CHICAGO — The fifth annual What Drives Her Awards Ceremony took place Friday, February 11, 2022.  

The cornerstone event kicked off the second day of the Chicago Auto Show’s Media Preview with breakfast.  

Over the years, the event has welcomed dozens of leading female professionals to the stage to share trends, stories and personal anecdotes of the integral role that women hold in the auto industry.  

One of those people honored was Sue Mead, a freelance writer and off-roading champion who won Best in Craft Media, Employed as a fulltime or parttime North American journalist, content creator or media with a focus on the automotive industry; demonstrate general excellence of craft; create work that illuminates the role of women in the automotive industry or, through voice and narrative, create more accessible automotive information and more inclusive automotive storytelling. 

Mead’s career began in 1988 as a freelance journalist for an off-roading magazine, on the first team that included women as vehicle testers. Fast-forward to today, Mead travels the world test-driving cars and trucks, and working as a photojournalist/feature writer for several publications, specializing in 4WD and adventurous stories.  

“I’ve been to 72 countries with cars,” says Mead. “I’ve driven off-road in about 68 of those countries. I just got back from Saudia Rabia where I spent three weeks this year and three weeks last year as a support and media manager for an all-female race team.”  

“She was the first ever woman to win number 1 in Dakar Rally in 2011,” say Mead’s 8-year-old granddaughter who accompanied her to the awards breakfast, Eve Judge.

Mead’s accomplishments also include, competing in the Baja 1000 and an inductee into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame.  

This year, the program has evolved to an award ceremony, in partnership with A Girls Guide to Cars and Women in Automotive, to recognize and present awards to three females within the industry. 

Finalists were also announced for Rising Star: Employed by an automaker, auto retailer or core automotive supplier; job title no higher than vice president; works primarily in North America; she may be notable for her empowerment of others, her breaking down of barriers that allows others to follow, her pursuit of non-traditional roles or jobs, her leadership, and taking on additional roles such as leading an employee resource group or mentoring program. 

The Rising Star award went to Linda Zhang., Ford F-150 Lightning Chief Engineer.  

Nominations were submitted from a variety of women within the industry ranging from auto manufacturers, suppliers, media and dealers. Distinguished jurors included women like Lauren Fix, The Car Coach; Sharon Carty, Car and Driver; Stephanie Brinley, IHS Markit; Kristin Shaw, The Drive; Jennifer Newman, Cars.com; Nicole Wakelin, Boston Globe; Carly Schaffner, Forbes Wheels; Cherise Threewitt, U.S. News & World Report; among other notable jurors.