Demi Chalkias: Racing for the dream
By Kerry Turner
When Demi Chalkias puts on her helmet, she enters a different world – one where she is just a race car driver. Chalkias refers to the sport as bringing out her “inner animal.” The competition, the danger, and the pressure all fuel her desire to win but it was a lifelong love of driving that led her to pursue a career as a professional racer.
“Driving was definitely a huge interest of mine when I was younger. We grew up in the country. We didn’t have internet or cable, but we had anything and everything with an engine. As soon as I came home from school, I would hop on a four-wheeler or a dirt bike or our lawn tractor and pop wheelies. I would also set up little driving courses on my driveway. I’d put basketballs out and I’d create little driving courses, and I would run inside and take the keys for one of the cars,” recalls Chalkias.
“By the age of nine or 10, I had learned how to drive a manual. I would try to reverse through the basketballs and try little driving courses. I knew that if a ball had rolled, I had hit it. I would always try to execute it with perfection. I really just enjoyed driving. In terms of thinking about my career, I don’t think I ever thought about what I wanted to do forever. I just had a lot of interests and driving was definitely one of them,” says Chalkias.
Another interest was competing in triathalons. As a 16-year-old, she was a top performing triathlete who competed in a qualifier for the World Championships. Chalkias finished sixth despite having a hip injury. That injury would ultimately force her into early retirement from the sport. After rehabilitating, Chalkias focused her competitive nature on her other passion − racing.
The first few years of her racing career were particularly difficult because as an unknown she had to make it on her own financially. “Racing is the most expensive sport you’ll get into. Unless you come from a lot of money, which I didn’t, it’s difficult to pave your way. At first, I had to sacrifice a lot on top of sacrificing a social life and working two to three jobs at a time to save up money. I also sacrificed my education. I made the bold decision to drop out of university strictly to pick up more jobs so I could buy my first race car and afford to have a season to just go after it.
“What I had to do throughout the nine years I’ve been chasing this career has definitely been worth it, but it’s been really hard. Once you’re there, you have to perform. You have to show people why they should sponsor you. I served from 6:00 in the morning till 3:30 p.m. at a breakfast restaurant. I went to the bathroom and I changed into my next outfit and I served at a dinner restaurant from 5 p.m. till midnight or 1 a.m. Then the next morning you’re at the track for 6:30 ready to go racing, but you’re exhausted from the entire week of putting in ridiculous hours, trying to make the money to even be there. There’s a lot of mental toughness built into that process. Not only are you struggling financially to get the money, you’re working overtime to get it. You build a lot of character during those times, that’s for sure,” says Chalkias.
The hard work eventually paid off and the wins started racking up. She won the 2018 GT4 Championship and, in 2020, became the first woman to win the CASC GT3 Championship.
The Turning Point
It was in 2021 that Chalkias got what would turn out to be a life changing opportunity. “I was contacted to be featured in a full-length documentary called Full Throttle. I remember getting that phone call and I realized early into the call that this was going to be a life changing moment for me.”
Chalkias was one of three Canadian women who teamed up to drive an endurance night race in California that will be featured in the documentary, which was sponsored by Mercedes-AMG.
“While filming that documentary I was pulled aside and offered an opportunity to individually go to a shoot out for a ride in the AMG GT4. Soon after that I was contacted and was offered a full-time ride for this year,” says Chalkias.
She has signed with JMF Motorsports, an organization that supports and develops talented young drivers by providing them access to a top-level racing program. Chalkias will be racing a Mercedes-AMG GT4 in the FEL Sports Car Championship series in Canada. She will be the first female to compete in this class with this series and Chalkias is looking forward to putting her mark on Canadian history.
Drive without fear
In addition to being a successful driver, Chalkias has used her platform to inspire young girls to not only enter what is a traditionally male-dominated sport, but also to gain the confidence to be themselves, and to not be afraid of sharing their voice and leadership qualities.
Shedding the fear is something Chalkias is very familiar with. “Ludwig Heimrath, who was a racing legend and a mentor of mine, would tell me ‘Demi, don’t ever fear something going wrong on the track, that people may crash around you or there may be mechanical failures. Whatever you have to do, just go out there and do it and don’t worry about what could happen. Just drive without fear.’ I think that’s probably the best advice I’ve ever gotten.”
It’s advice she’s put to good use. “I competed in the 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium and we came 26th out of 120. I was the second fastest female in the race. These were racers from all over the world, which was incredible. Racing during night stints at that track with 120 other cars was just absolutely mental. You’re driving three or four wide into corners, at times with cars that had no business being that wide through a corner. You’re battling every lap, every corner, every hour of the race. I went out and did my hour and a half stint. I caught about an hour of sleep and then I was woken up to do a double stint, so three hours nonstop in the car. This was from the hours of 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., so you’re driving in pitch black. All you have are your headlights. I did seven and a half hours of racing. This was my first ever experience doing an endurance race of that degree, and my first-time racing in Europe.”