A female racing driver with the name Dominique Chaleyer (pronounced ‘shallay-yeah) sounds like someone who raced, say, at Le Mans in the 1930s in an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750. In fact, Dominique Chaleyer is racing in Australia today, albeit in a suitably romantic 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT in the popular historic Group S series.
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“One of my heroes is Hellé Nice,” says Dominique, 33. “She was a very prominent racer in the early 1930s; there’s a terrific book about her called The Bugatti Queen. In fact, I’ve got a tattoo of her.”
Dominique’s steeped in exotic high-performance and collectible cars too, as former media and digital marketing manager for the world-renowned Dutton Garage emporium in Melbourne.
Chaleyer was to the spanner born. Her father, Paul, is a long-time classic car racer and well-known proprietor of classic-car workshop, Historic and Vintage Restorations. “[HVR] was intended to be a kind of retirement hobby-career for dad,” says Dominique. “He’s been doing it for more than 15 years and it’s probably the most full-blown job he’s ever had.”
For Paul, those jobs included co-founding (in 1975) Melbourne bicycle shop The Freedom Machine, then becoming a publican, then telecommunications. The latter took the young family for six years to Pakistan, India, then Saudia Arabia, where Dominique completed primary school.
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“In 1991, after the Gulf War, we came back,” she says. “My brother, my sister and I had strange accents. Some of the school kids I’d grown up with said, ‘Oh, our mums told us that you were dead!’”
The car bug had clearly bitten Dominique by age 14, when she took a part-time job at a bakery to start saving for her first car a couple of years later. “I was desperate to buy a Datsun 240Z, and I’d found one, and I had the money for it. Dad said: ‘There’s no way you’re buying that, it’s a hoon car.’ Today, knowing the value of 240Zs, he says to me, ‘You should have told me to eff-off and bought it anyway.’”
Instead, she bought a 1985 Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.8. “It was silver, with a tweed interior, the wood-rim wheel. I got it for $500. I bashed around in it for two or three years, then sold it to a guy for $500. I thought I was the best businesswoman ever.”
Her career actually started with media studies. “I’ve worked in TV, film and special events in Melbourne, Sydney and Dubai … I spent about a year and a half in Dubai, which is a year and a half I wish I had back.”
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At 25, Dominique took over her brother’s former “university ride”, the ’65 Giulia Sprint GT. “It had kept breaking down, so it got parked … Until I decided I wanted to be really responsible, and put my life’s savings into racing a car. I was hell-bent on doing it.”
Dominique’s career then detoured into HVR, looking after media and marketing and running the workshop. “At that time, I put a lot of hours into building the race car with dad, and that’s where I learned about the mechanics of my car. I learned about racecraft as well.”
Some early competitors’ ideas of racecraft seemed rooted in the 18th century. “One guy said to me, ‘I can’t wait to watch you roll your car because you’re too busy painting your nails’. To which, I probably raised a middle finger – perfectly painted.
“I had a lady ask me just over the weekend, ‘Oh, will you be competing against other females?’ There were two other females on the track, but motorsport isn’t gender-based – and it doesn’t need to be. I’m kind-of squirmy about things like ‘Ladies Trophies’ and things like that. I want to be considered for all the trophies, not just one.”
’Til defender do we part
Dominique Chaleyer has a host of classics lined up for her online video series What’s Driving Dominique. Her own garage of just two cars is barely less eclectic: her 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia racer, and a 2010 Land Rover Defender 90. “The Landy’s not the greatest car in traffic, but I love it. I was watching a James Bond movie and in one of the opening scenes, the chick is wrestling this Defender through some precarious location. I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, one day I have to have that car.’”