Girl Power In NASCAR

By Brody Jones

At times, it is mind-boggling to comprehend how far our society has come as a whole from the 1960′s where women were not afforded the same opportunities as men. Such was the case for many years in the testosterone-charged coliseums of NASCAR. It was practically unheard of until the 1970′s for female drivers to ever enter NASCAR events. Sure, there were three females who broke the gender barrier in the neophyte days of stock car racing in Sara Christian, Ethel Flock-Mobley, and Louise Smith. But much like McCarthy-ism, these females were escorted out of NASCAR and discouraged from competing in the male dominated sport.
Enter Janet Guthrie in 1976, fresh off encountering alarming sexism from Indy Car officials the previous year in her attempt to make the Indianapolis 500, she came to NASCAR and fared respectably well at the top level, with a commendable five top-10 finishes in a career that included 33 starts from 1976-1980. Outside of one-off efforts by Belgian Christine Beckers and Italian Lella Lombardi during Guthrie’s NASCAR tenure, no Y-chromosome drivers of note attempted a NASCAR race until Patty Moise made some sporadic starts from 1987-1989. It would be almost 15 more years until Shawna Robinson’s abortive Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year campaign. At that point, it seemed like it would be a long while until a female driver got another opportunity in Sprint Cup.
However, in some of the lower-level NASCAR series, there have been a few females attempt full-schedules with a mixed crop of results. Jennifer Jo Cobb set a NASCAR record this past season, finishing in the highest season-ending position in points in a NASCAR series with a 17th place finish in the Camping World Truck Series final points standings, despite not having a single top 10. Erin Crocker even ran a full schedule with backing from Cheerios and the Betty Crocker people in the Truck Series in former Ultra Motorsports equipment and largely struggled. Deborah Renshaw and Kelly Sutton also ran full-schedules in the Truck Series while Chrissy Wallace, Kim Crosby, Tina Gordon, and yes, even Danica Patrick have run in the Nationwide Series with Danica, whether you like her or hate her, bringing in fans that would not otherwise watch a NASCAR event.
But on the horizon, there are a few female drivers in other forms of racing who have the potential to possibly topple Danica as the queen of motorsports, at least on a NASCAR level. Take into consideration Alison MacLeod, the winningest all-time USAC Midgets feature winner. She recently signed a deal with Venturini Motorsports for driver development and to hopefully get a few opportunities in ARCA. Given her success in USAC, it’s only a matter of time before she reaches NASCAR. Another name in ARCA that has been a semi-regular over the years has been Alli Owens and she has performed admirably in her ARCA appearances. Also take into consideration current Michael Waltrip Racing intern and part-time Truck Series driver Caitlin Shaw, Derrike Cope’s twin nieces, Amber & Angela, and also Michelle Theriault.
But perhaps the driver that could very well topple all of them is 18-year old Pensacola, Florida native Johanna Long, winner of last Sunday night’s prestigious Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in her hometown of Pensacola. She ran seven Camping World Truck Series races in 2010 and turned quite a few heads in the process. She has already announced her intentions to run for the 2011 Rookie Of The Year honors in the Camping World Truck Series and should topple Jennifer Jo Cobb’s record points-finish with veteran crew chief Kevin “Cowboy” Starland calling the shots. So for all you chauvinistic, pig-headed NASCAR fans who don’t think women belong in racing, think again because NASCAR is quickly giving new definition to the words “Girl Power!”