Harvard Graduate School of Education Logo

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

Summer 2018

Race car

Photo by Road America

download a PDF of the article

Need for Speed

Q&A with Abigayil Joseph, an antique pre-war Formula One racer.

Dealing with high-pressure situations is nothing new for Abigayil Joseph, Ed.M.’99. While the pace never lets up in her role as chief of staff to the Chicago Board of Education, where she’s worked alongside former superintendent Arne Duncan and current Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, it’s behind the wheel as one of the only female pre-war Formula race car drivers where things really speed up for Joseph.

FIRST OFF, WHAT EXACTLY IS A PRE-WAR FORMULA RACE CAR?
Pre-war cars are the oldest and, personally, I think, the most interesting cars in vintage race. Formula One was the continuum of the European open wheel grand prix car. Modern day pre-war are typically made up of sports cars from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s. They have manufacturing dates prior to World War II. It includes sports cars and race cars. I’m in a sports car. My car is a 1952 MG TD, but it was designed in 1942.

HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME INVOLVED WITH RACING?
My father-in-law started racing when my husband was six, and they had been racing for 20 years when we started dating. I said to my husband that I wanted a piece of the action. I can’t just be watching. I said I wanted to join the race team. He had tears in his eyes. I got my license that year and started with an open 1969 Formula V. Such a challenge. The pedal work is really hard. I had to do ankle exercises to strengthen my feet. The shifting is hard, and there’s no power steering.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE THE ONLY WOMAN ON THE TRACK RACING?
Outside of the Midwest there might be more women, but I have never raced another woman on the track. It feels like a feminist mission now. It’s all men that I race with. When you’re in a race car, you’re in a fireproof hoodie and your race suit and helmet, and you can’t tell if I’m a man or a woman. I had an experience where I was taking my race car to gas up and my helmet was off, and there was a dad walking with his daughters, and one said, “Oh my God, it’s a girl racer!” Now my signature is I have my ponytail flying out from my hel-met, and I hope there are girls and women who hope they can do this too.

ARE THERE ANY COMPARISONS BETWEEN YOUR RACING AND YOUR DAY IN EDUCATION?
To be in an education policy role in a fast-moving district, you have to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Whether it’s city government in the third biggest school system or in a race car, you have to have a calm-ness to yourself in order to see clearly and be able to navigate. A lot is at stake. It feels like a race against time in Chicago, that every one of our just-under 400,000 students is in a highly functioning school, and it feels like a race to try and accomplish that.