Ernest Hemingway once said that auto racing, bull fighting, and mountaineering are the only true sports, while the rest are merely games. If that's the case, he'd be amazed to know how much progress has been made in motorsports, particularly for women.
Stock car racing has seen its share of female talent come and go in the sport, with limited opportunities along the road. However, these limited opportunities do lead some of racing's most talented women into breakthrough opportunities.
All racers have their unique story and their share of struggles and successes, often experienced with diligence and determination. There's no "babe in the wood" personas with the ladies of racing, who are willing to work their hardest to make it into the elite ranks of NASCAR.
On Thursday night, I had the opportunity to interview five distinct and sensational racers from various forms of American motorsports. Alison Mcleod of the USAC ranks and NASCAR Canadian Tires Series, Alli Owens and Leilani Munter of the ARCA Re/Max division, as well as Jennifer Jo Cobb and Tiff Daniels of NASCAR participated in a round table discussion with readers from my racing blog, "Rob Is Racin'."
Via Cover It Live, the discussion involved fan participation and some interaction with not only the panelists, but the fans as well. In the first of a two part series, we discussed the current state of motorsports for females as well as their experiences on the track.
Each of these drivers know how competitive, dangerous, and exciting the sport gets and just what it'd mean to pull into Victory Lane.
Unlike some of the pundits who feel that women don't stand a chance at winning in NASCAR, I am certain that we'll see one of these drivers earn their first trip into the winner's circle soon.
On Monday, I'll highlight the fan questions from Bleacher Report readers and Twitter's NASCAR community as well as my blog that generated some excellent observations and thoughts to the panelists.
Part One of the round table discussion looks at the various issues of females, as far as their opportunities are concerned in racing, as well as how they hold their own in a sport that still progresses to this day.
Let's go green flag racing with Alison, Alli, Leilani, Tiff, and Jen, who'll take us along on their racing experiences and thoughts on NASCAR as well as auto racing!
RT : I think alone in the ARCA event, Tiff...weren't there like six women in the race? That had to be something!
RT : With your experience at EGR, Tiff, do you see that paying off in terms of what you can apply behind the wheel? Certainly has to help a bit with your experiences racing and with what you've learned with a great Cup team like EGR.
Leilani Munter : Hi guys, sorry I'm late!
RT : Hey Leilani! Welcome to the round table. And no worries!
LM : Yes, in fact I was late on the call because a possible sponsor on the west coast called me with some questions. That's why i joined you late. I am working on sponsorship to continue my ARCA schedule.
RT : That's great! I really hope they'll jump on board. Is this a sponsorship package for the superspeedway races, Leilani?
LM : The schedule we are hoping to continue with in ARCA is the rest of the nine televised races—Texas, Talladega, both Poconos, Michigan, Kansas, Chicagoland, Iowa, and Rockingham.
Jennifer Jo Cobb : Hello there!
RT : Jen Jo Cobb is in the house now, y'all!
Leilani, gotta ask, when you were racing the IndyCars, were you thinking, "Yea, this is the series I wanted to be in?" Or did you decide, "While this was interesting, I think the stock car route is where I want to go?"
LM : I really enjoyed running the open wheel cars. I went there because I was trying to raise the money to run ARCA and couldn't find the funding to go with a good team and out of the blue and IndyCar team called me up.
RT : And for those who may not know with Leilani and open wheels, she definitely left a lasting impression in her first race at Kentucky. Nearly won the whole thing and some fellow named Rick Mears (Ed.'s note: Slight twist at humor) praised you for your efforts.
LM : I think that any seat time is good, fenders or not, so I took the opportunity and I will continue to race in any series I can find sponsorship for. Right now it looks like ARCA is what will be in store for me in 2010. I love racing and whether it has fenders or not makes no difference, I love them both!
RT : For all the panelists, what more could be done to ensure the fact that women receive fair opportunities in racing? It has taken a VERY long time, it seems, in anything in life, for women to even have equal footing out there.
AO : Women do receive fair opportunities. It's being smart about what seat you put your butt in. You get what you pay for, plain and simple really.
We are all in competition with each other. The problem is a lot of people are so desperate to just get in a car, they don't focus on what quality of car and team they get in. Unfortunately, most of them are girls, which means that it appears as though girls do not get quality opportunities.
JJC : Rob, Atlanta gave me great confidence going into Texas and Charlotte. We learned so much about Marley, like how to keep her nose down. She has a stuck up air about her that we will work on.
RT : That's interesting. When a truck has its nose up, that lends itself to running well say at Darlington. Does that have anything to do with coil binding and shocks?
JJC : Marley was not coil bound at Atlanta. She definitely will be now!
RT : For the panelists, would you say right now that there are at least more decent rides than there are shoddy equipment?
AO : I wouldn't say that there are more decent rides. I would have to say that the power of the dollar is allowing people to get a shot a good ride because teams are hurting to keep the doors open.
That same weekend, Erin Crocker was running in the trucks. She did not run well and I got more positive publicity that weekend at TMS for running up front in a late model than she did by running in the back of the pack in a truck. So, I made the right decision to run in a lower level series, where I could afford to get in quality equipment.
AM : I don't think there are more good rides than bad ones. I don't think there ever will be.
There will always be the top few teams, and then those that are struggling. The good ones always go first, so it's definitely about the money you bring to the deal and talent that you have to offer.
There are definitely more open rides right now with teams who don't have full seasons put together yet.
LM : I would say most people these days are very supportive. There are always going to be a few rotten apples in the bunch.
RT : Alison, we've seen it with Cup with even a guy like Casey Mears. He has no choice but to race for Keyed Up Motorsports, and they're struggling to even make a race.
JJC : Rob, I think it's up to everyone, men or women, to create our own opportunities. Racing in the big leagues is hard no matter your gender, race, etc.
You have to want it, work hard for it, and keep getting up, no matter how many times you are knocked down. I think we all appreciate how hard we have to work for it.
I'll be the first to say that I've gotten in "less than" equipment due to lack of funds. It was either, "Go get that experience or stay home and drop out." This year sure makes me glad that I gave it my all and stayed behind the wheel to persevere to a better opportunity.
AM : I agree, Jennifer. It definitely is a choice between getting in sub-par equipment with what you have and sitting out. All drivers, male or female, have to consciously make that decision and make it to determine what is better for their career.
In some cases, it means getting in sub-par equipment, and in some cases, that means passing the opportunity and wait longer for something else. It's a risk, but there are definitely positives to both sides.
RT : Leilani, there's great racers like Lyn St. James, Janet Guthrie, Patty Moise, and Shawna Robinson who ushered in the way for women in racing today. I'll say that much.
LM : Yes, Lyn is wonderful and also Shawna Robinson has also been very helpful to me. She may be joining me and Alli Owens and Alison Macleod in Bristol this weekend. It's girl racers' weekend in Bristol!
Stay tuned for the conclusion of the round table discussion with "Women in Motorsports," which will be published this Monday!