Thursday, 26 August 2010

The women of NASCAR

Tammy Jo Kirk and crew

Female drivers have been a feature of NASCAR and its associated series since 1949. A few pioneering drivers achieved success early on, but the NASCAR route has proved a challenging one for most of the women who have tried it. Below are short profiles of some of the ladies of NASCAR. Sara ChristianShawna Robinson, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Kat Teasdale, Diane Teel, Deborah Renshaw and Patty Moise have their own profiles. Drivers who started their careers after 2000 can be found here. Although it is not part of the NASCAR family, the ARCA stock car series is included here, due to its similarity of machinery and venues.

Sherry Blakley - attempted to qualify for the Charlotte 250 round of the NASCAR Busch Series in 1994, but did not make the grid. Prior to this, she started 29 Goody’s Dash series races between 1991 and 1994, with a best championship finish of eighth in 1993, with two top-five finishes. She had been racing Late Models since at least 1988. During her career she was always adept at finding sponsorship, including Ramses condoms in 1994. Their publicity campaign involved promoting safe sex and giving out condoms at races and it was banned by NASCAR. Sherry retired a couple of years later and worked in a car dealership. She died in 2011, aged 48.

Ann Chester - one of NASCAR’s early female drivers, who took part in two Grand National races in 1950. She drove a Plymouth at the Vernon and Hamburg rounds, but did not finish either of them. The Plymouth’s engine failed at Vernon, and she crashed out of the Hamburg race. The Hamburg event was special, in that it was one of a handful of times that three women have raced in a top-level NASCAR event.

Tammy Jo Kirk - took part in NASCAR Craftsman Truck and regional events in the 1990s. She first came to prominence when she won the 1994 Snowball Derby in Florida, a NASCAR All Pro Series race. By 1996, she had moved up to the Busch Series, and won two pole positions. She was seventh overall. In 1997 and 1998, she drove in Craftsman Trucks, with a best finish of eleventh at Portland in 1997. Her sponsorship ended at the end of 1998, and she did not race again in NASCAR until 2003, when she returned to the Busch Series for Jay Robinson Racing. Her best finish was 21st, and she was not retained for the 2004 season. As well as NASCAR, she took part in some sportscar races, most notably the 1994 Daytona 24 Hours. She was 34th in a Porsche 911 with David Murry, Angelo Cilli and Anthony Lazzaro. Initially, she raced motorcycles on short tracks.

Teri MacDonald (Cadieux) - raced in a number of NASCAR and associated series between 1998 and 2005. During this time, she had part-seasons in ARCA and Craftsman Trucks, plus a single full season in CASCAR in 2001. Her best year in Trucks was 2002, with four races. Her CASCAR season yielded two top-ten finishes. In between, she drove in various ASA events, with rather a lot of non-finishes, but one top-twenty finish. Previously, she was involved in long-circuit racing in the USA and Canada, achieving some success at National level and earning awards as the highest-ranked woman driver in Canada. She retired in 2006 after the birth of her son, and now works in various motorsport-related fields.

Robin McCall - the youngest female driver to race in NASCAR, aged eighteen, in 1982. She had a brief Winston Cup career in 1982, entering four races, and starting two, both at Michigan. She did not qualify for two races at Charlotte. Her car was a Buick, owned by Jim Stacy. She did not finish either Michigan race, due to a crash and engine failure. Away from the Winston Cup, she raced on short tracks and in Late Models, before switching to sportscars in 1984. She raced in the IMSA championship and in the 1985 Daytona 24 Hours. Her car was a Corvette run by Southern Racing, but she and her two co-drivers did not finish.

Ethel Flock Mobley - early NASCAR racer and contemporary of Sara Christian. She began racing cars in “Powderpuff Derby” events for women drivers in the late 1940s. Her career began in earnest in 1949, when she entered and finished two NASCAR races, with a best finish of eleventh. In the other race, at Langhorn, she could only manage 44th. In addition to this, she took part in approximately 100 other races in the early 1950s, usually in the NASCAR Modified category. Her local track was the Atlanta Speedway, built by her brother, Bob Flock, and she normally competed there. She died in 1984.

Christi Passmore - has raced on and off in the ARCA series since 2002. In 2003 and 2004, she undertook major campaigns in this series, finishing eighth both times, driving a Ford. In 2004, she scored her only podium finish. In 2005, she only did thirteen races, which was not enough to mount any sort of challenge, and this dropped to one guest appearance in 2006. After that, she returned to ASCS events. This was how she began her career in 1998, based around the Knoxville track and its 410 Sprint series. She does not appear to have raced since 2010. 

Hila Paulson Sweet - raced in a couple of official NASCAR Late Model races in 1956 and 1957, in a Chevrolet. Both races were at the Gardena circuit, and she did not finish either of them. Hila is most famous for her huge success in the “Powder Puff Derby” scene, where she was almost unbeatable. She led a group of female drivers who became known as the Lady Leadfoots, and set up a racing league for women. In 1959, she also did some sportscar racing, and won a Ladies’ race at Ascot, in a Jaguar. Away from active competition, she was instrumental in getting Parnelli Jones drives, and organised get-togethers for former racers.

Arlene Pittman - started racing stock cars in 1985, aged fifteen. She worked her way up the local racing ladder, winning a championship in 1999. She started taking her racing more seriously after that, and began racing trucks in 2000. In 2002, she competed in both Truck races and the car-based NASCAR Goody’s Dash series. She was fifteenth in Goody’s Dash, out of 68 drivers. She retired from racing in 2003 after a serious accident during a Goody’s Dash event, although she did attempt to return, entering one more race after her crash. Now, she manages her own track and works extensively in motorsport PR.

FiFi Scott - took part in two Winston Cup races in 1955, at Phoenix and Tucson. She went out with a puncture before half-distance in the first race, but was classified in thirteenth place in the second. Her car was a Hudson, which she had previously used in Late Model races in 1954 and 1955, on the East Coast. Her best finish was twelfth, in the 1955 Walnut Creek race, driving a self-entered car.

Louise Smith - successful early NASCAR driver who debuted in 1949, although she seems to have driven in some local, informal races before that. She won 38 races during her seven-year career, taking in most of the NASCAR categories, including Grand Nationals (now the Sprint Cup). Most of her wins (28 of them) came in the Modified class. Her driving style was aggressive and she often crashed, endearing her to spectators. Her nickname was “The Good Ol’ Gal” and she became the subject of NASCAR legends - it has proved impossible to work out when she really started racing, and which stories about her are true. For example, she is supposed to have come third in her first race, but failed to stop at the chequered flag, because the team owner had told her only to stop in the event of a red flag. She may also have destroyed her husband’s car in a beach race during her first competition!

Kelly Sutton – raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series between 2003 and 2007, following a long career in club stock car racing and the NASCAR Goody’s Dash series, which included overall race wins at junior and senior level. Her first Truck season only consisted of four races, with a best finish of 19th, at Homestead. In 2004, she expanded her programme to 19 races, and broke into the top twenty once, at Mansfield. This season was marred by accidents and mechanical problems. 2005 was a better year, with three top-twenty finishes, including a fifteenth place at Charlotte. Despite a shorter season in 2006, with fewer good finishes, she still managed to lead her first lap, at Kansas, although she crashed out later. In her final year of Trucks, she only took part in three races, and was 20th at Milwaukee. Since then, she has not raced. Throughout her career, she has raced for her family team, Sutton Racing. She is notable for being the only NASCAR driver who competed actively with MS.

Bonnie West - possibly the first woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned Late Model race in 1975. She won a feature race at Langley Speedway, Virginia in June. She was the biggest female rival to Diane Teel and the two squared up in a match race together at Langley in 1977. Both were regulars at Langley, although they often competed in different divisions. Bonnie’s career ended abruptly in 1977 when she was convicted of car theft, alongside her husband, and jailed for five years.

(Image copyright Fox News)

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