Lady Racer | Dominique Chaleyer

Through a series of personal sketches, Dominique Chaleyer reflects on her passion for classic and vintage car racing.

Photography Peter Soulis. Styling Vass Arvanitis.

The silver Bullet races down the straight, a hustler in a pack of swarming machines. Gripping the barrier she pulls herself to her tiptoes. The summer air streams along the race car, familiar black curls escape from under the white helmet, steady hands control the wheel. “Mum, I can see Dad…Ash are you ready?” Ash, my brother, loads a roll of film into the camera and hands it to my mum, Lindy, and together we cheer. The brake lights glow red against the Bullet’s bare aluminium. I hear the drivers change down through the gears, a rabble of pre-war engines crack and roar as the cars slow down. A Bugatti, Riley and a Talbot-Lago funnel into the corner and tear along the horizon. “It’s a great field today at the Island…the debut of Paul Chaleyer’s Alvis Monoposto Special, now closing in on the venerable MG K3…nothing wrong with a bit of rivalry among grown men who should know better.” The announcer chortles and a racing official unfurls the checkered flag as the Bullet thunders across the finish line.

Many of my fondest childhood memories are of days spent with my Dad, Paul, at various vintage and classic car events.  He has built, modified and raced at least a dozen vintage cars, a lifelong passion that began with building an MG TC in his bedroom fifty-one years ago. My brother, sister and I would take turns ‘pit crewing’ for Dad, bundling ourselves up in the passenger seat, if there was one, and setting off to a Rob Roy Hillclimb, Winton race weekend, or Sandown sprint. It’s no wonder the smell of petrol and heated brake pads remind me of home. Those days were the seed of my car racing aspirations.

“It’s a car, a rare vintage car, from the ‘30s, the make…Delage, spelt D-e-l-a-g-e…it needs to be in Monterrey, California by August 14th for a concourse, kind of like a beauty pageant for old cars…yes, Pebble Beach...” I press the phone to my shoulder and nudge the office door closed. The workshop is vibrating with the howl of a supercharged MG Michael is tuning on the dynamometer. Today’s to do list is growing. I’ll dash around the workshop floor, checking in with each of the seven mechanics, our engine builder, machinist, and three-panel fabricators next door. This morning I’ve got two hours to visit the sandblaster, chrome, zinc and nickel plater, the hydroblaster, and upholsterer. These are the skilled professionals keeping the ‘lost trade’ of panel fabrication and vintage car mechanics alive. There’s currently thirty projects underway at Historic & Vintage Restorations (HVR). My favourite at the moment is a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 MM, a car which the business has restored from an incomplete pile of parts to concourse-standard vehicle.  I spot the boss, Dad, still an avid driver, under the hoist closely inspecting a new project, a mustard-colored Dino barn find. It’s 8:00 am and my hands are already lined with grease and my hair reeks of petrol. It’s hard to believe three years ago I was a suit-clad TV Producer, with immaculate hair and nails, cocooned inside an editing suite.

After a year in Dubai working in media and marketing, I came home to Melbourne and took a role as producer of a program for the 2012 London Olympics. Glad to be home, I spent a lot of time with my family, particularly my Dad, both at home and at his workshop in Blackburn. Before I knew it I was out there six days a week working on developing the HVR business. I felt out of my depth, a degree in Media Studies had taught me how to tell a story with pictures, not tune a Weber 45. As my confidence grew, I began to ask myself, “why couldn’t I do what Dad did?” And with his encouragement and that of a group of seasoned mentors, I began to reinvent myself as a racer.

Big Red is the sixth member of the Chaleyer family. A 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT, the car was once my brother’s university ride. With a modified 1750cc engine, Dad and I decided Big Red was the perfect car to compete in Group Sb Historics (a national category for production sports cars manufactured between 1961 and 1969). I knew this wouldn’t happen immediately, it was a long term goal. My first step was to obtain my CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motorsport) Level 2 Speed License which I could use to build experience in regulatory events and club sprints. I sat my CAMS Observed License Test at Sandown Race Track in July 2012, and achieved my Provisional Circuit licence. After completing four observed races and eight hours of marshaling duties, by August 2014, I had qualified for an upgrade to my National Circuit licence. Though I had just reached an important personal milestone, I now felt even more resolute about creating a future in motorsport with an eye to the past.

The red Alfa races down the straight, a svelte Italian in a herd of beefy American steel. He grips the program, and taps it on the barrier. The winter rain breaks against the windscreen, the brown plait brushes the white racing suit, her gloved hands grasp the wheel. “Right, here she comes, the car looks steady, Jesus, she’s after that Mustang…” Lindy raises her iPhone and points it at the track, together they cheer. The brake lights blend into the Alfa’s lipstick red paintwork. He listens intently as the car shifts down. The car kisses the ripple strip, undaunted, she continues her pursuit of a sky blue fastback.  A Corvette, Porsche and Austin Healey hang to the corner and power through the sweeper.  “It’s a retro field out there…the swinging ‘60s is alive and well, Dominique Chaleyer, this category’s lady racer, is giving the boys a run for their money in her number 99 105.” The announcer whistles and a racing official drops the checkered flag as Big Red hammers across the finish line.

Dominique Chaleyer moonlights as a freelance PR & Marketing Automotive Professional.

Photo Credits: Dominique Chaleyer styled by Vass Arvanitis for, Photography by Pete Soulis, here with Paul Chaleyer’s 1958 Alfa Romeo 750 Giulietta Spider, restored by HVR.