“I just had the most amazing experience with my new Eargos. I actually heard birds for the first time in a way I hadn’t for so long.”Jackie Heinricher
Jackie “Go Time” Heinricher is used to excelling at the unexpected. She is the former tomboy kid, who grew into a champion race car driver. She was the little one with the chemistry set who built a bio-tech company around sustainable agriculture. She was the can-do girl who enlisted in the Air Force assigned as a flight-line medic. She could do it all, compete and win against the best of them, which led her to believe her hearing was also invincible—until she took the Eargo online hearing test, and got her new Eargo 5s. “I never thought I had a hearing deficit; it shocked me to learn what I was missing.”
Now her quest is to go big, the biggest challenge yet, to become the female owner of an Indy car team. We met up with her at her home in Idaho.
Racing can be a noisy place, even with hearing protection. What was your previous thinking on your hearing?
I was talking to a friend who asked me if I had a hearing deficit, and I said of course not. After I took the hearing test on the Eargo website, I found I had a pretty significant loss in my left ear. I guess I still think of myself as being 12 years old, and my having a hearing deficit didn’t make any sense. The big shock was after wearing them for a while, I took them out to charge them, and I was astonished at the difference between what I was hearing and what I wasn’t hearing. Having the Eargo 5s in, I really understand the difference between what I was hearing and what I could be hearing.
What was your time in the military like? What was your work?
I was a medic in the Air Force, stationed in Panama at Howard Air Force base. I split my time working between the clinic on the base and Gorgas Hospital, downtown Panama. I loved my time in the service and it gave me a true sense of belonging and being responsible. I got to serve when the Panama Canal existed and even took classes at Canal Zone College. I learned to scuba dive with the YMCA. I also, on my time off, did some volunteer work for the Smithsonian Institute, recording fish while scuba diving.
What were you like as a kid, were you into adventure sports then?
I was captivated by science and always asked for chemistry sets. I was the kid that loved to do crazy stuff outdoors, swim, bike, skateboard, go to the beach. This was in Cupertino, California, my dad worked for Shell. It was still a pristine place back then with old pomegranate groves and beautiful beaches of Santa Cruz.
What was the first thing you raced?
Mazda MX5 at Skip Barber racing school.
How did you start high-performance car racing?
After I achieved my racing license at Skip Barber, I started racing in the Ferrari Challenge of North America. My first real race was at Daytona…. crazy!
How did you get into biotech?
As a child in Cupertino, my father always had bamboo planted. I fell in love with the plant and that set me on a course into biotech looking at bamboo for a pulp alternative.
Did you race during the years you were running Booshoot Technology?
Not the beginning years but later, somewhere around 2010.
What did you mean by racing saved your life?
I had been running my company since 1996, ended up doing a transformational pulp deal that attracted some heavy investors. We did a deal, I was ousted, and it shattered me. I was traumatized for a year until I was encouraged to get back into a race car. It literally saved my life.
What is the sound environment like when you are driving a race car? What are you hearing?
It’s a loud, aggressive environment—race cars are fire-breathing dragons. I’m hearing the engine, and then I’ve got a radio with earbuds blasting, for team communication during the race.
Any thoughts on others who could use an ally for their hearing?
I really think the Eargo 5s are amazing—life-changing—and I can’t wait to get my dad to try them too.
Race cars seem very claustrophobic, the way one is pinned and strapped in. What is it like to drive like that?
It is not something that most people would like. It’s very tense in the car; you are purposely strapped down to not be injured in a crash. But it is loud, dirty, limited visibility, and it’s hot—at times the in-car temperature is 140 degrees, plus you are wearing a fire suit. Take into account that you are dealing with all of this while battling at extremely high speeds. It takes tremendous mental and physical endurance.
What is going through your mind when you are driving a race car?
Nothing but the extremely quick decisions and precision required to seriously compete at a high level.
What is it like when you finish a race and the helmet is pulled off? What are you hearing and feeling?
Winning is everything, if you make the podium, it’s an incredible reward for the work. Otherwise, it’s usually getting out and hydrating and discussing the outcome with the team and engineers., while looking forward to the next race.
When you switch to driving your streetcar home, is there any cross-over?
The crossover is I see everything long before most drivers as that’s how I’m trained, to see not the corner I’m at, but the next corner…I need to attack ahead. I do not speed; I know to give myself an out should something happen that is caused by another driver. Very heads up.
What are some of the notable races you have driven in?
Daytona, Laguna Seca, Road America, VIR, and the world finals in Valencia, Spain.
Why did you want to own and run an all-female race team?
I wanted to switch hats and become a team owner, something I’m still fighting to stay in. I wanted to bring the top pro women drivers together to challenge the top SportsCar Championship in its 56 years of competition.
What is it like to lead a race team vs drive?
They are the same, as your race is only as good as your team and it is the same as the team owner. We work as a TEAM and are critical to all of the technical aspects of racing and winning.
What was it like to podium with the all-female team?
When I raced my team, I was the first female team owner to get a team on the podium in the same SportsCar series (IMSA). Pretty great.
Why are you focusing on Indy cars now?
This is a natural progression, but it is also the most difficult from the partnership/investor perspective. What I’m trying to do is not for the faint of heart.
What are some of the challenges you have as a woman in the world of racing?
The perception that it’s a man’s sport (the car doesn’t know if it’s a man or a woman driving), and that makes it a million times harder to gain the backers required to go out and win and demonstrate that I’m investable and a worthy team owner.
There is a sense of invulnerability in people who are military, successful entrepreneurs, and of course, race car drivers that allows them to push limits. Do you feel that this asset in one part of your life held you back from checking out your hearing?
Yes, you are probably correct on that. It is one of those things that I just should have done so much earlier, and because of my can-do attitude on everything, I just pushed it to the back of my mind. But now I have the Eargo 5s, and I realize how much of life I was missing out on. I regret I didn’t get them earlier, but I am so happy to be hearing to the fullest now.