While other women start hoping for grandchildren, Janine Hill beats the lap record at one of the most dangerous races in the world. She tames the Porsche beast on the track or sneaks on a skyscraper for a BASE jump. That’s how daring and thrill-seeking is this UK-born professional racing driver which now is a partner of Amber Beverage Group in a very interesting project.
Janine is a professional racer of the J2-Racing Team that is competing in the Porsche Carrera class. She speeds in the popular VLN races, wins excellent results at the legendary Nürburgring track in Germany and the ADAC 24 hour races, maintaining full control of the racecar with Rooster Rojo® Tequila logo on the hood. Experts consider it one of the most dangerous racing events in the world.
A short while ago Janine came to Riga for an adventure. The sun shines on everyone and the expected rainfall passes by race track 333 where the Porsche awaits, boasting immense horsepower. A bunch of men have gathered next to the car, eager to try and tame it. The race car's hood sports a brave and bright brand – Rooster Rojo® Tequila, Janine’s and her team’s general sponsor. No Latvian brand has supported a racing team of this caliber before. After some breathtaking laps, Janine tells about her life and many adventures.
A woman and a racing driver!? This would be a surprise for many. Can you tell us about taking up this career?
I have been practicing adrenaline rush or extreme sports for a long time. I’ve done more than 3000 skydiving jumps, exiting the plane at several thousand-meter altitude and free falling down to a few hundred-meter height for parachute deployment. I’ve also done hundreds of BASE jumps from bridges, buildings, radio towers, and cliffs. For those you have to deploy the parachute instantly, if you want to stay alive.
Would you agree that thrill seekers can’t be determined by gender? Rather by an inner drive for adventure and, as you said, adrenaline?
I would think so, yes. In truth, the more you get used to it, the more you need it. That includes things that may not be recklessly dangerous, but it’s an edge of the blade. High speed racing while being strapped in the car is challenging, the conditions are never the same. You evolve as an athlete, hone your reaction time and expand your knowledge on how the car behaves on the track, how the tires work and so on. I confess, I’m an adrenaline junkie, but I’m still not ready to take on absurd risks.
Do you remember when you first noticed this disposition and your ability to overcome fear?
I remember that moment in great detail. When I was still a little girl, every kid in the neighborhood had bicycles, and we went to a steep hill in an abandoned area. We talked about how we should ride our bikes down the hill, but everyone was afraid. Then someone said, ‘Hey, Janine, you can do it.’ I was only eight or nine years old and I said, ‘Yes, I will.’ And I went down that steep hill. Halfway down I had the thought it might have not been a good idea. Possibly that’s why I fell at the very bottom. But injuries were trivial and I thought, ‘well, that was cool’. That’s when I got the urge to revisit sensations like that.
You were the only girl among those kids?
There might have been another girl, but I’m sure she didn’t ride down the hill. At least two boys didn’t either. I was a different kid. I liked motorcycles since I was little. When I was 12, I could recognize and name all the main bike brands and their models. I bought my first bike when I was 14.
And what did your parents think about that?
They were very responsible people. My mother didn’t do sports. My father was into sports, but he never did any adrenaline rush sports.
Before we started the interview, you mentioned that you started skydiving because your job was selling electronic hardware and that involved making contacts with military personnel…
Yes, I had a job at a company that sold covert surveillance hardware and we had very interesting customers from police and military forces worldwide. The work was exciting and I got to know a lot of special forces guys and we got along. They were all freefall parachutists and they said I should certainly try it, invited me to join them. I was a bit over 20 and I took that offer up gladly. The special forces guys took me under their wing and we did freefall tandem jumps, I was held by one of the guys. As soon as I jumped out of the plane I realized this is what I want to do. In six months I no longer had that job. I became a skydiver.
So you became a professional parachutist?
That was so addictive. I completed the training program, did my qualification jump and then three, four hundred more descents to develop my skills. I also got my photography degree and realized the best way to make money in this sport is attaching cameras to myself and shooting other skydivers. In time I started to earn a living this way. I had sponsors who gave me equipment, but the real money was in instructing other skydivers and teams preparing for competitions. The videos helped them hone their skills. And I also sold my videos and photos to various magazines around the world.
I gather that wasn’t the end of it, as you went from skydiving to BASE jumping.
That was the natural next step. I like BASE jumping, it’s technically challenging. You have to know how to pack the chute for each individual jump height. This is not skydiving. You have to know the height exactly, measure the wind, and know where you’ll land. And, naturally, you only get the one chute. If something goes awry… I’ve got a lot of injured and dead friends, sadly. But it’s a calculated risk and I believe my inner risk calculator works fine.
Sure, you’re still alive...
I think this risk calculator, it’s not in the head, rather somewhere deeper. I feel it when something’s off. Sure, I like to understand it all technically, but I can’t rely just on numbers, I have to feel it. Even if I understand the insides of the race car and the workings of the parachute, I still have to have that inner feeling.
So intuition? Is that the fabled woman’s intuition?
It’s possible. It’s saved me many times over. That’s why I’m still here after all I’ve done. Still in one piece, more or less. Sure, there have been some breaks and sprains.
How did you become a racing driver? Simultaneously with other extreme sports?
I have been driving on the Nürburgring track with J2-Racing for five years now, and I’ve got a racing license seven years ago. First I competed at motorsport club level, to develop skills. I believe in starting from the bottom and climbing up fairly, step by step, just like I did with skydiving and BASE jumping. I also have a commercial airplane pilot’s license. There too, you have to start from the bottom and show you’re capable.
Your spouse is a racing driver as well?
Yes, we met 19 years ago at a skydiving event in Florida, US. I was working there and John (Shoffner) was visiting the area. He had a couple hundred jumps under his belt. I didn’t believe in love at first sight before then, but we are still together. We’re very close and have been through a lot together. Now we’re driving as J2-Racing, and I guess the name is self-explanatory (smiles).
John had a crash at the end of the summer, wrecking his fine Porsche. You were going to show that car to media here in Latvia…
Yes, I saw him going off track. There’s a camera in the car, so I saw everything John saw at the moment of the crash. My heart shrank, but I also knew he’s going to be all right instantly, thanks to radio. In Riga, we drove another very similar vehicle that we used for this season’s races in several countries.
Is it good for your relationship that your partner is involved in high-risk extreme sports as well?
Yes, we share the mindset. We live for adventure, and so we may grow as individuals. Of course, you can do that in different ways, knitting, working at an office desk or raising kids as a housewife. There are plenty of ways to grow and evolve. But John and I, we have this burning desire to live to the full, to be the best we can be. In our case, that’s driving on the track, shakings things up and placing first.
Still, did you not meet any strong-jawed buzz-cut machos among the racers?
I’ve always gone shoulder to shoulder with the guys and I’ve never considered myself less capable. Never. If a man treats me otherwise, looks down on me because I’m a girl, he’s not worth knowing. On the other hand, it’s not enough to just say, “I’m a skydiver and a superwoman”, you still have to earn that.
What would you say to the women and men whose professions are not as thrilling, how can they continuously improve themselves, their lives?
We all have our daily agenda, whether you’re a working mother, a professional, a lawyer, a doctor or something else. Maybe you’re a sports fan or an athlete. It all comes down to the same thing. You have to believe in yourself, believe that you’re strong. I have this strong inner conviction. I know I do my thing well, I’m reliable and I like what I do.