By Konnie McCollum
SPARTA, Ky. (June 2007) Countless times the expression those women drivers has been muttered under the breath of many men. That phrase is taking on a whole new meaning, however, as a new class of bold and talented female race car drivers heat things up in the predominantly male racing industry.
Photo by Don Ward
Erin Crocker is among
the female drivers
determined to make
a mark on racing.
In the May 13 ARCA RE/MAX Buckle Up 150 at the Kentucky Speedway, three of those intrepid women, Erin Crocker, Gabi DiCarlo and Michelle Theriault, tried to become the first female in the 55-year history of the series to win a race.
Crocker, a 26-year-old seasoned veteran of the ARCA RE/MAX series, nearly achieved that feat. The Evernham Motorsports driver in the No. 98 Mac Tools-Mac Card Dodge finished second after leading the race in laps 83-94 before being overtaken by Eric Darnell. We gave it our best, but Darnell was too fast in the traffic, she said. I am happy with how we did.
Crocker made her series debut at Nashville Superspeedway in 2005, where she earned the pole award and posted a 12th place finish. Since then, she has earned seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 16 career starts. She finished second in an ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Kentucky Speedway in 2005 and at Kansas Speedway in 2006, joining Shawna Robinson as the highest-finishing female in series history.
Crocker acknowledges there are some disadvantages to being a female in the auto racing industry, but she said they can be overcome with training. I dont necessarily want to be known as a female driver; I want to be known as simply a driver.
While men have the upper hand in strength and endurance, women can overcome those obstacles by working out, according to Crocker. She does cardio-training six days a week and strength training three to four days a week as part of her overall program.
She will again try to make ARCA RE/MAX history when she returns to the Kentucky Speedway for the July 13 Channel 5-150 ARCA RE/MAX race.
Theriault, at just 20, is determined to make her mark on the world of stock car racing. In her No. 37 Glock Chevrolet, she finished 22 out of 40 cars in the Buckle Up 150, and was pleased with her results. Our goal was to simply finish the race and get some speedway experience, she said. This was just her second ever ARCA RE/MAX series start. Her debut was on March 24 at the USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Fla.
She began her career at the tender age of five and a half when she started racing quarter midgets. She proved to be a natural, and she earned more than 200 wins in 13 states during a seven year run. She was a runner up in the Quarter Midgets of America National Championship five times and is a veteran of the NASCAR Grand National Division, West and USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series.
David Theriault, her father, said it was what she wanted to do, so he whole-heartedly supported her. Although there have been some comments about her being a female and wanting to race, we just put up with them and keep pressing on.
He believes his daughter has what it takes to be a winner at this level, which he said will come with time and experience. I know she can do it; we just need for people to keep supporting her, he said.
Michelle said gaining respect as a racer is perhaps one of the hardest challenges in being a female in the male-dominated sport. We arent just out there for attention or to be a spectacle; we really want to race and win, she said.
She said most of the female drivers are very supportive of each other, contrary to some misconceptions about them. We are good friends, and we help support each other, she said.
Like Crocker, she agreed she has to work harder on strength and endurance than many of the male drivers. She does weights training three to four days a week and cardio training five days a week.
She offered this advice for future female racers: Believe in yourself, and turn the negativity and criticism into positives.
DiCarlo, 21, is also a rookie driver in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. She got off to a great start in her No. 90 Great Clips Racing Ford at the Kentucky Speedway but things went terribly wrong during lap 77, and she ended up hitting the wall. I was of course extremely disappointed, said the Stringer Motorsports development driver.
DiCarlo is a veteran of the USAR Pro Cup Series Northern Division, Irwindale Auto Club Late Model Series, ASA Speed Truck Challenge, Star Mazda Western Series Championship, Formula Russell cars and go-carts. She earned the Miller Lite Rookie of the Race awards for her two top-10 finishes in the USAR Pro Cup at South Boston Speedway and Madison International Speedway in 2006.
She believes women drivers are more closely scrutinized than male counterparts. For instance, she said when a new female driver runs in the back of the pack, critics charge They just dont have what it takes. However, if a new male driver runs in the back of the pack, defenders claim Well, he is just learning.
She did acknowledge, however, when a female driver does well, it is noticed more. While a second place finish is highly touted for women drivers, it may be overlooked for men.
Overall, she feels her experience in racing has been 99.8 percent positive. Sometimes it takes a while for a new team of men to get used to working with a woman, but once they realize you are no different, everyone relaxes and things work great, she said.
She felt women drivers for the most part, while competitive, have a good relationship with each other, and she knows there are numerous women working in the pits and behind the scenes who are helping to make the industry successful. There are also many more female fans, so our presence in racing is growing, she said.