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Our Story

Our story

Founded in 2021, the Della Penna Motorsports NextGen Foundation was established to honor the legacy of IndyCar team owner and legend, John Della Penna. John immigrated to the U.S.  from Argentina at just 20 years old, with a dream to race cars.  Starting as a race car driver, chasing sponsorship and winning championships in different formula series, he eventually founded Della Penna Motorsports. He understood the incredible sacrifices and intense dedication as well as deep financial pockets that racing demands of everyone involved.  He also understood the importance of mentors and coaches to up-and-coming drivers  and sought to provide opportunities for those who didn’t have the resources to succeed on their own. Michelle was an integral part of his racing life and she spent much of her youth travelling the circuit with her father and the team.  She saw first hand how little diversity there is in the sport and across the industry and dreams of lifting the barriers to entry to create a next gen pipeline that better represents the world around us.


Meet The Team


Michelle Della Penna

President & Founder, Della Penna Motorsports Next Gen Foundation

Michelle Della Penna is the President and Founder of the Della Penna Motorsports Next Gen Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, founded in 2021, dedicated to empowering girls from age 5-16 with opportunities to supercharge a future in motorsports – whether it’s behind the wheel, in the pits, or behind a computer. 


After a successful career as an entrepreneur and mother of three boys, Michelle decided to drive change in the industry she knew from her childhood, motorsports. Her father, John DellaPenna, was a race car driver and team owner, and she was one of the few girls at the track for as long as she can remember. As a first-generation American of Argentine descent, Michelle is especially passionate about creating opportunities for young girls of color.


As President and Founder, Michelle is actively involved in building the foundation's pilot programs as she and the team prepare for an official launch in May 2022.

Anchor 2

Susan Lucas-Conwell

Executive Director

A former CEO and entrepreneur, Susan has always been passionate about creating a level playing field for girls and women of all ages. She founded the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs – Europe, was a Board member for Women in SportsTech and regularly mentors for women-led or focused organizations. A competitive athlete herself,  with four daughter- athletes, she is particularly excited about the Foundation’s mission to diversify the motorsports industry.

Anchor 1

Gino Verna

Brand Manager & Creative Services

Gino Verna has been working in branding and design for over three decades. His experience spans from branding in the entertainment industry to not-for-profits and everything in between.  When presented with the opportunity to work with the Next Gen Foundation he jumped at the chance upon reading the “Mission”. 
"It is the most excitement and passion I have felt for a project in years!"-GV


Jess Thoennes

Social Media Coordinator

Tokyo 2020 Olympian and walk-on for The University of Washington Women's Rowing team- Jess has been a committed rower for nearly 8 years. Excited by the opportunity to become immersed in a new sporting area while training. She leapt at the opportunity to join the Della Penna Team and support other female athletes. 



Crista Facciolla

A graduate of Sonoma State University, Crista has resided in Petaluma, California for nearly a decade. She currently works with the County of Sonoma as a homeless outreach and harm reduction worker, serving the most vulnerable in her community. Crista holds degrees in Women and Gender Studies as well as Social, Political, and Economic Development and is deeply committed to providing an avenue for girls of color to enter the field of motorsports by way of the foundation.

The Board

Karen Ogbugbulu

Karen transcends from the education sector as a school principal for a mid-sized charter management organization in Los Angeles. Karen has worked in various spheres of education that highlight student wellness and response to trauma informed practice. Karen is the creator of SEL Kids which serves as a digital education platform which creates educational access to social and emotional learning for students who have experienced a myriad racial, socio-economic, and intergenerational traumas. Karen received a B.A. at Texas Southern University, M.A. in Education Administration at UCLA. She enjoys culture, surfing and the arts. 


Sonia Ramos

Currently Executive Director of California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP), Sonia’s love of racing started with John Della Penna and their collaboration at the Della Penna Motorsports Team. She has spent over 20 years pursuing her commitment to educational equity, working with under-resourced and under-represented communities for over 20 years, helping students and families navigate the college pipeline.

The Board

Michelle Della Penna

President & Founder


Beth Paretta   
Interview 1-26-2022

Owner, Paretta Autosports

As the first female director of a performance brand and motorsport for an automotive company (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), Beth epitomizes the female success story in the automotive and motorsports industries.  

Beth started her automotive career working in automotive dealerships before becoming a Business Development Manager for Volkswagen of America’s Credit division where she worked in wholesale and retail finance and commercial lending for Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini franchised dealers. 
Click here for full Bio

industry advisory council


Lyn St. James

Racer, Author, Speaker and Industry Leader

Lyn St. James’ illustrious career has distinguished her as one of the most successful female racecar drivers in history.   

Born in Willoughby, Ohio in 1947, St. James graduated from Andrew’s School for Girls where she majored in business. She also earned a piano teaching certificate from the St. Louis School of Music. St. James got her start in road racing at a time when women were largely excluded from the sport, making her debut in the 1973 Amateur Sports Car Club of America race. 

Click Here for full Bio

drivers advisory council


Michelle Abbate


Michele Abbate is the founder of Grr Racing ( and a professional race car driver in the Trans Am Series Presented by Pirelli.  Abbate is the only female in history slated to compete in the full National Tour Series.  She became the first woman to earn a podium finish in the TA2 category and has finished in the top 5 of the West Coast Championship series since her debut in 2019.  Michele has been voted Trans Am's Fan Favorite Driver for two years in a row and she is excited to make her dream come true as she heads into 2022 with the full series on her schedule.


Sabré Cook


Sabré Cook is a successful female racing driver with nearly fifteen years of experience in karting, formula cars and sports cars. Hailing from Grand Junction, Colorado, Cook began driving at the young age of eight, and as her passion grew, she started racing competitively at the age of ten.
Click here for full Bio


Hannah Grisham


Hannah Grisham is a 21 year old race car driver from Glendora, California, born 2/14/2000. Hannah began driving at age 3, riding motorcycles at age 4, racing karts at age 6, and racing Spec Miata at age 16. So far in 2021 she has raced in the Mazda MX-5 Cup with IMSA, Pacific F2000/Formula Continental with SCCA, and GP2 with the World Racing League. Hannah has over 800 competitive starts spread across almost 400 races in cars and karts from the club to the national level.
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Heather Hadley


Heather 'The Heat' Hadley is a 20-year-old race car driver from Northern California. She has competed since the age of nine when she first began racing go-karts, and has since raced anything from BMW's to Legend Cars on various oval and road course configurations across the United States. When Heather turned 18, she moved to Charlotte, NC where she is currently attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in business and double majoring in finance and economics. She has accumulated a total of 11 championships throughout her racing endeavours, and for the upcoming season will compete in the Idemitsu MX-5 Cup series presented by BFGoodrich, working towards her long-term goal of competing in IMSA professionally while inspiring the younger generation to achieve their goals! 
Click here for full Bio


Kelsey Rowlings


Kelsey started drifting in 2008. She progressed into competitions in 2012, competing in multiple ProAm competitions and series. Upon earning her Formula Drift Pro 2 license, Kelsey jumped into a full season of Pro 2 competition in 2015 with her 2.2 liter SR-powered S14. Realizing her 500hp car was not enough, she and her team built a 5.0 Supercharged Ford Aluminator-powered S14 with about 700hp to the wheels for the 2016 season.
Click here for full Bio

Support Our Program

Join Us

A Supporter level donation of $100 will get mentioned on the website, the programs, and brochures for the events.


A Benefactor level donation of $500 gets all of that plus opportunities to attend select events.






Next Gen Foundation is a 501(c) (3) organization. Our Federal Tax ID is  87-0897405.

We are recognized as a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to organizations with 501(c)(3) status may be tax deductible. Please consult your tax professional to determine deductibility.

This letter is your receipt for income tax purposes.


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