Friday, October 7, 2011

In a Man's World with Erin Crocker Evernham: Her story of racing and ever after

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Racing is a tough sport, if it were easy, everyone would be able to succeed. As a woman trying to make it in the proverbial boys club, the pressure is more intense and the scrutiny is magnified. Although she's found herself in the spotlight, Erin Crocker Evernham hasn't let that keep her from happiness.  

Erin Crocker Evernham has been racing since most of us were still learning how to ride a bike. Growing up at the track with her dad, Erin strapped into the driver’s seat of a quarter-midget at the age of 7.

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Erin - around 19
Success struck a young Crocker and she rose through the ranks, progressing to mini-sprints and then full-sized sprints. Erin was a force to be reckoned with, collecting titles of the youngest winner, first female winner, etc. Erin was showing that girls can race and even beat those boys. 

Looking back, Evernham reflected on starting her racing career so young as I asked her if that aided in learning the ins and outs of racing with ease. “I think like any sport, the tennis and golf pros start when their kids can swing the racquet or the club, I think starting younger experience is experience. No matter what type of surface you are on, that car control you learn and communicating what the car is doing and what you are feeling, all of that only helps. There are drivers who started later in the life, like Dale Earnhardt who was 24 when he began and obviously he was super successful. I think it only helps but some people just have a lot of God-given talent.”  

From the point of view of a child racer herself, Evernham weighed in on the question: what is a good age for a child to start racing and can the child handle a car at such a young age? “I don’t think it is so much what age it starts at, but I feel like sometimes what I have seen more is that the parents are into it more than what their kid is,” said Evernham. So as Erin and I discussed this further, she suggested that if this is a road of interest, let your child pursue other areas of interest as well. Speaking of her upbringing, Evernham said, “I wasn’t the kid that when I was 10 years old said I wanted to be a race car driver. I loved soccer, played lacrosse, I ski raced; I had all these other interests. In high school I looked into programs to ski full-time and take my high school classes at night. I applied to colleges based on ski teams, so I felt like I was exposed to a lot, which to me is great because I feel like I turned into a well-rounded person. On the other hand, maybe I could have been more successful had I only raced year round, like anything it is just a matter of what you want.” 

As I learned of Evernham’s life and background, one part stood out to me - not just the fact that she is a woman who races, but she has an engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "It paralleled my desire and what I enjoyed about racing, the mechanics and the cars themselves,” said Evernham, reflecting on the decision to go to college for an engineering degree. “It wasn’t until I was in college that I started to pursue a major career in racing.” Turns out, her college studies propelled her racing career. While racing sprint cars through college, she sought out and received sponsorship from her college, which she credits as a big break in her career.

“One thing I have been able to accomplish in my racing career is the respect of other drivers,” said Evernham. “The biggest compliment any racer can get is for someone to call you a ‘real’ racer and I feel like I have had a lot of people say that to me. Not necessarily based on the success I had on the track but because I just have that genuine love for cars, racing and the whole sport.” 

In 2005, Erin got her big break, signing a driver development contract with Ray Evernham Motorsports. Racing in the ARCA, Truck Series and Nationwide Series, Erin was making waves as a the latest female to hit the track. Life had another plan for Evernham, as she and Ray's relationship as owner and driver changed.  

Putting rumors aside, Evernham opened up to me about her relationship with Ray and how it developed while working together. In her own words:

“Obviously there is Internet rumors, whatever, but I drove for Ray for a few years and I respected him and respected what he did. When you spend a lot of time with these people on the road, we kind of became good buds. I don’t regret it one bit, when Ray and I first started talking about things other than racing, we were pretty upfront with each other. If we headed down this path it could be the end of my career and would hurt his career too, which it did in some ways.”

The couple realized they needed to enter into this relationship firmly knowing this was what they wanted; too much was at stake for just a casual relationship.

“We both agreed, and I remember saying it, that ultimately in life, family and happiness is more than a bunch of trophies. Do I wish I had met Ray outside of racing and somehow managed to have both, of course! Do I wish we didn't have to hurt anyone else in the process ... of course! Ultimately I am really happy with the path that I have chosen. It was a bumpy road but now Ray and I have been married for a few years and I do not regret any of it.”


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The most difficult part for Evernham was the way their newfound relationship was perceived through the media. “It was a difficult time ... I was just na├»ve to how people can treat situations like that," said Evernham. “I think that because we were trying to do the right thing by our families and friends, everyone else would see that too and that was not the case. Like anyone with any type of celebrity status, there are a lot of haters out there and people who will bring you down, so it was an eye opener for me.” Through all the negative attention their newfound love brought, Erin and Ray had the support of their families. “The best thing about that whole time period is that Ray’s family and my family were super supportive and our close friends were too. It was like, if these people are OK with what we have chosen, that is all that really matters. We just had to keep remembering that in the difficult times.”

After speaking with Erin, it reminded me of that old saying, love always finds you when you are not looking.


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Mo and Peebles get the inner racecar driver on
Connecting the racing worlds of Erin Crocker the sprint car driver, to Erin the NASCAR racer and now Mrs. Ray Evernham, Erin is a social media magnet. She is on Twitter and the banter between her and Ray is hilarious, besides the photos she posts of their fur babies Mo and Peebles. “I enjoy Twitter for the fact that you can connect with fans and give them a little behind the scenes in your life. I feel like myself, even with other racers, you are interested in that and it is neat to know what they doing in their spare time or what their sense of humor is life,” said Evernham.

Married since 2009, Erin and Ray both still keep busy in the racing industry. Ray recently joined SPEED on their weekend SPEED Center show among his many other jobs. As for Erin, well do not call her retired from racing. “I do not like the word retired, I am on hiatus,” said Evernham. Sitting out right now, Erin and Ray work together at Ray Evernham Enterprises. Erin hinted that she is also working on some TV projects right now, so stay tuned to her Twitter page, I am sure she will break news there once she can.

As a female racer, Erin weighed in on the hot topic of women today. The "it" topic all season long has been Danica Patrick and the progress she has made for women in racing, so my question: is that encouraging to see the women getting such attention? “Yeah definitely, I think it is really neat to see more woman trying to further their racing career. When I was racing quarter midgets, there were a lot of girls, probably half and half because it was a family sport. But I think a lot of them, including myself, did not know there were opportunities to race beyond that if you are a girl. The higher I got up the racing ladder, the few girls there were. It is neat to see that obviously Danica the most, but what Sarah Fisher has done and there are a bunch of women who have reached a decent level in their career. Like Johanna Long winning the Snowball Derby, that was really cool, that is a racer’s hardcore deal. To see her win a tough race like that is really neat.”
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Erin Crocker Evernham has had a full career of racing and at the young age of 30 years old. Now her future lies in being Mrs. Evernham and working on new projects with her love for racing in mind. In her spare time, she and Ray both enjoy volunteering for the Ronald McDonald House. 

I would like to thank Erin for opening up to me, I truly enjoyed our chat.

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 expanded her area of coverage to include exclusive interviews, brought straight to the readers of Skirts and Scuffs. To read her past columns and interviews click here.. Feel free to follow and contact Amanda via Twitter.

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