Behind the Wheel
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Behind the Wheel

Local 53 member Caroline Kelly lives life in the fast lane—both on the construction site and on the racetrack

By Alison Brown

YOU COULD SAY CAROLINE KELLY is driven to succeed. When she’s not getting her hands dirty at the construction site, she’s doing laps around the racetrack in her self-customized green and black 2002 Honda Civic. 

When it comes to excelling in typically male-dominated domains, Caroline is speeding past the checkered flag, leaving gender misconceptions in the dust. 

Caroline’s need for speed began in childhood with go-karts. 

“I started racing go-karts when I was eight,” she says.
 
From there it was a natural progression to stock car racing. 

“I had family and friends who raced stock cars. My stepdad raced. My brother raced. It was a passion that ran in the family.” 

While in high school, Caroline bought a Pontiac Sunfire and customized it herself to get it in shape for the racetrack. But one other tiny, important detail was missing before her first race. 

“I was so focused on building my car that I forgot I didn’t know how to drive stick,” says Caroline. “It was two days before my first race, and I had to learn how to drive stick in a parking lot in my friend’s car.” 

Once on the racetrack, Caroline quickly learned she had a natural aptitude behind the wheel. She put the pedal to the metal in her racing career and now races in the Pure Stock division at Flamboro Speedway in Millgrove, Ontario.

Pure stock consists of front-wheel drive three- and four-cylinder stock cars made no earlier than 1984. They can be two-door, four-door, hatchback, or wagon styles.
 
Most Saturday nights in the warmer months, Caroline can be found racing number 79. She’s been racing in the Pure Stock division for 10 years, chasing that checkered flag. 

“There’s nothing like the adrenaline when you’re out there on the racetrack,” says Caroline. “There’s also such a strong sense of family. It doesn’t matter if you know someone or don’t know someone, everyone is always willing to help each other out.” 
 
THIS THEME OF WORKING TOGETHER is part of what drew Caroline to construction work, too. Caroline is a fifth-year HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) apprentice and steward employed by Dean-Lane Contractors Inc. and is currently working as a foreperson on the Elevate condo project under construction in downtown Kitchener. 

“After high school, I was working at my uncle’s lumber yard, and I knew I wanted to do something like that,” she says. “I like hard work and I like working with my hands. I love physical work.” 
Caroline had plans to become an electrician after attending an open house at Herzing College in Cambridge and enrolling. “But then I talked to the HVAC guy, and I just loved the idea of doing that.” 

She did her preapprenticeship training through Herzing College and went through the CLAC Jobs, Ontario program, to get connected to Dean-Lane. 

Although the world of construction is still overwhelmingly male, Caroline enjoys the camaraderie and companionship of the construction site. 

“Initially, it can be overwhelming and a bit intimidating as a woman on the construction site,” she says. “You think you’ll be treat-ed differently because you’re a woman, or the guys will think you can’t do something because you’re smaller than them. But all the guys I work with have been great.

“Once you get into the trades, you realize very quickly that it’s actually the total opposite. The guys are usually more than willing to help you get ahead because they know how nerve-wracking it can be to be one of the only women [or only woman] on site.” 

HER COWORKERS’ SUPPORT EXTENDS beyond the work site and onto the racetrack. Several coworkers and Drew Lyons, her CLAC representative, have come out to her races to cheer her on and lend their support. 

Just like on the work site, Caroline lets nothing slow her down—not even lack of sleep. 

“There’s no sleep for the wicked,” she says. “Right now, my life is work and racing. After work I come home and work on my car. I like to do all of it myself. I’m teaching myself how to build the car so that if anything happens—if it blows up or anything like that—I can fix it.” 

This hands-on, do-it-yourself attitude is what has helped Caroline excel in her construction and racing careers. 

Her advice for women looking into either career? 

“Just go for it,” she says. “Practice, practice, practice, and make sure it’s what you want to do. But don’t let anything hold you back.”

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