In a Man’s World with Stephanie Russo

NASCAR is a man’s world, whether we (the women involved in the sport) like it or not. Brave women such as Sarah Christian paved the way as the first woman driver and today we have Danica Patrick, Jennifer Jo Cobb and even Amber and Angela Cope trying to make their way into NASCAR.

What we sometimes fail to recognize is all the women who put their hearts and souls into the sport. From the pit road officials to the timing and scoring and in this case, a tire changer. 

Meet Stephanie Russo ... breaking ground in a man’s world.
Stephanie changes a tire on the truck of Jennifer Jo Cobb

I was watching the Nationwide race and tweeting (my usual routine) when all of a sudden I saw a tweet that Jennifer Jo Cobb’s team featured a female tire changer. As a writer, my bells went off and I knew we must speak to her. After pulling some strings, I present to you Stephanie Russo, breaking ground in modern day NASCAR and getting her hands dirty doing so.

At the age of 20, what were you doing? For Stephanie Russo, she is working with Jennifer Jo Cobb’s pit crew - remember I did say 20 years old. That amazes me.

Stephanie grew up with a passion for racing, taking to the track at the age of 5. Stephanie started out racing quarter midgets and then last year got the chance to race a modified stock car. Although she enjoys racing on the side, she doesn’t see herself as the next Jennifer Jo Cobb. She says, “I get just as much, if not more, enjoyment from working on the cars. I don’t feel the need to go and drive again.” Though if given the chance, she wouldn’t turn it down … once a racer, always a racer?

Stephanie occasionally straps into a racecar herself.
Courtesy of Stephanie Russo
Being a woman on pit road is not a first: did you know that Wendy Venturini’s mom once was a crew member? And driver Shawna Robinson also proudly had an all-female over-the-wall crew, but sadly those seem like the days gone by. Crew members nowadays are usually former college athletes and need the bulky muscles to perform their jobs. Stephanie is the exception right now.

After moving from her home of New Jersey to North Carolina, Stephanie enlisted in pit crew training with Phil Horton, who is also a part of the diversity program with NASCAR. Starting with the program last August, Stephanie has found her way over the wall.

Managing the schedule of working in NASCAR can be tricky, especially when not working with a team such as Roush, Gibbs or Penske. Jennifer Jo Cobb and the team drive to each race, no planes involved here. No guts, no glory. The team piles into a van and as Stephanie says, “it can be fun.” She also says that it is great for team building, spending that time traveling together.

I asked Stephanie for her advice for any woman who thinks they have what it takes to make it as a crew member in NASCAR. Her response: “If you really want to do it, go ahead and go for it. You got to have the drive to do it, it’s not going to be handed to you. You are going to get turned down a lot of places but just have the drive to keep going for it.

Women are smaller-framed than men, which makes the physical challenges unique to being a woman on pit road. Stephanie says, “There are still some things that I cannot do. Putting in a gear because of how much it weighs. You just got to work through it and do the best with everything than you can do. The guys have more upper body strength.”

I asked Stephanie what her routine is to keep in shape, as we see that pit crews have a hard job and require a lot of individual workouts. “I go to the gym three times a week, which involves working out and running. Then I also go to pit practice three times a week.” Stephanie tends to focus more on cardio workouts versus weight training because as she said, “I am trying to build some muscles, but I don’t want to become ripped.”

The greatest challenge for Stephanie thus far has not been anything on the track - it was her moving away from her family to pursue her dreams. The most rewarding thing for her has been being able to go to the track each race and go over the wall. She moved to North Carolina on a whim, no job in sight but knowing what she wanted.

Being a tire changer is not Stephanie’s only job with JJC Racing. She goes to the shop everyday and works on the car as a mechanic as well.

In the garage Stephanie also is a mechanic, able to assist the team wherever she is needed.

With the support of her family, Stephanie has been able to successfully make the move from New Jersey to North Carolina and pursue her dreams of working on cars in NASCAR.

NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two weekly columns with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also strives to provide exclusive interviews for the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.
In a Man’s World with Stephanie Russo In a Man’s World with Stephanie Russo Reviewed by Unknown on Thursday, June 16, 2011 Rating: 5