This week is Lesbian Visibility Week, which raises awareness about the issues facing lesbians and celebrates their achievements. We’ll be publishing articles throughout the week to bring more attention to the people who put the “L” in LGBTQ Nation.
You’ve probably seen Zandara Kennedy, even if you didn’t know it.
From maneuvering a hot rod at full speed to being consumed by a wall of flames, Kennedy has helped bring Hollywood action scenes to life. She has doubled for the likes of Uma Thurman, Peyton List, and Gillian Anderson and has worked on titles like X-Men, Deadpool, Lucifer, Supernatural, and Fear the Walking Dead.
But now she’s taking on her most daunting challenge yet: paving the way for queer people in motorsports.
“Motorsports, particularly in North America… It’s all very ‘Red State’ and ‘Let’s burn more fuel!’” she told LGBTQ Nation. “It tends to be more popular in the less progressive states. So that’s super intimidating. And not everyone had a really positive reaction to me saying, ‘Hey this is important to me.’”
So why take the leap from stunts to racing in the first place?
“My first day in a drift car—people tell me not to say this—but it was like heroin. I was like, ‘I need to feel this all the time. How do I get this more?’”
It shouldn’t have been a surprise: Kennedy has always been an adrenaline junkie.
After transplanting to Canada from South Africa, her parents endeavored to raise an independent and adventurous child. Her death-defying flips on the trampoline would startle other parents—but for the Kennedys, it was just another day. Like many daredevil Canadians with a flare for performance, she dreamed of joining Cirque du Soleil. But an injury and a move from Ottawa to British Columbia derailed her circus dreams.
“I ended up moving to Vancouver to go to school and getting a driver’s license and a motorcycle license. I realized that stunts was a thing that people did for a job, and that seemed like a pretty excellent job for me.”
Ever tenacious, Kennedy pursued her new dream by taking every possible job on film sets while she developed her skills.
It was around this time, at the age of 19, that she attended renowned stuntman Rick Seaman’s Motion Picture Driving Clinic. She built upon the fundamentals she learned there by whipping her 1978 Ford Crown Victoria around empty parking lots between working as a grip, acting as an extra, and accumulating a stunt portfolio.
“It’s not the kind of thing that you just hire a kid to do,” she explains. “You gotta make sure that they don’t break something or hit somebody or ruin the shot.”
She recalls preparing for her first stunt driving gig at 25: a complicated J-turn over a dolly track which required sliding the car mere feet from a stunt double laying on the ground. “I remember being in that car, on top of the dolly track and thinking, ‘Okay. Either you never work again or you nail that.’”
Spoiler alert: She nailed it.
But it was only a matter of time before her stunt work led her to learn more forms of motorsports, including drifting. She got hooked. “Originally, I did the [drifting] training to supplement my stunts, to be better at stunts. Now, I do stunts to pay for drifting.”
For the uninitiated: Drifting is what those cool people in action movies do when they jerk the steering wheel and their car slides sideways through a cloud of burning rubber. The competitions in which Kennedy participates are judged by a competitor’s ability to drift with precision around particular points or objects.
The pivot from film to motorsports hasn’t been without its challenges.
Kennedy was already out as lesbian when she started stunt work in the film industry. And while she continues to encounter stereotypes (“‘Oh, you’re a gay woman doing a man’s thing—that makes sense.’”), she has found herself battling even more preconceptions in the motorsports world.
“When I got into racing, it was like being closeted all over again…I was all over Instagram and Google trying to find, like, anybody. Anybody I could follow who was queer, female—I don’t care! Like, does it have an engine and you race it? Cool! Are you not in a bikini beside your car? Amazing! My standards were low and I couldn’t find anyone. And I was like, if I can’t find anyone, how is anyone gonna find anybody?”
This led Kennedy to become one of Racing Pride’s new North American ambassadors. The organization, founded by British racers in 2019, promotes LGBTQ+ representation in all aspects of motorsports—from drivers to mechanics to spectators.
Although Kennedy continues to do contract stunt work, racing and diplomacy have taken center stage. She spoke with LGBTQ Nation from her home in LA, where she lives near a racetrack. It’s here that she’s been gearing up for the world’s highest level of drift competition, Formula Drift, which begins this May.
“I just finished rebuilding one of my race cars which caught fire at the end of January,” she says with a chuckle. “I’m about to go into a season of competition.”
Kennedy is the first openly LGBTQ+ person to compete in Formula Drift and is also striving to be the first woman to make it to the Pro level of the competition. But despite these lofty achievements, she still manages to advocate in smaller ways.
“I’m working with the Della Penna Next Gen Foundation,” she tells me. You can almost hear her smile as she relays the organization’s mission of providing young women—particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds—with opportunities to explore motorsports. This work includes giving ride-a-longs to young women who haven’t had a chance to experience racing.
“I joke that I just want there to be more queer people in racing because I wanna date them,” she laughs. “I want to have a community. But if I couldn’t find anyone to build a community with, then someone has to go first. And someone has to say, ‘We’re here. Now come find me.’”
With someone like Kennedy to idolize, the queer motorsports fanatics of tomorrow are in good hands.