On Fast Track: How Shillong’s Phoebe Dale Nongrum Is Breaking The Glass Ceiling in Motorsports

Shillong’s Phoebe Dale Nongrum harboured the dream of driving cars on racing tracks since childhood, and when there’s a will, there’s a way. Today, she is one of India’s first women Formula 4 drivers and the first from Northeast. Nongrum has created history by becoming the first woman motoracer from the region to secure a podium in the 23rd JK Tyre National Racing Championship 2020 held in Coimbatore.

While her career as a professional motoracer began only in 2017, Nongrum was intrigued by cars ever since she was 12. In an interview with MAKERS India, she recounts, “I was only 12 when I was fascinated by cars, how they move and take us to places. I would get up early in the mornings and ask my driver at that time to take me to an open ground in Shillong and teach me to drive. I would lie to my parents that I am going to play basketball to learn driving every day. By 14, I learnt to drive fully well.”

Since motoracing was considered a male-bastion, Nongrum wasn’t quite sure of pursuing it professionally until she left her town to move to Bengaluru for higher studies, where she lived for 15 years. She would consistently find ways to attend racing rallies, whether by being in the organizing team during her stint with Red Bull which would sponsor racing rallies or by simply attending rallies in the city.

Her desire to become a race driver remained innate until she finally became one. “In 2017, when I took a break and returned to Shillong, I decided to jump into the field of motorsports racing. My first race was an autocross which I had casually participated in just for fun on a friend’s insistence. It started from there and to my surprise, I picked up the winner's trophy” Nongrum recalls.

After her first trophy, there was no looking back. Nongrum had enrolled herself in a talent hunt led by Ahura racing only to clinch a place in the first Formula national women's team. She was selected as one of the six team members from across the country and the rest is history.

Success didn’t come easy for the Formula 4 racer. Her father always wanted her to become a cop like himself - a dream she ditched to choose motoracing. Nongrum faced her mother’s wrath when she first caught her daughter driving a car at 14. But with the increasing number of trophies that she won over the years, her parents have come to terms with her passion.

“I had to change their mindset to accept my chosen career path. Initially, when I would go racing, I wouldn't inform them, but everytime I came back with a trophy. I have not come back home without a trophy since I started racing and I believe that’s how they wrapped their head around it,” she says.

The next thing that Nongrum has in her mind is to represent India in one of the Asia Pacific rallies and the other Formula racing championships. However, she is struggling to find sponsors for her game as motosports continues to be an expensive sport in India.

(Interviewed and produced by Poorvi Gupta; Video edited by Venkatesh)