Zandara Kennedy is working to make the motorsports and stunt industry more accessible to underrepresented groups. She is an ambassador for Racing Pride, whose mission is to unite motorsport as a whole to bring about significant and lasting change by actively promoting, and supporting, LGBTQ+ participants. Zandara is a trailblazer behind the wheel. With an extensive career as a Hollywood stunt driver, stunt coordinator, precision driver, and more, she made herstory this March as the only openly queer person to compete in the 2023 Formula Drift season. Not only dealing with the challenges of being a female in a male-dominated field, but she has also overcome challenges representing the queer community, at the cost of losing sponsors. Her career goal is to not just be one of the top female drivers, but to be one of the top drivers – period. And she is well on her way.
Canadian-born Kennedy was always addicted to extreme activities, even in her youth.
I was definitely an adventurous kid – my parents enrolled me in gymnastics as a toddler, and I was always the kid in the air climbing on the support structures of the jungle gyms, giving other parents heart attacks. My parents were good about striking a balance between allowing me to take risks and keeping me safe. I think they knew we would all be miserable if they tried to keep me from exploring.
Her first passion was to join Cirque du Soleil, training on the trampoline and working on circus stunts.
I loved exploring my physical potential – working with others to create something that seemed impossible. I loved being in the air and at the top of the pyramid. It gave me such a feeling of calm focus, which is what I get from driving now.
Breaking her arm at the age of 14 ended her dreams of the circus. She went off to university in Vancouver, getting her motorcycle license to work as a courier. After meeting a stuntman, she realized that stunt driving was a very real and lucrative career. Looking up top female drivers in the field and seeing what training they had, she was determined to make a place for herself in Hollywood by following everyone who had come before her. She attended Motion Picture Driving Clinic at the age of 19 and started honing her skills, ultimately becoming one of the youngest stunt coordinators in Canada. She would not be deterred by the industry’s limitations on gender, she knew that she had to be better than anyone else and took it upon herself to seek out mentors in the field and challenge herself with more and more training.
I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. So, that meant my only way forward was to become so qualified that I couldn’t be ignored. It took time, but eventually, I got the opportunity to show the skills I had built and the ways in which I was an asset, and my preparation enabled me to make the most of the opportunities I was given.
I think the ‘why’ is an important part of overcoming obstacles. Why we are continuing to push against that obstacle, and why we are using that approach. Sometimes a better angle is to pivot or try another approach. If you know this is the only path toward what you are trying to achieve, then you must embrace the difficulty as part of the process. Everything has a price, and you don’t get the highs without experiencing the lows as well. For me, this approach doesn’t make the hard times any less hard, but it does help remind me that they are temporary and for a larger purpose. Talent gets you in the door, but it doesn’t keep you there when things get challenging – studies have shown that grit is the most important determining factor in long-term success.
In addition to stunt driving, she engages in tactical firearms, freediving, combat, and fire stunts. What won’t she do? Is she addicted to danger?
I am addicted to learning. I love developing skills and knowing what I am capable of. All of these activities are dangerous, sure, but mostly if done incorrectly. All of them require intense focus, and intense focus is where my brain is the most at peace. Plus, I want to make sure if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse that I’ll be an asset to any team I join.
Does she ever get scared of the dangers of the job?
We have a saying in stunts that if you’re not afraid at all, that’s when you’re a danger to yourself and others. Well-managed fear keeps you sharp and focused. I get scared all the time, but I work through it. My goal is to build my skills so that the point at which I become scared keeps moving further and further away.
She has worked on X-Men, Deadpool, XXX Riverdale, Supernatural, Fear the Walking Dead, Lucifer, and many more. Her commercials have marketed brands like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. She has stunt doubled in driving scenes for Uma Thurman, Gillian Anderson, Anne Heche, and the list goes on and on. What gig sticks out the most?
There have been so many unique moments that I’ve been very fortunate to experience – one of my favorites was definitely working on the set of Blood and Treasure, which took us all over Morocco. The producers, after a lot of encouragement from myself and the actress I was doubling, Sofia Pernas, wrote in a car chase for us. That meant shopping for and building cars for a car chase in less than a week. Most of the local crew spoke Arabic, as well as some French. Luckily, I speak French, so that helped a lot. Explaining to the local fabricators, using a combination of French and YouTube videos, how to modify the cars was a cool experience.
In addition to creating a space for LGBTQ drivers, she also wants to make work more accessible to women, people of color, and people with disabilities. She knows all too intimately having to prove herself tenfold based on the fact she is part of a minority group.
An expression that I really identify with is “you can’t be what you can’t see.”
I love helping people work toward and realize their potential. That’s only possible when there is space for them to do so. In film, huge strides towards diversity and representation continue to be made, and I see people starting to work to support this goal in motorsport as well.
I certainly never imagined I could be a racecar driver until I was already a stunt woman because I didn’t see anyone like me doing it. I’ve already had very young girls walk up to me and tell me with certainty “I’m going to be a racecar driver.” I learned from their parents that I was the first female racecar driver they had seen. Getting to see those kids’ faces when I let them sit in the driver’s seat is one of the best feelings on the planet.
A lot has changed during my nearly 20-year film career, and there are a lot more opportunities for women than when I started. One of the biggest obstacles that stands in the way for women in male-dominated industries is this idea, wherever it originated, that there isn’t room for all of us. This has tended to mean that women, rather than supporting each other and seeing one another as allies, tend to compete against each other. I see this changing a lot within both the film and motorsport communities, and I am trying to be a part of that change.
Not only is she inciting change through her actions and visibility, but also through her conversations. She had a long conversation with a sponsor who told her they could no longer have their logo next to anything Pride related. The conversation had such an impact on the sponsor, they changed their mind.
I think I knew (I was gay) as soon as I developed my first crushes. I didn’t realize that was a thing people would have a problem with until middle school and I encountered some pretty negative reactions.
I never felt I had to come out to my family. But in both of my industries – film and motorsport – I experienced people assuming I was straight and having to eventually correct that assumption. I wondered if being open and honest about who I am was going to lose me work or sponsorship. In the case of sponsorship, I wouldn’t say the reactions were entirely positive. I also realized that it’s important for me to surround myself with people for whom my being queer is not a mark against me, but something to be celebrated.
Zandara makes her debut as the only Canadian and out LGBTQ athlete competing in four Formula Drift events this year. Formula Drift is the world’s highest level of drift competition, featuring the top of the top in the industry. From Zandara’s first drifting experience, she was hooked. It gives her time to focus and feel present, even though runs are about 45 seconds to a minute, running the engines at the red line. This is yet another milestone in Kennedy’s career. Is she nervous?
I learned a lot of things about building a race team and being a race team owner and driver simultaneously last year. I’m excited to be working with a professional team this year and to have an opportunity to focus more of my attention on driving and less on logistics. I’m nervous about debuting on the formula drift stage and making the best impression possible as a driver.
Last year, she completed a 20,000-mile tour of the US across 16 racetracks, going through four transmissions. What did she learn the most about herself and the US from her trip?
I moved out of my home and put all my stuff in storage before doing the trip. My key takeaways were that I didn’t need nearly as much as I thought, in terms of material possessions, but it was also a real struggle not having a solid concept of home. Home became the people on the road with me and that I met along my journey – the familiar faces I would see at different tracks and places I would return to became that sense of home for me.
As a Canadian, I had a certain impression of the US. Driving across the country multiple times and visiting so many different racetracks made me realize how diverse the country is in every way. I will say, not much sign of LGBTQ+ people outside of the major cities, though we did try to find them.
Zandara says the drifting community has welcomed her as a woman, but as a queer person, not so much. As with any other challenge in her career, she will overcome and leave haters in their tracks.
I’m not sure if it’s strength or sheer will. Integrity is very important to me, so if I’ve committed to something or someone, I will do everything in my power to see that commitment through. Eliminating failure as an option keeps me focused on figuring out what it will take to make things happen. This is not to say I don’t have some incredibly hard moments – I’m just not willing to give up.
Her message to the LGBTQ this Pride season?
It’s hard to be positive with everything making the news these days. I think it’s so important that we stay united and stay visible and look for the allies who are out there in so many places we might not expect. They are there.
Inquiring minds want to know: after she completes Formula Drift, how will she unwind?
I’m not so good at unwinding, so I will let you know in October. Until then I think my brain will always be full of what’s left on the to-do list.
You can follow Zandara on IG: @ZeeDrives
Last modified: April 14, 2023