From WAG to Photographer

Since I was 17, I have lived in this crazy world as WAG to race-car driver, Russell Ingall. It’s a fast paced lifestyle, full of fast cars, glitzy parties and glamorous people. We have travelled Australia and the world. Done some crazy fun things and met some incredible people. Sure there have been downsides as well, but when I look back over the last 25 years, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Our whole life has revolved around motorsport, everything we have done, where we lived, our diet, strict exercise routine and more. So many times we had to pass up offers to friends parties or events because we were away I think people stopped asking and as far as alcohol, that was an absolute no-no during the season for Russell. There is so much that effects your life that people on the outside don’t factor in. Being a professional athlete is all encompassing so when that ends, you are left with a huge void.

After a racing career starting in go-karts at age 8, my husband has now retired from full time competition.  He has moved on to a career in television with Fox Sports and is busier and traveling more than ever.   Life is good for him. For me, I used to travel to most of the races, which meant I was on a plane at least once a month. I was juggling children, travel and Russell’s office work. Life was super busy and I loved it. As soon as he stopped competing, I found myself with a dilemma. All my adult life I have been “Russell Ingall’s wife”.  I was a motorsport fan from a young age, having a brother that raced go-karts, so I was used to hanging around race tracks.  My dream was to be a Motorsport Photographer.  I started at local karting events and race tracks, then straight out of school I made the commitment to follow V8 Supercars around Australia and pursue my passion.  It was around this time I started dating Russell, a young aspiring race driver.  We were the perfect match, working and travelling together, following the same dreams.

When I was 19 years old, we moved to London, then Germany, Japan, you get the picture. I pursued my photography dreams, shooting formula and touring cars overseas as well as a few Formula 1 Events, also working in temping jobs wherever I could for extra cash but never anything serious so I slotted into the WAG role pretty easily I would say.  Back then, photography was pre-digital, and it was expensive, so I made the choice to put my camera away and follow Russell’s career goals. I guess it is really a choice you have to make, I understood that motorsport came first, and it was such an unpredictable lifestyle, I was happy to adapt. The only problem was, once Russell retired, I was no longer a WAG, so what was I? I don’t really travel much anymore so I suddenly had all this free time. What was I supposed to do now? I’m sure this is a similar issue faced by many full time, stay at home mums. Once your children are more independent of you, with all the free time you suddenly have, what do you do? I felt like to get a “real” job, wasn’t really going to fit into our life. Fortunately for us, we have worked and saved hard and don’t really need the second income anymore, and with Russell still away a lot, I want to be around if and when I am needed. I had to find something to fill my time that would fulfil me, but be flexible as well.

Before I go any further and tell you how I solved my “problem”, let me first take you back to the beginning. Russell and I met in the 1980’s (a long time ago I know). We knew each other through the karting scene before we started dating. Within the first year of dating, as an aspiring race car driver he had the opportunity to move to the UK to pursue racing in the big wide motorsport world and anyone that knows anything about motorsport, it all happens in the UK and Europe. As I was not long out of school, I had to make the choice of whether to break off the relationship and continue with my photography dreams in Australia or follow him to an uncertain future, both career wise and whether our relationship would actually work out.

For me it was a no brainer. I have always been a keen traveller, Europe was the Mecca for Motorsport so opened many photography opportunities for me and I was pretty keen on Russell as well. He was so sure of himself and what he wanted and his passion for car racing was infectious. His motto was “win or nothing”. How could I not join him? Arriving in the UK on a cold winters day in January of 1990 was pretty daunting. I was on the other side of the world away from all my family and friends with some guy I had only been dating a short time. There was no Internet, social media, hell there wasn’t even mobile phones for me to keep in touch with my old life and as far as contacting home, we could barely afford to eat, let alone telephone long distance.

But that was it. We stayed away from Australia for 6 years. We moved around a lot, that is part of the Motorsport lifestyle, living in England, Japan and Germany. We had the craziest adventure and some of the most incredible experiences. We didn’t care that we didn’t have any money, as long as we could make it to the next race, we were happy. We had heaps of fun finding ways around our money woes, talking our way into hotels we couldn’t afford, swapping things for food and being invited to dinner by the locals who felt sorry for the “poor Australians”!

I think it was those early days of really struggling that set us up, both financially and as a couple. If we could make it through that, we could do anything.

Professional sport has changed a lot since then. Drivers are starting out on big dollars before they even turn the wheel at elite level. For Russell, it was a good 10 years of hard slog before he earned anywhere near decent money. We relied on my temping jobs working in pubs or as a temp secretary wherever I could and his prize money to live. If he didn’t win, we pretty much didn’t eat so he basically HAD to win and he did, a lot. It was pure desperation and determination that got us through the early days. He was also the master wheeler-dealer, which people still joke about today, but he had to be.

In 1995 Russell got a call up from Larry Perkins to come back to Australia and race at Bathurst as his teammate. Incredibly, after a crash on lap one, they fought through almost impossible circumstances to win from one lap down.   It was sensational and a history making achievement. From there, Larry asked Russell to move back to Australia the following year and join his team for the entire V8 Supercar Championship. It was a huge decision to leave a good career in the UK but the more we thought about it, we decided it was time to come home. We missed Australia and the opportunity was too good to pass up. There may not ever be another chance.

It was the beginning of the next chapter of our lives and probably the next part is the more public part because once Russell arrived back on home soil and joined the V8 Supercar Road show, his profile skyrocketed. Once we were back in Australia, life really changed.

For the next 20 years he raced in the Australian V8 Supercar Championship. He was known as a tough competitor who says it like it is – The Enforcer. He got himself into a lot of trouble but he also built a career on his name and he had great success winning a lot of races as well as a Championship and two Bathursts.

We got married, had two gorgeous little girls and continued to go around on this crazy racecar merry-go-round of a life.

There is certainly a glamorous side, what everyone thinks life as a WAG would be like, the opportunities that are given to you and the people you meet are purely because of your fame, but there was a lot of struggles and down sides as well. For one thing, you live a life full of uncertainties. It is not like any other career where you can pretty much plan that you will earn a certain income for the many years until your retirement. You live by the seat of your pants, picking up contracts and income wherever you can, but certainly never anything long term. We learnt to be very creative and careful with money and I think we still are today. Ok there are a few toys in the shed these days, but there has to be some perks of the job, right?

Another thing that I always found hard about being a WAG, and by far one of the questions I was most often asked is “do you get nervous?” The short answer to this is “HELL YES”.

I think it is the same for every WAG, no matter the sport. You see every day the emotion and pressure that an athlete puts on themselves and also the pressure from those around them; the team, the sponsors, the fans, the expectations are massive. You know how much they have worked and sacrificed to make each competition, so this makes you extremely nervous watching and hoping for the best outcome. You want your partner to succeed, as you know the jubilation that comes with it.

Then there is the more specific side associated with motorsport. I can’t fully describe what it felt like to watch week in, week out my husband put on his fire proof protection undergarments, 3 layer fire proof race suit, helmet, gloves and specialised race boots and finally his HANS device (to protect against head and neck injury) – his “uniform” alone suggests the danger of his job. He straps himself into an enormously powerful machine and goes out on to the track with 30 other revved up drivers all trying to be the first into turn one. On a street circuit, they shave the concrete walls on every turn, often ripping off side mirrors they are that close. The risks are incredible and I have seen first hand many times when things don’t work out. Its something you never get used to. Motor racing IS dangerous. What other occupation do you go to work every day risking your life so I have to confess that once Russell actually retired from full time race driving, as hard as I know it was for him and how much he missed the adrenaline and just down right fun of racing, I breathed a sigh of relief. I almost felt like we dodged a bullet.

Sport is a huge industry created to entertain. What the public see and perceive sport and its athletes to be is often not a realistic view of things. Sports have changed massively over the years that I have been involved. It is not the same game I entered into in the 1980’s. For one thing, there is a lot more money involved and with that, comes a lot more pressure. Then there is media and more particularly these days, social media. In the past, you went to a race, people either came to watch, saw it on television or read about it in the papers – the journalist’s educated and impartial version. Now, there is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat – information is so accessible. Everything is instant and you are getting many versions of the events from so many different people and everyone has their opinion and is willing to give it. Believe it or not, this creates new stresses. A lot of what people say is often untrue and there is definitely a certain skill and etiquette when it comes to dealing with the media and public.  I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I have read the horrible things that people have written on social media when they pretty much are just “armchair experts”. They don’t really know what they are talking about and more than likely have never even met the person they are talking about. It’s not a select group that get targeted either, everyone is fair game. Many times I have been accused of being stuck up, not supportive enough etc, all just from an image on television. At first, it used to outrage me, I wanted to respond back, have my say, it wasn’t fair, but it was this sort of social media negativity that led me to where I have ended up today. After Russell retired from driving I would spend a lot of time home alone with him still on the road and I was so frustrated with how negative people were becoming, I really wanted to focus on trying to be a positive influence on social media. It is the single thing I have struggled most with being a WAG, the negative side of social media.

I had bought a camera once we were financially more stable and I started to re-kindle my love,  learning the digital platform and mostly just playing around, with a full time Race Driver husband and two small children, there still wasn’t time for me to step back into my old career goals.  Once Russell retired though, I started spending more time with my camera, searching out beautiful things and taking pictures then posting them on Facebook and Instagram. I used all our years travelling as my inspiration. I felt like by posting something beautiful, often with a quirky little story attached, it would bring positive and happy images to peoples feeds.

From small beginnings, my social media grew and my photography career re-emerged. I have spent the last couple of years learning as much as I can about photography and getting out as much as I can to shoot, often with an alarm call of 3 am to get the perfect sunrise. I am working with tourism boards doing destination marketing and being paid to travel around and take photos of beautiful places and share my story as well as selling my photos as prints that people can have in their homes.

It’s almost become like a competition to me. I have spent my life watching Russell trying to win every race, so this is now mine. The more people like my images and the more I get messages from people saying how happy they make them and look forward to what I will post next, the harder I try.

I really feel like I have found the next chapter in my life and I always get a little kick out of realising people are contacting me and liking my work, not because I am “Russell Ingall’s wife” but just because they actually like it. I have had the most fortunate life with so many adventures that when Russell retired, I thought that was the end, it was all downhill and there wasn’t really anything to look forward to, but I found something just as good and the adventure just keeps going and getting better. Finally, the tables have turned and Russell has become my cheer squad supporting me as I pursue and grow my dream as a photographer, one day, once the children are grown, I hope to even return to my first love, the race track and pick up where I left off as a Motorsport Photographer.

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Note this story was published in the Gold Coast Bulletin “Eye” Magazine as a front page Feature Story on 2 July 2016 with images by Photographer Richard Gosling