From small-town racing to working for some of the industry’s biggest companies, women hot rodders can be found just about everywhere these days. They may be in the background quietly going about their day or be in the mainstream eye, but either way, we’re proud to call the industry’s leading ladies part of the hot rod family.
Speedway Motors‘ Jessica MacKichan is one such female–dedicated to her work at one of the biggest hot rod parts retailers in the country as well as continually feeding her personal passion for vintage cars and trucks. This month, we checked in with MacKichan to see what her day-to-day work in the industry is like as well as what motivates her and keeps her firmly planted in the male-dominated automotive industry. Her answers are what made her June’s perfect Leading Lady.
MacKichan can trace her automotive passion back to her early years in life. A true family affair, hot rodding was in her blood from the start and manifested itself in the form of family outings to races, shows, and car events.
“I’ve always been around hot rods and racing,” MacKichen explained. “My Dad is a natural teacher and would always point out the differences between models and years of all kinds of cars and trucks.”
When MacKichan and her twin sister were just six years old, her family began racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats over the summers, calling it their vacation. Unlike what some people would consider a relaxing time away from the stresses of life, this vacation time was spent by all the MacKichan family members working their butts off and supporting MacKichan’s dad in his racing goals.
At age 10, MacKichan received the gift that any hot rodder would be proud of–the promise to help her dad work on and build a 1933 Ford that had been kept in the attic. It was this car and opportunity that truly sculpted MacKichan’s idea of beauty in the hot rod industry.
“I think knowing that the ’33 coupe was going to be our project determined what I considered beautiful over time,” MacKichan told us. “To me, beauty is an un-chopped highboy, 5-window coupe with suicide doors.”
But it wasn’t just her father’s influence that gave MacKichan the title of a car girl from a young age. Starting in middle school, MacKichan and her twin sister became involved in the Speedway legacy, helping to clean the peddle car and cookie jar collections of one of Speedway’s founders, Joyce Smith.
Matriarch of Speedway Motors, Smith proved to be an important influence on MacKichan for years, supporting her work in various positions at Speedway through high school and college during summers and holiday breaks. After MacKichan graduated from college, she was brought on full time at Speedway and has worked their ever since.
“I looked up to Joyce. She was dedicated, worked hard, and balanced the needs of her family with more than a full workload at the business.”
“She always offered a kind word of encouragement and had a story to share. She was loyal, funny, and showed the compassion that Bill shared, but kept hidden. Joyce passed away August 4, 2013, but left a lasting impact on me and countless others.”
With MacKichan working for the Smith family from a young age, it was the natural progression for her to remain a part of the Speedway family throughout the years. Working odd jobs during breaks from school (middle school through college), depending on the season, MacKichan worked her way up from shipping and receiving, as well as helping in the museum, to taking care of the company’s website and then to various full-time positions following her graduation from the University of Nebraska in 2006. With a degree in graphic design, MacKichan eventually moved up to her current position as Creative Manager at Speedway.
“Our team consists of four full-time designers, one photographer, one videographer, an intern and me,” MacKichan explained. “Our team creates all of the catalogs, publication ads, web banners, marketing materials, show materials and product boards, internal communications materials, packaging design… anything involving design that Speedway needs.”
In total, MacKichan has worked at Speedway for just over 15 years and she told us she couldn’t see herself in a better place.
“Speedway is a great place to work,” MacKichan explained. “The Family very much cares about the success and wellness of their employees. They encourage furthering education, strengthening skills through outside seminars, and reading business and management books and materials.”
She continued with, “There’s a special energy at Speedway. I can feel it in the air during racing season when we’re swamped and every department works together as a team. I love that Speedway has history; that Bill and Joyce built up this business from nothing-because they had a passion for racing and for street rods. You can see that same passion in the folks who work here. Many have a street rod, truck, or muscle car. Many others race every weekend. We get it because we do it too. We share that passion.”
With Speedway having had a strong female co-founder, MacKichan told us that she’s never really experienced any different treatment at her job because she’s a female.
Whether it is Joyce’s influence or just a sign of the times, MacKichan told us that everyone treats everyone else at Speedway as equals regardless of their gender. Many strong females have worked for and helped make Speedway what it is today.
In general, being a female in the industry doesn’t really cross MacKichan’s mind, she told us, as she sees gender as a silly thing to let stand in her way.
“Many of my heroes in the industry came from nothing,” MacKichan explained. “They made their own paths in a harsh world, much harsher than the world I face today. They didn’t let anything stand in their way. So I figure, why would being a girl stand in my way? I was taught that hard work is what makes someone successful.”
Just like we alluded to before, MacKichan is a true hot rodder for more than her work at Speedway. As it turns out, that 1933 Ford that MacKichan’s father promised her they’d build some day did end up getting built by the pair, starting when MacKichan was 21.
The build took eight long years, with things like school and life events taking priority, but throughout it all, the build remained important. Finished in 2008, the coupe is now MacKichan’s daily driver in the summers and has seen hundreds of miles of road trips and adventures.
Since 2008, MacKichan and her dad have upgraded the engine and converted the car over to a four-speed, but it still remains the beloved build of father and daughter.
“Spending that time in the shop with my Dad is priceless to me,” MacKichan told us. “He continues to share his endless knowledge with me, and I can see many ways that we are similar in nature and character. But, I would not be where I am today without my Mom. Often the silent partner in our hot rod builds, she keeps our family running smoothly and our builds on-track.”
Now that the ’33 is finished (or as finished as builds ever are), MacKichan is looking for a Model A Sedan project to start working on.
“Sedans, especially Model A Sedans have a quiet beauty about them,” MacKichan explained. “I’m drawn to the impression that they have fairly diverse styles, depending on the direction of the build. It’s a body style that can look innocent and collegiate when left alone or edgy and aggressive with a few modifications to stance, finishes, and wheels.”
“I love the concept that the relative simplicity/economy of original cars from that time period created a need for the aftermarket that continues to fuel the industry today.”
There may also be an “old farm truck” or 1968 Chevy unibody build in the future as well.
What the Future Holds
Having fallen in love with the automotive industry and the Speedway Motors family at a young age, MacKichan plans to be at Speedway for the foreseeable future.
“I truly love working at Speedway Motors,” she told us. “I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. In ten years, I hope to be right where I am, helping make the company successful–hopefully, with a few more hot rods in my garage.”
And when it comes to the future of other females with a passion for the industry, she had this to say:
“I believe in the ‘follow your passions and do what you love’ side of success because passion is the driving force to success. With that comes hard work and, sometimes, luck. Until the luck piece comes into play, position yourself to always be available to fill a need. Take on new projects, even if they’re a little above your skill set; you’ll learn something new. Sometimes you will fail, but that’s good for you too. Failing puts the right amount of humble in a person. You should always learn from a failure.”
“You won’t start at the top; there will be many years of long hours, unglamorous grunt work, and day-to-day chores that aren’t much fun. But be patient. Good things come to those who work really hard. And when you get to the top, don’t forget how you started. To me, real leadership is being willing to get your hands dirty and do the actual work when needed.”
After all, it was following her passions, putting in a lot of time and effort, and truly taking pride in her work that got MacKichan where she is today!