Klimenko: I earned my stripes
Dressed in black, tattooed and sporting a striking pink hairstyle, few would have thought that Betty Klimenko was the new owner of the Supercars team on the grid in 2013.
It’s been nearly a decade since Klimenko rocked the Supercars paddock, arriving at the Adelaide 500 with three screaming silver arrows.
The business world had taught her to be bold and brash, to stand out from the crowd so anyone would notice – and they did.
Nowadays, Klimenko has a softer figure. Sweetened by the toil of nearly 10 seasons of competition in arguably the most competitive touring car championship in the world.
“That’s how I was then, that’s the person I was, I was basically an old goth and that’s how I always dressed,” he said. she told Speedcafe.com.
“I always wear black, most of the time. You go into my wardrobe and it’s just black, a little gray, a little white, and that’s it. There are no colors, there is no red, there is no pink, there is nothing. It’s me.
“I’ve always loved my rock and roll and been like that, but now I’m getting older and getting a little softer around the edges. Just a little softer. I don’t shout as much. I don’t bully as much.
“I was very intimidating. I see in hindsight how intimidating I was, but that was me, because I come from a business world and a world where men were very powerful and to be heard in this forum, in construction and building, you had to be intimidating and strong.
“I’m short, I’m blonde, nine times out of 10 they thought I was a secretary and asked me for a coffee. I must have been intimidating. I tried not to bring him onto the track, but sometimes he just snuck in there.
Erebus Motorsport entered Supercars as a somewhat known quantity.
Founded in 2011, the team quickly found success with a podium at the 2012 12 Hours of Bathurst on its debut in the event and a victory in 2013.
The year of their first victory at Mount Panorama, the team joined Supercars after taking the reins from what was Stone Brothers Racing.
Like his GT3 team, Klimenko opted for Mercedes machines. Success in the sports car scene had lofty ambitions, though it would be a largely fruitless tenure with the E63, scoring just two wins in an otherwise lackluster three-year span.
Most of the time in motorsport is spent losing, and Klimenko is the first to admit it taught her to be humble.
“As far as the Mercedes, yes, I was very naive,” explained Klimenko, who was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) earlier this month.
“Everyone thought we would go out there and blitz the field. No, we didn’t. That’s where I learned that you can lose a lot. Not just losing once or twice and then winning, no, you lose a lot before you even come close to winning.
“That’s why Winton holds a special place in my heart. This first premiere with Lee Holdsworth. I still have that trophy at my house and it’s always where I can see it to remind myself that it’s the pinnacle of hard work in the sense that you have so much against you, but you can still do it.
“I think everyone, their freshman year, they have stars in their eyes, and then the stars sparkle a bit and they see reality. There are 25 cars and only one will walk away with the victory at the end of the race. That’s why you learned to be rejected.
“I think that’s what I needed in my life, to learn to accept the fact that I’m not first, the fact that I didn’t win. The golden rule is he who has the golden rules, but here it doesn’t matter.
“I learned to accept rejection, meaning meaning; not everyone will come first and you won’t always come first.
“I spent two years coming last to the Mercs before going to Holden and that taught me to be a bit more humble and accept the downsides.
“Nobody cares about second and third, it’s who came first.
“I found there were a lot of things I needed to work on. Motorsport helped me do that. It made me bite my tongue a bit more and put on another big boy pants.
“I came here with rose-tinted glasses and now they’re blue. Literally blue. I see reality now.
“Everyone thinks they’re going to come here and change the world, and you realize you can’t, and you have to learn what it’s like to come in last, what it’s like to be in the garages in the back, and you work hard to get your garage past the passport point – I call it the passport point – and there will be years when we end up in the back again and there will be years when we will be at the front.
This year is Erebus Motorsport’s 10th season in the Repco Supercars Championship.
At the Winton SuperSprint the team celebrated its 300th race start.
Since 2013, Klimenko said attitudes have changed towards him. Now it feels much more like a part of the Supercar furniture.
“Every time I come to a race it’s a record because I’m the first woman to build a team, not inherit or buy, but build a team – the first woman to build a team of motorsport in Australia and the first to reach 300,” she said.
“For me, every time I achieve something special, it’s a milestone. I remember it because when I started it was more of a boys club.
“I think on the 300th, I feel like I was given the key to the old boys bathroom. I feel like I’ve earned my position now. I’m part of the club “I earned my stripes. I proved that I could run with the greats. It’s a very comforting feeling.
The ultimate success, winning the Supercars title, is still a long way off. The team enjoyed the pinnacle of triumph at the Bathurst 1000 in 2017 with David Reynolds and Luke Youlden, before hitting a particularly rough patch three years later.
Young guns Brodie Kostecki and Will Brown reignited the team’s hopes that they could be regular contenders soon enough, however.
For now, Klimenko is content to grind and continue the journey with his Erebus Motorsport family.
“I’m glad motorsport came into my life, and I’m glad I walked the path because it’s brought me so much happiness, so much joy and so much heartbreak – a lot of heartbreak,” he said. she laughed.
“But between the fans and the team and everything, there was a lot of joy that you could never get from anything else. You can’t have that feeling.
“These people don’t know who I am, they just love me because I’m me, not because I’m somebody’s daughter or because I have something they don’t know, and they don’t never held it against me – and I like it.
“I love that I’m not your typical eastern suburban girl and I can enjoy coming and sitting in the smell of ethanol and grease. I like this.
“They don’t remind me who I am, they just say ‘you’re Betty’ and sometimes you just wanna be Betty, you don’t wanna be Betty doing this, this and that.”