Women in NASCAR: Debbie Doncheff

Debbie Doncheff
Photo: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs  
Debbie Doncheff has worked in NASCAR for 20 years, yet she is still captivated by the sport.

“I just think it’s so fascinating that somebody would get out there and drive 200 miles an hour around a track.”

Doncheff is an expert driver herself, with eight years of experience behind the wheels of NASCAR motorhomes. She currently pilots the motorhome of David Hyatt, president of the Motor Racing Network (MRN), but has also driven for broadcaster Wendy Venturini and others.

Debbie’s husband, Mike, drives the MRN production hauler and the husband-and-wife team share a love for working in motorsports. They said the drivers and support personnel are a friendly group who wave and say hello in passing.

“It’s such a great community. They all have one thing in common – their love of racing. You meet a lot of people who have the same interests as you, same goals, same motives for working out here.”

Debbie at the motorhome wheel.
Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Still a fan at heart
Debbie’s first job in racing was working the souvenir trailers, which she did for 12 years. Early on, she peddled Denny Hamlin merchandise and got to know the driver and his family.

“The first year or two he came out to the trailer almost every week to sign autographs. His mother, Mary Lou, came and helped on the trailer and she still does that today,” she said. “Little kids come to the trailer and she’ll say, ‘Hi, I’m Mary Lou Hamlin, I’m Denny’s mom.’”

Doncheff attends all the Denny Hamlin Fan Club get-togethers. “Everyone knows who my favorite driver is,” she said with a laugh.

The racing workweek
Debbie’s life is busy with packing, driving, setting up, tearing down and heading out to do it all over again. Depending how far they’re going, Monday and Tuesday are spent packing everything up and travelling. On Wednesday, they usually park the production hauler and motorhome in the driver lot and get everything ready. Debbie organizes things for the motorhome and helps her husband with cleaning, maintaining the golf carts and whatever else needs to be done.
Stocking the motorhome fridge.
Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs

On Thursdays they go grocery shopping for the motorhome and the hauler, because Mike cooks for the MRN crew. When they’re not driving, the couple stays at a hotel near the track. On race day, Debbie usually gets to relax and watch the race, although her activities vary.

“Sometimes I might help babysit someone’s kids. If someone needs me really bad, I’ll go help on the souvenir trailers.”

There’s no place like home
Debbie travels to 30+ races in a season with the MRN folks. When they’re able to stop at home, she and Mike go through the mail and work around the house, tackling whatever upkeep is needed. Five weeks is the longest stretch they’re away.

“I love travelling,” Debbie said. “When I get home, after I’ve been there for a while, I’m like, ‘OK, I’m ready to go!’”

But she admits it’s getting harder to leave home lately, maybe because of a little tow-headed sweetheart who calls her Mam maw. Her eyes light up when she talks about her great-grandson, Chandler, who is a toddler.

Debbie and her husband, Mike
Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
Debbie is also a mom of two, and has two grandchildren. She is close with her daughter, a nurse who works the night shift and lives right next door. But it’s hard for her to talk about her son, who passed away eight years ago.

“Someday I’ll see him again,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going.”

Racing is in the family
A chance meeting that occurred during Debbie’s first year in NASCAR lends credibility to the theory that “racing is in your blood.” She was working on the souvenir trailer at Martinsville for Bobby Allison and Derrike Cope when a lady named Jody struck up a conversation. Turns out the two women were originally from the same town in North Carolina and both had an uncle with the same name. In fact, Debbie and Jody discovered they were related.

But the kicker was that Jody’s brother was Buddy Parrott, former crew chief for top drivers including Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Burton.

“I was so excited,” Debbie said. “I was kin to Buddy Parrott, one of the best crew chiefs ever!”

Unpacking the motorhome.
Credit: Beth Bence Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs.
Debbie clicked with Buddy’s sisters Jody and Jackie and they became fast friends. Sadly, Jackie passed away recently, which has been difficult for Debbie, but she keeps in close contact with Jody.

Quacks and grace
Finding long-lost relatives isn’t the only unexpected encounter Debbie had at a race. She met some of her favorite television personalities, too.

“Last year when the Duck Dynasty guys came to Talladega, they were right across from the souvenir trailer I was working at,” she said. “They would come over and talk to me and I got to know some of the guys.”

On their way home from the Phoenix race, Debbie and Mike stopped by the Duck Dynasty shop in Louisiana. Tourists can walk by through a roped-off area and peek in, but not go into the warehouse. When Martin came outside to sign autographs, he recognized Debbie and Mike and invited them in for an impromptu tour. The couple got an inside view of the workshop where the show is filmed and watched Jace work on some duck calls.
Debbie and Duck Dynasty's Godwin
Photo courtesy of Debbie Doncheff
“I just love to watch the show. At the end they have praises for their food. I think that is so refreshing, saying grace with all their friends and family,” she said.

On the road again
When it’s time to head to the next venue, Debbie said she spends a quiet moment before firing up the engine.

“The first thing I do when I get in my motorcoach is say a prayer: ‘Dear Lord, let us make it safely to the next track,’” she said. “And I pray for all the other NASCAR people doing the same thing I’m doing.”

Many thanks to Debbie (and Mike) for taking time to share their story with Skirts and Scuffs. Travelling mercies to you both.

If you see the MRN hauler rolling down the highway with a motorhome following close behind, give a wave to the Doncheffs.

Beth Bence Reinke is a columnist, support editor and media rep for Skirts and Scuffs. Her column, “Faith on the Frontstretch,” explores the role of faith in motorsports. Beth is also the author of Race Fans’ Devotions to Go, a devotional book geared toward female NASCAR fans. Follow her on Twitter at @bbreinke or reach her at bbreinke@skirtsandscuffs.com.

Women in NASCAR: Debbie Doncheff Women in NASCAR: Debbie Doncheff Reviewed by Beth Reinke on Monday, June 10, 2013 Rating: 5