Over the Wall: The Indy 500’s Only Female Mechanic

Anna Chatten, of JR Hildebrand’s No. 4 National Guard team, is believed to be the first woman ever to work a pit stop during the race.

The Indianapolis 500: It’s fast! It’s exciting! It’s … well, it’s a real sausage fest.

Sure, there are female drivers. In fact, this year there are four: Simona De Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, Katherine Legge, and Pippa Mann. And yes, there are any number of smart, savvy women working the PR and administrative functions of the racing business. But lady pickings are slim among crewmembers, such as engineers and mechanics—and by “slim,” I mean there is one: Anna Chatten. Indeed, it is believed that Chatten is the first and only female ever to work “over the wall” on a pit stop during the Indianapolis 500.

Chatten, who currently tends to Panther Racing’s No. 4 car, piloted by JR Hildebrand and sponsored by the National Guard, developed a taste for motor racing at the tender age of 7, when her dad, a former motorcycle racer, bought a go-kart. Chatten recalls, “He drove me to the go-kart track, and I saw a bunch of little guys doing it, so I said, ‘Hey, I want to give that a shot!'”

Chatten spent the next 11 years karting, but hung up her helmet when she turned 18. “My driving skills were definitely not next-level good,” Chatten says with a laugh. Her mechanical skills, however—developed thanks to her father, who insisted she maintain her own kart—were. Chatten further honed those skills during high school, working in the machine shop at Caterpillar in her hometown of Peoria, IL. “My initial plan was to go to college and get an engineering degree and go to work at Caterpillar,” Chatten says. “But I realized there was no way I was going to get up and to go the same place every day for the next 40 years of my life.” Instead, Chatten skipped college and headed west, to Russell Racing School at Sears Point Raceway (now Sonoma Raceway), which offered a yearlong program for aspiring mechanics.

“It’s pretty hard to get into this business, and it’s even harder when you are me,” Chatten says with a laugh. Meaning, of course, that some people seem to be bothered by the fact that Chatten has lady parts. Fortunately, however, contacts made at Sears Point helped Chatten land her first job, on an ALMS team. Since then, Chatten has worked in several series, including Barber Dodge Pro, Champ Car, Atlantics, and now, IndyCar. “It’s definitely gotten easier—much easier—over the years,” she notes. “It all starts with the person in charge. If they respect you, everybody else tends to fall in line with that.”

So what, exactly, does Chatten do? During races, Chatten works the air jack—a pneumatic hose that plugs into the back of the car and helps to lift it off the ground so other crewmembers can change the tires. Needless to say, this job involves some level of physical risk, as Chatten herself discovered in 2010, when driver Mario Moraes ran over her foot at Mid-Ohio. The rest of the time, Chatten builds, sets up, and maintains the car’s gearbox. “There’s a lot of math involved in it, a lot of precise measuring,” says Chatten. “I like that stuff.”

When asked why there aren’t more female mechanics, Chatten shrugs. “I have no good answer for that,” she says. “There should be.” One reason might be the difficulties involved in starting a family while working in racing—something Chatten, who is engaged to be married this fall, thinks about more and more. “It’d be pretty tricky,” she acknowledges. “But the way I’m looking at it right now is that when I started in this business, everyone said I wouldn’t make that work either. I figure there’s only me, and I make the rules as I go.”