It’s been nearly 20 years since Stephen Rhodes became the first openly gay NASCAR driver to compete in a national touring series event. But the road toward queer visibility in auto racing and for car enthusiasts has been a windy one.
Founded in 2017, Out Motorsports is working to change that, creating a welcoming community with events where participants can show up as their authentic selves while also accessing online coverage of the latest motorsports news, car reviews, industry trends, and overlanding adventure travel.
For co-founder Jake Thiewes, shifting Out Motorsports into high gear has been a life-long dream. And establishing authentic partnerships with some of the country’s best auto manufacturers like Chevrolet is creating a new level of visibility in the industry.
In addition to providing loaner cars for road rally events, Chevrolet has also made a concerted effort to include queer voices in its roll-out of new vehicles, inviting Thiewes to Las Vegas for Corvette “driving school.”
“I do think there is a distinct difference between inviting media who happened to be gay and inviting media who are visible and representative of and for the community,” Thiewes told Queerty.
Chevy has also partnered with LGBTQ Nation to create Authentic Voices of Pride, a program that spotlights intimate conversations, in-depth editorials, and firsthand stories from people within the community. Authentic Voices of Pride began in 2021 and focuses on topics such as inclusion in sports, families, drag as activism, justice reform, young people experiencing homelessness and emerging leaders.
Queerty chatted with Thiewes about his interest in cars, the growth of Out Motorsports, and his favorite moment from the recent Hot Girl Summer Road Rally.
When did you first begin to take interest in the automotive industry and motorsports?
My mom will tell you that I would ride around in the back seat of her car at age two and read off badges on trunk lids. And that was the start of it all. One of the first words I said was garage door. So this has been an interest from birth or shortly thereafter. And it has only snowballed since.
Do you think it’s just in your DNA?
My parents, before they met each other and had me, had a history of owning interesting cars. They will tell you they’re not car people, but I think they are, to a point. They’re not car people in the sense of having hot rods, but they were big supporters of my interests. We would go to the auto show every year. There was a race in Baltimore where they shut down the streets, and they took me to that when I was like nine or ten. They’ve always been very supportive, so that certainly helped as well.
When did you connect your LGBTQ identity to your passion for cars?
I came out when I was like 19. I was in college and in a motorsports club, and we would go to the local racetracks and help work the events. You could make a couple of hundred bucks and hang around fun cars all weekend. So, I got into all the motorsports stuff a little bit more because of college. And a lot of those people became fast friends. When I came out, that was actually the group I came out to first.
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Fast forward several years, I got more involved in my own motorsport career and started racing. I had a friend in New Jersey at the time who was a little bit younger, on his own motorsport adventure, and also identifies as a cisgender gay man. And we were just talking and said, you know, look, we’ve both had good experiences, being out gay men in an environment that is not publicly perceived as acceptable. So why don’t we make a little website and just write about our experiences?
When you’re competing, it’s always good to keep some sort of journal — here’s how this event went, what I learned, and what I’m going to do differently next time. So, we were kind of using it as a publicly facing journal of our own activities. We quickly realized there was a need for a visible space where other LGBTQ car enthusiasts could gather.
We happened across some very hidden, very private Facebook groups and things. But if you were to go on Google and look for “gay car enthusiast” or “gay car club,” it was very limited in what you would find. They seemed to mostly target an older crowd interested in vintage American cars going to car shows. And if that’s your thing, that’s really great. If that’s not how you enjoy cars, you will very quickly read those web pages and think, wow, these aren’t my people.
Tell us more about the social calendar. What sorts of events do you host?
We doubled down on the community aspect when COVID started spreading, and everyone had to stay home. So that’s when the membership program took off. No one could go anywhere. So it was like, great, let’s do Zoom calls. We still do them, where we pick a topic, and everyone gets a few minutes to talk. We also have an online chat server on Discord and a Facebook group so people can stay connected.
The road rallies are really fun, low-cost, low-barrier events. All of this has been very east coast-focused, and next year, I’ve made the decision that we’re going to expand and go to other regions. People all over say come to my neck of the woods next, and that’s what we want to do. But the road rallies are a cheap way just to enjoy the drive. We always end up doing a group dinner somewhere, and it usually devolves into everyone getting a block of hotel rooms and hanging out all night.
But with motorsports in our name, I strongly believe that anybody doing anything on a racetrack, even for one weekend, will be made a better driver on the street. We have been hosting events where you can bring almost anything you own and run for two days on a racetrack that we rent — it’s competitive, but only to a point. There’s also the goal of having fun. If you don’t know what you’re doing, we’ve got more experienced people that can hop in and ride with you and give you some pointers. If you’ve ever seen the TV show Top Gear, where they make cheap car purchases and go to some ridiculous country and have some situation — we wanted to add a cheap car challenge element. We’ve done several of these at the racetrack so far, where you can buy a $1,500 car that fits whatever scene we pick, and you can compete in that instead of something you already own.
We take half the racetrack at a time and then set a timer. The goal is to run from point A to point B as quickly as possible. We send people out one car at a time, so there’s no real risk of hitting someone else, and the risk of going off the track is really low. Go as fast as you can, but within your comfort zone, and then try to push as you figure things out throughout the weekend.
It’s all very cheeky: here’s the theme, the budget; pair up with someone, and split the cost of the car if you want. With the state of the world, there are a lot of reasons to have a lot of angst and feeling about everything that’s going on. So, to say all right, we’ve saved some spare money. Let’s do something completely absurd to have a fun weekend. I think there’s an appeal there.
Tell us about the Hot Girl Summer Road Rally, brilliantly named after the Megan Thee Stallion song!
We wanted to do these road rallies to make these events more accessible and build more community. We wanted to do one in June as part of Pride Month, but I wouldn’t say that’s our Pride event because I believe Pride is year-round. It started about an hour outside of D.C., about 110 miles of driving on some really beautiful back roads, and we ended up having a group dinner that evening.
We put you in groups of 8 to 10 cars with a lead driver and a chase driver so no one gets lost. It’s more about having a nice time than driving as fast or recklessly as you can on public roads. Chevrolet has been a really good supporter. They’ve said for a little while now, “How can we help? We really believe in what you’re doing — let us know.”
So, for Hot Girl Summer, it was a good opportunity. I asked if we could get a bunch of Chevys to lead the lead driving group, so they got us cars for that. And they provided a couple of cars for automotive media who were coming. So we had four Chevys there. And we’re looking at what they might do for the other two road rallies this year.
“This organization means something to a lot of people, and it’s good that we’re doing this, and it’s worth the work.” — Jake Thiewes, Out Motorsports
What was the most memorable part of the event for you?
Honestly, it was at the end of the drive, and we all had a common meeting point. We got all the cars arranged in a nice pattern for a picture. Chevy had sent us three Chevy Bolts and a Corvette as the four cars they provided, so we had those front and center. And just looking around at the diversity of cars, the diversity of people and the fact that I had $200,000 of corporate-provided vehicles in support of this event was humbling. That was really cool. It reinforced that this organization means something to a lot of people, and it’s good that we’re doing this, and it’s worth the work.
How has your partnership with Chevrolet evolved?
We started reviewing new cars several years ago. A lot of times, I get a new car sent to me, and I get to drive it and provide my take on it on our website and YouTube channel. But they also host other events where, because we have these relationships, we get asked to drive something and experience it. Chevy invited me outside Las Vegas, where they run a driving school for new Corvette owners. The intent was to come out, drive the new Corvette in a great performance setting, and experience what you would get if you bought one. So I went there last August and talked to their team, and they just wanted to know more about what we were doing because it was the first time we’d met in person.
So, we’re having dinner and chatting, and they just said, well, what are you doing regarding events? And I had a track event two weeks after I was in Vegas. I told them all about that and the cheap car challenge. And I said we’re also doing these road rallies because they’re more attainable. And it was just an instant, “How can we help?” No pause, no question. And it’s just been a continuous relationship from there.
What shifts have you seen in the auto industry for LGBTQ visibility?
You see a lot of automotive brands do stuff during Pride Month, but a lot of it can feel very, you know, corporate whatever, for June. What I focus on more is when there are new car launches — I’ve been invited to several trips, and I’m hoping to get invited to several more — when those happen, what is the diversity of the people who are invited to cover this new vehicle? I have some colleagues who have started a Black automotive media group because they felt, and I would agree from the limited exposure I’ve had, that not a lot of Black journalists were invited to these events.
There are a good number of LGBTQ people involved in every aspect of the automotive industry. We are there, and we have been there. That representation matters. I feel very strongly about this because there have been gay automotive journalists since I was a kid and before. And the question I have for all those who wrote for big publications and were early on the video scene is like, where were you? Why was no one visible?
Given this layer of involvement with Chevy on our events, I would hope that for a new car launch, we’ll get to drive something. What I can say is that Chevy is one of the few automakers I have pitched, “Here are all the events we’re doing; we would love your support in whatever way; there are many ways to support.” Very few so far had taken me up. My hope is that as some automakers see what others are doing, they are more inclined to be more active about their support.
If nothing else, I can say [Chevy] actively contributed to making our events better. To me, it’s more impactful than bringing us to events they host, but I would love to see that as well.
The final point I want to make is that if people want to attend our events and see anything that has a cost associated and it’s too much: reach out anyway, we will make it happen. We would love to have you there. Part of what some of these automakers have done, especially with our track events, which cost hundreds of dollars, plus your hotel and gas, we have been able to offer a scholarship where you can apply or recommend someone, and we give away five entries for each event. Those funds make this available to all, and that level of support is huge. Chevy’s support lumps into that, but that’s how any financial support gets used to make sure anyone can come.