Klimenko: I’ve earned my stripes – Speedcafe

Betty Klimenko

Dressed in all black, tattooed and sporting a striking pink hairdo, few could have imagined that Betty Klimenko was the newest Supercars team owner on the grid in 2013.

It’s been nearly a decade since Klimenko shook up the Supercars paddock, arriving at the Adelaide 500 with three screaming Silver Arrows.

The business world had taught her to be bold and brash, to stand out from the crowd for everyone to notice—and they did.

Today, Klimenko cuts a calmer figure. Soothed by the toil of nearly 10 seasons of competing in arguably the most competitive touring car championship in the world.

“That’s the way I was then, that’s the person I was. I was kind of an old goth and that’s how I always dressed,” she told Speedcafe.com

“I still mostly wear black. You go into my wardrobe and it’s just black, a little gray, a little white, and that’s it. There are no colors, there is no red, there is no pink, there is nothing. That’s me.

“I’ve always loved my rock and roll and I was, but now I’m getting older and getting a little softer around the edges. Just a little softer. I don’t yell that much. I don’t intimidate like that.

“I was very intimidating. I can see in hindsight how intimidating I was but I was because I come from a world of business and a world where the men were very powerful and to be heard in that forum, in building and construction, you had to be intimidating and loud.

“I’m short, I’m blonde, nine times out of ten they thought I was a secretary and asked me for coffee. I had to be intimidating. I tried not to put it on the track, but sometimes it just crept in.”

Erebus Motorsport came into Supercars as a somewhat known quantity.

Founded in 2011, the team quickly found success with a podium finish in the 2012 Bathurst 12 Hour on the event debut and victory in 2013.

In the year of their first win at Mount Panorama, the team joined Supercars after taking over the reins of what was Stone Brothers Racing.

Like her GT3 team, Klimenko chose Mercedes machines. Success in the sports car scene kept ambitions high, although it would be a largely failed tenure with the E63, with just two wins in what was an otherwise lackluster three-year period.

In motorsport, most of the time is spent losing, and Klimenko is the first to admit it taught her to be humble.

“As for the Mercedes, yes, I was very naive,” Klimenko explained, who was appointed Member of the Order of Australia (AM) earlier this month

“Everyone thought we were going to go out and beat the field. No, we didn’t. There I learned that you can lose a lot. Not just lose once or twice and then win, no, you lose a lot before you even get close to winning.

That’s why Winton has a special place in my heart. That first first time with Lee Holdsworth. I still have that trophy in my house and it’s always where I can see it to remind me that that’s the pinnacle of hard work in the sense that you have so much against you, but you can still do it.

“I think everyone has stars in their eyes for the first year and then the stars kind of twinkle and they see the reality. There are 25 cars and only one will run away with the win at the end of the race. That is why you have learned to be rejected.

“I think I needed that in my life, to learn to accept that I’m not the first, that I didn’t win. The golden rule is he who has the golden rules, but it doesn’t matter here.

“I’ve learned to accept rejection, which means; Not everyone comes first and you don’t always come first.

“I spent two years last in the Mercs before we went to Holden and it taught me how to be a little more humble and accept the downside.

“Nobody cares about the second and the third, it’s about who came first.

“I did find out that there were a lot of things I had to work on. Motorsport has helped me with that. It made me bite my tongue a little more and put on another big boy pants.

“I came in here with rose-colored glasses and now they’re blue. Literally blue. I now see the reality.

“Everybody thinks they come here and change the world, and you realize you can’t, and you have to learn what it’s like to finish last, what it’s like to be in the garages in the back, and you work your way best to get your garage past the passport point – I call it the passport point – and there will be years when we end up back again and there will be years when we are at the front.”

Klimenko and her team celebrate 300 race starts for Erebus Motorsport in Winton last month

This year is Erebus Motorsport’s 10th season in the Repco Supercars Championship.

During the Winton SuperSprint, the team celebrated its 300th race start.

Since 2013, Klimenko said that attitude towards her has changed. Now she feels much more part of the Supercars furniture.

“Every time I come to a race a record is broken because I am the first woman to start, not inherit or buy a team, but actually start a team – the first woman to start a motorsport team in Australia and the first woman to get to 300,” she said.

“For me, every time I achieve something special is a milestone. I remember because when I started it was mostly a boys’ club.

“I think on the 300th I feel like I got the key to the old boys bathroom. I feel like I’ve earned my position now. I’m part of the club. I’ve earned my stripes. I proved that I can compete with the big boys. It’s a very reassuring feeling.”

The ultimate success, winning the Supercars title, is still a long way off. The team experienced the pinnacle of a Bathurst 1000 triumph in 2017 with David Reynolds and Luke Youlden, before going through a particularly rough patch three years later.

However, young lads Brodie Kostecki and Will Brown have given the team renewed hope that it could be regulars soon enough.

For now, Klimenko is content to grind and continue the journey with her Erebus Motorsport family.

“I’m glad motorsport came into my life, and I’m glad I followed the path because it has brought me so much happiness, so much joy and so much heartache – a lot of heartache,” she laughed.

“But between the fans and the team and everything else there was a lot of joy that you could never get from anything else. You don’t get that feeling.

“These people don’t know who I am, they just like me because I’m me, not because I’m someone’s daughter or have something they don’t have, and they’ve never blamed me — and I love it.

“I love that I’m not your typical girl from the eastern suburbs and that I can enjoy coming and sitting in the smell of ethanol and grease. I love that.

“They don’t remind me who I am, they just say ‘you’re Betty’ and sometimes you just want to be Betty, you don’t want to be Betty doing this, this and this.”

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