “male-dominated” and “hyper-masculine” world of motorsports. 

Working through coming out in her sport, Charlie says she learnt a lot about creating inclusive environments. 

“I felt I’ve had such a positive impact in terms of creating more awareness and acceptance with people on a club level and I wanted to take that to a professional level.” 

But when she returned to work after coming out, Charlie say she “might as well have just landed from another planet”. 

Initial reactions showed obvious shock. Thankfully she has a group of friends who supported her in gauging if she had a future in motorsport. She says they gave her the hope to push through.

Over the first six months of coming out, she was subjected to “massive awkwardness” before people began to accept her as her true self. 

Driver Charlie Martin
Charlie Martin came out as transgender in professional motorsports in 2018. (Jamey Price Photo)

“In motorsports there’s no segregation”, Charlie says, referencing a the current “transgender debate”. 

“I feel the facts and research of the whole discussion is rarely presented accurately in the media,” she adds, denouncing the majority of coverage as holding “very skewed views”. 

“You’ve got to look at the statistics, how many trans people are there in the world and how many would play sport at an amateur, professional and elite level? Very quickly you realise you’re talking about a tiny pool and the notion that they will be so good they will dominate women’s sport if farcical.” 

What Charlie does point out as an advantage in sport, however, is “societal factors such as access to training, nutrition and sport coaching”. 

In the times we’re living in, Charlie says motorsports celebrities such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel play an important role in standing up for LGBTQ+ rights.

It’s this activism that Charlie aims to also play a part in order to be “a beacon of hope to a lot of people”. 

Race car with progress Pride flag on
Charlie’s racing car features the progress flag on it. (Black Fish Graphics)

“Undoubtedly I feel like I’m a role model to a lot of people. I never set out to do that. I just wanted to educate people and create more awareness of what it’s like to be a trans person. 

“We’re just regular people truing to go out and live our lives as best we can. I want to make thing a lot easier for other people who are following in my footsteps.” 

Charlie became the latest FIA Girls on Track UK Ambassador in May 2023. She is now working towards her goal of becoming the first trans person to compete the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the word’s most famous races. 

To achieve her goal, she says the biggest challenge will be securing commercial backing from brands who “believe in the power of my story”.