Zandara Kennedy, stunt double to the stars and soon-to-be first Canadian to compete in the 2023 Formula Drift Pro Spec, grew up thinking she’d join Cirque du Soleil — but wound up taking a different route.
After a serious injury prevented her from training as a teenager, Kennedy ultimately moved to attend university in Vancouver, where she got her motorcycle license and became a motorcycle courier, then was introduced to a stuntman and discovered exciting possibilities within the film industry.
“I was like, Oh my God, this is a job I could do? And I started pursuing it aggressively,” Kennedy says.
But breaking into stunts “was a bit of a long path,” Kennedy recalls, as the film industry’s “insular” nature and reliance on familial connections to get ahead made it difficult at the start. Kennedy had to be “very deliberate” about honing her craft and finding opportunities. She reviewed the resumes of top stunt women to determine the coursework and skills she needed and trained extensively.
Part of that training took Kennedy to stunt driving school in Los Angeles; there, she got behind the wheel and realized, Oh, I like this. She went home and bought a 1987 Ford Crown Victoria to take out on weekend nights, practicing driving and shooting videos.
“People started to notice that,” Kennedy says. “So even though I was already working a little bit in stunts, what set me apart was my dedication to driving. And I just had a policy that I would reinvest any money I made from working in stunts right back into driving.”
Over the years, Kennedy has stunt-doubled for actors including Anne Heche, Katee Sakhoff and Uma Thurman. She’s also worked diligently to refine her skills as a stunt coordinator, mechanic (she works on her own car) and precision driver who “spends 99% of her time sliding sideways at extreme speeds.”
Entrepreneur spoke with Kennedy about her passion for drifting and how she keeps fear in check, all while advocating for underrepresented groups in the stunts and motorsports industry.
“I’ll be the only Canadian woman to ever compete in Formula Drift this year, [and] I’m the only openly queer person [to compete].”
When she set out to start drifting, Kennedy was determined to be the best. “I wanted to be one of the top drivers — not top female drivers — but just top drivers,” she says.
Kennedy dedicated herself to a lot of cross-training. To date, she’s attended Drift School USA, Skip Barrier Racing School, Team O’Neill Rally School, Dirtfish Rally School, Motion Picture Driving Clinic and Reel Stunt Driving School, among others. She’s worked with coach Taka Aono, one of the original drivers in Formula Drift who competed for 12 seasons.
In 2021, Kennedy earned her license to compete in Formula Drift, the world’s highest level of drift competition. Drifting is a type of driving where the driver oversteers on purpose, losing traction, but remains in control of the car as it navigates a turn.
“My whole life trajectory changed in an instant,” Kennedy says, “because [I realized] I’ll be the only Canadian woman to ever compete in Formula Drift this year, [and] I’m the only openly queer person [to compete]. So as soon as that was on the table, I knew I had to do it.”
Kennedy spent all of last year completing a 20,000-mile tour of the U.S., going to different racetracks and competing in open drift events — doing everything she could to prepare for perhaps her most significant performance yet.
“I didn’t want to show up and have people be like, ‘Oh great, another diversity hire,'” Kennedy says, “even though I had to earn my license.”
Image Credit: Tommy Flanagan
“The standards I hold my performance to…make the stakes so much higher.”
Naturally, as someone who completes daring stunts and high-speed drives at a professional level regularly, Kennedy has to contend with a certain amount of fear. (Just last month, for example, the practice car she earned her license in caught fire in Sonoma; she’s in the process of rebuilding it now).
But Kennedy doesn’t let the thought of what could happen stop her from giving 100%.
“What’s kind of weird with stunts is you might have a month’s notice that you’re going to do this car crash, get set on fire or thrown off this thing, and to exist with that kind of anxiety for a month is awful,” Kennedy says. “So I’ve always been good at compartmentalizing.”
Another stunt woman once told Kennedy she doesn’t think about the stunt until she’s doing it, but Kennedy acknowledges that, practically speaking, technical stunts do require a lot of thought and planning — a process that “consists of foreseeing everything that could go wrong and trying to avoid it.”
Of course, even with the most thorough preparation, mistakes can and do happen. “I’ve learned to coexist with a certain amount of what would ordinarily be anxiety,” Kennedy says.
I don’t want the reason I fail to be attributed to my lack of anatomy.
Kennedy also says that nerves can set in when she’s drifting. At one of her first drift competitions, her coach didn’t understand why she was nervous, pointing out that Kennedy “crashes cars and sets herself on fire for a living.”
But in stunt work, much of the pressure is behind the scenes, Kennedy explains, noting that “if you see us, we’re not doing a very good job.”
The fear Kennedy sometimes feels during competition is different.
“The standards I hold my performance to, especially with that added element of usually being the only woman, make the stakes so much higher…I don’t want the reason I fail to be attributed to my lack of anatomy,” Kennedy says.
Image Credit: Blair Howard
“Sometimes you have to create the community that you want or be the person that shows it as possible.”
Kennedy is successfully blazing her own trail in a male-dominated industry, and she’s committed to bringing those from underrepresented groups along with her.
She’s an ambassador for Racing Pride, an organization founded in Europe in 2019 that promotes LGBTQ+ inclusivity within the motorsport industry and among its technological and commercial partners. “Racing Pride is such an amazing organization,” Kennedy says.
But she was “terrified” to start working with Racing Pride because of what it could mean for her future in the sport.
“Within North America, racing tends to be stereotypically a red state conservative sport,” Kennedy explains. “So when I started drifting, competing and looking for sponsorship, I wasn’t sure how much of myself I could share to work with sponsors. And I didn’t want to hide something fundamental about who I was that I didn’t feel was problematic.”
When she was invited to be an ambassador for Racing Pride’s North America launch, Kennedy realized she’d have to make some phone calls to her sponsors to see if they would still support her. “The answer wasn’t a universal yes,” Kennedy says.
But Kennedy remembered when she first started competing and all of her Google searches for LGBTQ+ representation in motorsports turned up empty — and she wanted to change that.
“I just wanted to find anyone like me who was doing what I was doing, and I couldn’t,” Kennedy recalls. “And that cemented for me that I had to do it because if I couldn’t find them, how does a young child [or] a kid in high school who’s just really coming to know who they are see a place for themselves in this industry? Sometimes you have to create the community that you want or be the person that shows it as possible.”
Kennedy’s dedicated to showing it’s possible — and has some words of wisdom for anyone who might encounter resistance along the way.
“Every person, whether they’re a minority, female [or] queer, any person that’s different in any way, faces additional challenges, but even people who are just like everyone else will face barriers to entry,” Kennedy says. “[But you can’t let other people] interfere or crush your spirit. Tenacity and diligence eventually get you where you want to go — if you just don’t stop, they can’t stop you.”