Danica Patrick vs. Homegrown NASCAR Talent: Who Is Best for the Sport?
Danica Patrick has made her "interest" in NASCAR known of late, visiting many teams and exploring her options.
Although she has reportedly signed a deal to remain in the IndyCar Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. through his Junior Motorsports (JRM) team, has acknowledged talks with Patrick about coming to run some selected races in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
The link with JRM seems like a natural, especially with Patrick involved with GoDaddy.com as a sponsor. GoDaddy.com currently sponsors Patrick, as well as JRM's Brad Keselowski in the Nationwide Series.
Although leaving much of the negotiating to sister Kelly, Earnhardt Jr. does acknowledge that discussions are ongoing. He also expressed "positive feelings" about Patrick driving one of the cars he co-owns with Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports.
"I like Danica a lot," Earnhardt Jr. said. "It's interesting to see her interest in NASCAR. It's interesting for all of us."
Acknowledging Patrick's prowess on the race track, Junior also praised her skills off the track, including "keeping herself in shape and having every personal advantage that she can have."
"She has a lot of those intangible values in a race car driver that are really important but that you don't learn," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There's a lot of things inside when it comes to initiative and willpower and passion that either you have it or you don't have that."
But is Danica Patrick the only female who has the racing skills and "other" characteristics needed to compete in NASCAR?
What about all of those skilled and talented up and coming female racers that are toiling away in the lower levels just waiting for their chance to move up and shine?
Rather than looking outside the sport, JRM and other NASCAR teams should look to promote from within.
There are plenty of young women drivers with the talent, the passion and the desire to excel, many of whom are already involved in NASCAR-sanctioned development programs, such as the Drive for Diversity.
One of these young, talented women is Tiffany Daniels. Daniels participates in the Drive for Diversity program, currently running some races in the Camping World East Series, as well as the Whelan All-American Series.
Daniels is active on and off the track. While her goal is to eventually move through the ranks to become a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, she also excels at her full-time job as one of the only female crew engineers at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
Most recently, Daniels attended the ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Kansas Speedway. There she sat with over 500 Girl Scouts, inspiring them to "reach for the stars" and explore non-traditional occupations, such as getting behind the wheel or working in racing.
Another NASCAR homegrown talent is Johanna Long. This 17-year-old driver became the first female driver to win the Blizzard Series Super Late Model points championship.
"It's awesome," Long said of her accomplishment. "I never thought I'd be here. It's a dream come true."
Long has been racing since she was five years old. She has come up through the Florida Kart scene, through Legends Cars and Pro Late Model Series.
Long will make history as the youngest woman to drive at the Rockingham Speedway this weekend. She will be doing so under the banner of D'Hondt Motorsports banner through their Women's Initiative.
Another woman making history is Chrissy Wallace, a most familiar name in NASCAR. Chrissy, daughter of Mike Wallace, will be joining her father in the Camping World Truck series race in Talladega later in October.
Wallace, who is 21 years old, has made six starts last year, with a best finish of 18th at Martinsville Speedway. This father-daughter combination is the first in any of NASCAR's three national touring series.
"It's very rewarding to have the opportunity to compete against Chrissy at Talladega," Mike Wallace said. "But the biggest reward is seeing a young person follow her dream and pursue her career."
Another homegrown talent is young female driver Alli Owens. Owens, finishing her second year in the ARCA RE/MAX Series, will be moving to Venturini Motorsports for the final race of the season, driving the No. 35 car at Rockingham this weekend.
Owens also plans to run the full 2010 ARCA season, as well as selected NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races.
“Venturini Motorsports’ reputation speaks for itself,” said Owens. “They’ve been in the ARCA Series for more than 25 years. They’re winning races and almost always finish in the top five in points."
"It’s truly an honor to join their organization," continued Owens. "I know their talent and resources will be an asset to me. I’m looking forward to working with them next season and know that we’ll achieve a lot together.”
These young women racers, all of whom have "grown up" in the NASCAR development system, are all seeking the coveted spots in the upper echelon of the sport.
They are also supported by many sponsors, from those cultivated by the drivers themselves to others like Grandma Ruby's Sweet Shoppe, who are devoted to helping young women progress in the sport.
Grandma Ruby's is a family-oriented confection company in the Midwest run by two enterprising women. These women, granddaughters of the original founder "Ruby" herself, are committed to growing female racers in the sport and nurturing their careers.
So, why does JR Motorsports or any team in NASCAR have to look outside the sport to find the first female star?
There is no doubt that, as Junior says, Danica Patrick does bring the name recognition and the star power that NASCAR may need in its first woman driver.
Yet the female drivers mentioned in this article also have the brains, beauty, and those "intangible assets" to which Junior was referring. They have the talent, they can drive, and they know the NASCAR system.
NASCAR, give the homegrown female talent a chance. Before bringing in Danica Patrick, look deep within the levels of the sport to the talent that you are already nurturing.
And give those girls a chance to shine.
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