Why I Love NASCAR: Women Making a Mark

Danica signs an autograph for a fan.
Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images for NASCAR
NASCAR has traditionally been viewed as a man’s sport. Car racing has been closed to women for ages and only now is that door getting thrown open as opposed to women slipping in to the sport. I am delighted that more women are making the move in NASCAR and are becoming fiercely competitive, are taken seriously, and commanding respect throughout the garage.

Many people know who Danica Patrick is, but few know her resume. She’s been crucified for using her sexuality to pad her paychecks. Many slam her for not winning enough to validate her media buzz and state she is more flash than substance, but I disagree. Go-karting since the age of 10, Danica went on to win several World Karting Association track championships. After turning 16, Danica moved to England to stretch her wings in the Formula Ford series and earned a career high, record breaking finish of second in Britain’s Formula Ford Festival - the highest finish by a woman in the event. In 2002, at age 20, Danica entered the Barber Dodge Pro Series and a year later she switched to the Toyota Atlantic Championship. With nothing more than a pole and several podium visits (3rd) Danica’s first win was elusive. In 2005 Danica was offered a spot in the IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Racing. More accolades were added to her resume, but still no win came until 2008 when she won the Indy Japan 300 driving for Andretti Green Racing and making her the first woman to win an IndyCar race. In 2010 Danica took on the challenge in racing both the IndyCar Series for the newly renamed Andretti Autosport and NASCAR Nationwide Series with JR Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. where Go Daddy sponsored her for both series. Running a partial season in NASCAR, Danica struggled on the circuit and failed to make a strong showing. That all changed, however, on March 5, 2011 in Las Vegas when Danica finished a record breaking 4th  (highest finish for a woman in NASCAR to date) in the Sam’s Town 300. I don’t think Danica is a flash in the pan, but a talented driver who has a potential to continue to improve in both the IndyCar Series and NASCAR. Her capitalizing on her looks and sexuality personally doesn’t bother me as long as she is all business on the track. Other drivers are used by their sponsors to sell products; some use their sense of humor (Michael Waltrip) while others capitalize on their looks (Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne). As long as Danica continues to make progress on the track, I don’t have an issue with her making commercials and adding to her bank account.

Jennifer Jo Cobb, team owner
and driver in the NCWTS.
Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images
Jennifer Jo Cobb is another exciting racing woman. A team owner/driver in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series and driver for 2nd Chance Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, Jennifer was the record holder for earning a sixth-place finish in the NextEra Energy Resources 250 in Daytona, the highest finish for a woman in the Camping World Truck Series. Cobb is still a trailblazer and a fantastic woman to represent the sport. I watch her career with great interest as not only is she a driver, but a team owner. Those roles are difficult individually, but together they are devastatingly hard.

Phenom Johanna Long is another female racer who peaks my interest.  A go-kart racer since 8 years old, Long went on to compete in legend cars and later late models by age 12. In 2008, at age 16, she won the Gulf Coast Championship as well as the late model track championship at Five Flags Speedway in her native Pensacola, Florida. Her entrance into NASCAR was paved by Long’s participation in the ASA Late Model Series, Pro Late Model, and ARCA. After running 38 events, Long’s stats showed 27 top-10s, 17 top-5s, and five wins. In 2010, Long was slated to run three races in the Camping World Truck Series but was wrangled into running seven! A respectable showing brought no wins that year until she returned to Pensacola to compete in the Snowball Derby and won the event - only the second woman to do so! Johanna Long is running the entire Camping World Truck season and is in the running for rookie of the year.

I am fascinated, intrigued, and grateful for all of the women in our sport. With families who support their endeavors from childhood, team owners who are open-minded about putting a woman in their car, and a strong demographic cheering them on, women are becoming forces to be reckoned in NASCAR. I am thrilled that my sons see women behind the wheel and my daughter will grow up thinking women drivers are “the norm.” I am delighted that women are able to be professionals in their sport while maintaining their femininity. And I am convinced that one day I won’t need to post articles and columns about “women drivers” as they will be as normal as male drivers are in the garage. The face of NASCAR is changing and evolving and this is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Why I Love NASCAR: Women Making a Mark Why I Love NASCAR: Women Making a Mark Reviewed by Chief 187 on Monday, March 14, 2011 Rating: 5