If Caitlin Shaw makes the race, she will become the sixth female to compete in this year’s Truck Series – a record number of women ever to race in any NASCAR national touring series in one season. The NASCAR record currently stands at five women – in this year and the 2009 Truck Series (Amber Cope, Angela Cope, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Johanna Long and Michelle Theriault), as well as five women in the 1950 Cup Series. Additionally, four competed in last month’s Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway – the most females ever to compete in one NASCAR event.
“Breaking that record is not something that I’ve ever thought about before,” said Shaw, driver of the No. 72 Chevrolet at Phoenix in her second career NCWTS start. “I’ve just been so focused on getting out there and making the race that I haven’t paid attention to the historical side of it. Drivers like Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick have started a new wave of females in the driver’s seat and a lot of us are going to keep progressing. The women have all done a great job in the races this year, and I’m excited to get out there with them and the other drivers and see what I can do.”
There is no doubt women have come a long way from the days when they were prohibited entrance into the NASCAR garage without a male escort, and not only are they now working alongside men as crew members, journalists and public relations professionals – they increasingly are behind the wheel.
“It’s a very exciting time in our sport right now because I do think women are getting more driving opportunities,” said DeLana Harvick, co-owner of Kevin Harvick Inc. “I believe that a female driver can and will be successful in NASCAR in my lifetime.”
Jennifer Jo Cobb, a fulltime rookie driver/owner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series who is on pace to become the highest-finishing female in points in NASCAR history this season, says it’s not about more big breaks but rather about how badly a female driver wants to succeed.
“I think more women are seeing that it’s possible and if you look around, more of them are making it happen themselves,” said Cobb, currently 17th in points. “I’ve always been somewhat on my own with support of family, friends and sponsors in my hometown. That’s how I made it – having that determination and rallying those folks together in perseverance. I don’t think females are being given more opportunities – I think these women are out there creating opportunities for themselves and that’s something that I’m really proud of.”
Decades ago, most corporate sponsors wouldn’t have given a female driver a second look; however, many agree that potential sponsors nowadays are gender-blind when it comes to providing financial backing for this new wave of drivers.
“I‘ve always maintained that being a female doesn’t have much of an effect because I think it’s hard for anyone to get sponsorship at anytime now,” Cobb said. “I don’t think these tough economic times are any harder for someone like me, who wasn’t getting big Fortune 500 company sponsorships anyway. Everybody has something very unique about them and it’s all about differentiating yourself. Mine just happens to be obvious that I’m a female, but even with that … what’s different about that? There are a lot of females in the sport.”
“I think it solely depends on the objectives and initiatives of the sponsor,” Harvick said. “I don’t think this is a gender specific issue. I do however think a woman driver could be a very unique marketing tool.”
Lyn St. James, former sports car, Champ car and IndyCar Series driver who also runs the Women in the Winner’s Circle Foundation, contends that females might have an edge in starting the sponsorship conversation, but the advantage ends there.
“It only helps getting in the door to discuss sponsorships, and possibly providing ‘one offs’ for the exposure value, but it doesn’t really help female drivers have a career in racing, which takes a full season of racing, regardless of the series,” St. James said.
“When I look at my career – being able to race full time in the Trans Am Series, or the IMSA Camel GT Series, or even back in the IMSA Kelly American Challenge Series with the sponsorship from Ford Motor Company, P&G, Motorcraft, etc. – that’s what enabled me to develop as a driver, as well as earn the respect from my peers, the media, and the respect and following from the fans.”
“It has been years since Tammy Jo Kirk finished 20th in the Truck Series points, but I bet my record will be broken even sooner because we’re seeing so many females in the sport,” Cobb stated. “I welcome it. I’m not here to break records. I’m just having fun racing. I want to do this for a living and hopefully be an inspiration to others.”
In an interesting sponsorship twist that underscores the importance of women in NASCAR today, Cobb has a female-oriented sponsor lined up for the season finale at Homestead. Online cosmetics company Lillyscosmetics.com will sponsor Cobb’s No. 10 Ford in a pink paint scheme.
“That’s what I think we’ve been waiting for,” Cobb explained. “There are 75 million NASCAR fans and almost half are female and there really aren’t any female products on the trucks. I’ve always wondered how there can be that many female fans and no female-specific sponsors. I’ve never been one to throw the female thing in anyone’s face – I just want to be known as a driver, but it will make a little statement to have a female-oriented company.”
If a NASCAR record is broken Friday at Phoenix in the Truck Series race, a statement continues to be made.
“Honestly I don’t believe there are big obstacles for female drivers to overcome today,” Harvick said. “If they have the dedication and determination to succeed, the sky’s the limit.”