Circle Track Modified — 25 February 2011

Mindy McCord’s NASCAR dreams

Courtesy of Yahoo!

There are a lot of young people who would like to become professional race car drivers, but the overwhelming majority will never come close. Most of those who don’t make the cut lack one quality: commitment.

Mindy McCord knows that. She’s been racing for five years, and has seen some success in Midgets and Quarter Midgets. Now, she’s in a Grand American Modified, rebuilt this year from the frame up.

This is a 17-year old with a challenging goal—to race in a top-tier NASCAR series—and a plan to get there. That’s despite the handicap of living in Montana, which is not known as a hotbed of racing. In fact, the only tracks available to McCord locally are dirt tracks, but she needs experience on asphalt.

So she travels to races with her Modified. Last year, she raced at six tracks, including I-25 Speedway in Pueblo, Colorado. This year, she’ll be running primarily at two well-known tracks in California, All-American Speedway in Roseville and Stockton 99 Speedway.

Those towns are a long, long way from Billings, Montana—especially when you have to drive to them. Towing the car on a trailer, it can take 24 hours to get to the track.

That much driving is problematic for a teen still in high school, because it inevitably means some missed days. But McCord found a solution.

“I go to a small school, Broadview, with just 170 kids, K through 12 and only ten in my class. So I went to the school board, and I said, ‘This is what I’m doing, I’m trying to make it in NASCAR and I’ll need some days off.’ And they said as long as I keep my grades up, I could do it,” she says. McCord missed about 20 days last year, and yet maintained a 4.0 grade-point average.

These days, anyone who wants to become a NASCAR racer needs training, and not just in driving technique.

McCord is enrolled in the driver career development program at Ron Sutton’s Winners Circle Racing. The program is, according to its website, “a Talent Scout and Driver Development Program for NASCAR teams. RSWC performs true ‘driver development’ and ‘career development’ for the drivers we select through our application, interview and try-out process.” Sutton specifically focuses on getting drivers ready for a NASCAR career, both with hands-on driving and classroom training.

“It gives you an edge on your competition,” McCord says. Sutton also “has connections with [Sprint] Cup teams, so when we have enough experience, he can present us to the Cup teams.”

McCord is mindful of the problem so many other female drivers have faced—the Catch-22 that arises when a woman shows some promise, and then a race team, anxious to demonstrate diversity, snaps her up, only to advance her too quickly, before she can learn at a normal pace (like the male drivers typically do). That sets female drivers up for failure in the top-level NASCAR series, and McCord is wary of it. She says Sutton’s program helps there, as well.

“He makes sure you’re moving up at your own pace,” she says. “That way, you’re not thrown into something you’re not ready for.”

McCord is already preparing for the need for funding. Back in Billings, she supplements her sponsorship money with fundraisers like a catered dinner, with dancing and a silent auction; tickets go for $25.

She’ll need the money, because her career is about to move into high gear.
“The end of this year is gonna be the big turning point for me,” she says, because it will set her up for what she hopes will be her breakout year, next season. She plans to move into Late Models in 2012, and then “I really want to get into [NASCAR's] Drive for Diversity program.”

Of course, Drive for Diversity is based in North Carolina, the epicenter of stock car racing, a place far from Montana.

That won’t stop Mindy McCord.

She’s already committed to doing whatever it takes to make it in this sport.


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