By Stephen Findlater
Hockey star Nicci Daly has enjoyed “the highest of highs” over the last fortnight as she got to fulfil her lifelong dream at Mondello Park and follow in her father Vivion’s tyre tracks.
Alongside childhood friend Emma Dempsey, their Formula Female team made its debut last Sunday as part of the Co Kildare track’s 50th anniversary in the Future Classics class.
For Daly, it was a special chance to honour her father, one of Ireland’s most successful racers, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2002. Indeed, her family is steeped in motorsport with her uncle Derek a Formula One and Indycar driver while her cousin Conor is making his way in the sport in the US.
And she admits that the sport is her first love, helping her dad by timing laps and helping with car setups, only taking up hockey when openings for her in a car as a teenage girl were financially and logistically out of reach.
As such, her podium dreams were always in a jumpsuit and a helmet rather than with a stick in hand. Sunday’s race, though, saw her finally get her chance on the Mondello track and she loved every minute.
Dempsey finished seventh while Daly was eighth with only a “small mistake” seeing her drop from fourth as she made an excursion onto the grass.
In a field of 34, it was a confident debut while — perhaps more importantly — raising close to €7,000 for the Irish Cancer Society in the process.
Reflecting on yet another milestone in her life, Daly reflected: “What a weekend, what a month, what a story! From World Cup silver to racing a car in my dad’s honour, it’s been the highest of highs over the last few weeks.
“The message is clear, if you want something, go get it! There are no barriers, there are no excuses.”
“The two of us were very nervous,” she says of the race itself. “We weren’t used to the track, never been around it and only got a curtailed 10-minute practice.
“We were wary about how we would do but we probably exceeded our expectations. We were ‘racy’, passing guys who do this every weekend and surprised ourselves.
Initially, Daly had envisaged a longer lead-in time from the World Cup to focus on the race but the epic run of the hockey team to the final meant there has been precious little time to reflect amid a flurry of new-found media requests to add to the mix.
She said Monday was “the first time I have had to do nothing and just think about what has happened” in recent times.
“Looking back on the success of it all, I am jumping back and forth in my mind from the two things constantly. It is just amazing.”
Daly is hopeful the Formula Females initiative can help push open the door for young girls to get involved in motorsport and was heartened by fathers with young daughters looking to pursue it.
While it was initially proposed as a one-off, Daly and Dempsey are keen to see it continue.
“After how well it went, we want to keep it going as much as we can. Whether that is people running under the Formula Female brand — maybe a race team taking it on — then we would be on board with it. We just want to build on it and get exposure of it as far as we can for women in motorsport, making it an achievable goal.”
Next on Daly’s agenda is a return to the US where she has a job with the Juncos racing team as a data engineer who allow her to align her working life with hockey commitments.
How she balances that role with an upcoming Olympic qualifying campaign in 2019 will lead to some difficult decisions for the 30-year-old.
“Perhaps the worst trait I have is that I want to do so much. It is not always so easy to do it all. With the World Cup success, the Olympics is always in the back of the mind.
“I do need to keep expanding my professional career because I am still living at home [when in Dublin]!
“I love working in the motorsport industry so it is a balancing act but I will do the best I can.”