Charlie Martin: Transgender driver chases Le Mans 24 Hour race dream

Charlie Martin is aiming to become the first transgender driver to race at Le Mans.

Story highlights

  • Briton Charlie Martin aims to become the first transgender driver to race at Le Mans
  • She walked away from motorsport fearing she wouldn't be accepted
  • But Martin is back competing in the 2019 Michelin Le Mans Cup
  • "We need positive stories from real trans people doing incredible things" - Martin

(CNN)Standing amid the fevered atmosphere of the Le Mans 24 Hour race, Charlie Martin had an epiphany.

One day he wanted to race at the iconic French cathedral of motorsport -- home to the world's oldest endurance race that takes place again this weekend -- instead of watching rain-soaked from the sidelines.
But this dream was secondary to another, more urgent desire that beat inside his body like a pulse.
    If he raced it would be as a woman.
    "Back then I wasn't even racing," Martin explained to CNN Sport. "But if you could have granted me any wish -- apart from changing my gender which was always the default answer -- it would have been to race at Le Mans.
    "It is such a festival for petrol-heads and I came away spellbound; it was everything, the feat of endurance, what the cars go through, the scale of it in front of 300,000 fans.
    "I said to myself there and then -- that's it."
    Le Mans 24 Hours is the oldest endurance race in the world and is a mecca for motorsport fans - as seen here in 1952.

    'Scared of the consequences'

    Martin was still living as a man during subsequent trips to Le Mans as an inspired spectator but in 2012 -- just over a decade since that first life-changing pilgrimage to the 24 Heures -- she transitioned, reassigning her gender to female. Martin underwent several major procedures as well as therapy and documented her journey on YouTube.
    "Pretty much every fiber of my body told me it was the thing I needed to do," Martin explains. "But I always said to myself that I'd never have the courage to do it; I'm too scared of the consequences; I'm too scared of telling everyone in my life and how they might react and treat me.
    "So to go into transition and not only do it but have it go incredibly well, to be so happy, finally, suddenly feels like you've taken the biggest risk in your life but you've also hit the jackpot."
    When she transitioned, however, Martin turned her back on racing because she thought she wouldn't be welcomed as a transgender driver.
    She had been competing in the UK in hill climb racing -- where drivers go against the clock on uphill courses -- fitting it in around her day job in the family engineering business.
    "I walked away from motorsport," she explains. "I just couldn't see how it would ever be accepted.
    "When I was in the first year of transition in the UK, people were quite standoffish but I think that was because everybody knew me and ... hill climbing in the UK is a slightly older generation thing -- and so that felt quite, I don't know. Challenging is probably the best way to describe it."
    A decision to go to France and compete in a one-off round of the French Hill Climbing Championship in St-Goueno renewed Martin's passion and her hopes of becoming a professional racing driver. She had broken the class record and won the race by three seconds, a positively monumental margin by hill climb standards.
    "People were a bit surprised that this English girl who no one had heard of had come over and blown everyone away," Martin recalls with a smile.
    Blink and you miss her: Martin's motorsport dreams were reignited driving a Westfield in France.