With the looks and personality it’s easy to mistake Jennifer Jo Cobb for a trophy girl. The would be the beautiful woman that stands in victory lane to pose for pictures with the winning driver, and Cobb could easily have the job.
The confusion though quickly clears up when looking down pit road where you’ll find the unmistakable red hair peaking out from underneath a sponsor’s hat.
Cobb isn’t here to give out trophies; she’s here to take one home.
From her local track to Darlington, she’s slowly risen through the ranks and gained a large fan following along the way. She’s aware they’re out there and it’s one of the things that helps keep that giant smile plastered on her face.
If there’s one constant in the life of Cobb it’s that you’ll always see her in a good mood. Whether by smiling, laughing, maybe even dancing on pit road after an interview, Cobb is right where she wants to be.
But, she says, always being happy and positive is a constant work in progress. Something that comes from listening to church sermons, reading a lot of books about thinking the right way, as well as from her spirituality.
“It’s a discipline,” she said Saturday at the Darlington Raceway.
“There are so many things I want out of life, since I was eight years old to be a professional racecar driver and my parents really, really worked hard on teaching me not to be a brat.”
A brat? Far from it, as lessons her parents instilled in a young Cobb included not to complain and don’t expect things from people. Instead, her parents told her, go out and make it happen for yourself. Now sitting 16th in points, which would put her name in the NASCAR record books should she finish the season there, take a bow Jennifer because you’ve made it happen.
With the bow out of the way though, don’t think she’s going to rest, there's plenty more to accomplish. That includes the rest of the 2010 season, the first time that she’s been able to come to the racetrack every weekend and know she’ll be racing. The joy and the dance fans see, come from being able to do what she loves on a consistent basis.
When talking about it, she lights up even more.
“This year, especially Daytona, it was just like, ‘I can’t believe I get to race every week, full season. We wrecked this time, but we won’t wreck every week.’ And I get to come back and do it again!”
“I was just so giddy,” she said.
That attitude has struck a cord with the fans. In a sport where to be accepted by the fans is almost a hard as winning a race – you have to say the right things, race the right way, don’t win to much but don’t lose every week – Cobb has been welcomed with open arms by the NASCAR nation.
In mentioning her name everyone either talks about what a "sweetheart" she is, or wants you to say hi to her when you see her. There are the fan pages across the Internet and the numerous messages on Facebook and Twitter before and after a race.
She’s one of the few drivers that love interacting with the fans on social networking sites, posting anything and everything. In turn the fans have nothing but love and respect for the Kansas native as they wait to see what she'll say next.
“That’s part of what makes me feel so lucky,” she said while comfortably lounging in her hauler before truck series qualifying. The Nationwide Series race from Michigan is muted on the TV in the background. Cobb's expected to be apart of two more NNS races later this season.
“I do feel the love. There are people that I have never met that support me so much and I feel that. It gives me goose bumps honestly,” Cobb said.
“People are fickle, let alone race fans are really fickle or any sports fans. You win and they love you until you win too much and they hate you again. Then you lose and you just kinda suck.”
Cobb knows she and her No. 10 team are underdogs, but to her it’s what draws the fans. They can see how hard a team works, they know what a team is capable of and they’re great at seeing through some of the bologna that's occasionally feed to them.
Seeing Cobb, led by crew chief Steve Kuykendall, giving 100 percent and not starting and parking, the easiest way to get on fans bad side, has gone a long way. To hear the NASCAR labeled rookie discuss it gives her more wisdom than the stripe on the back bumper of her Ford should indicate.
“I think it helps that I’m so honest and open about so much of my life,” she said. “It’s like ‘OK, we’re doing this or we’re doing that.’ The only thing you don’t see me Tweeting or Facebook-ing about is my personal life.”
Everything else though, is up for grabs.
“It is fun just to share,” she said. “I feel so fortunate to live the life that I live, finally, after a lot of years of hard work, I want to share it with people. And it’s also like, what would mom like to see back home, because my mom checks my Twitter … but that’s what I think the key to success is.”
The fans have eaten it up and it’s worked out all the way around. As Cobb says, the success of NASCAR comes from the fans and her team will always be very fan friendly. That is of course, as long as the numbers allow it.
Maybe more popular than even she realizes, eventually it’ll become too hard to interact with everyone, but have no fear she’s got it covered.
“We’re thinking of launching an official fan club soon,” she revealed.
A fan club that’s more than just Facebook or Twitter pages, because while those are certainly great, sometimes you just need a little more. It’s also what people have been asking for, making no bones about whom they want to support.
Life can't seem to get better for Cobb, but each weekend bigger and better it gets. Not just those that are wearing JJCR T-shirts or waving madly as she speeds past, but for Cobb on the racetrack. As mentioned, she’s now in a position to make history for woman at season’s end depending on her point finish.
With the team is very well capable of doing it, now it's just take it one week at a time. The fire is there and the driver behind the wheel has admitted to being more aggressive as of late. She’s also not afraid to ask questions, going to many veterans of the truck series and looking for help.
There’s also a friendly reminder every time she enters her garage stall. Decked out on her Ford is the word “Driven." What some might miss however, is the personal slogan that Cobb added underneath it on the back bumper.
It reads, “For those who bleed speed.”
Nowhere is it truer than for Cobb, who gets her racing rush from both sides of her family. Starting with trying to work on her dad’s car when she was three-years-old to now rubbing with the best in the business.
Through it all she’s remained true to herself and who she is, saying that being a woman doesn’t have anything to do with racing.
“It is pretty cool because I do feel like one of the guys,” said Cobb. “The guys out here, there’s a lot of guys in the garage area that will harmlessly flirt, it doesn’t bother me at all. It’s not a bother, it’s not over the line, and it is a harmless flirt. But other than that, they definitely treat me like another racer … I have felt really at home in the Camping World Truck Series and I love it for that.
“This is, believe it or not, the friendliest that I’ve ever been treated, including at the local level,” she said. “I really do love it, we [the team] feel like we belong, we feel like we’re wanted, like we’ve earned our way at this point.”
She might be one of the guys on the racetrack, whereas off it, well that’s a different story.
With another laugh, as much of talking with Cobb is, she said, “I am the girliest girl you can imagine. Shopping, I’m a total shopaholic, love having my nails done, and love doing facials. Just such a girly girl and what people have to understand is that I have that racing in my blood from my dad, I used to fall asleep in my dad’s racing seat and didn’t want to leave the garage, but my mom enrolled me in dance and gymnastics.”
Those were fun while they lasted, even resulted in a cheerleading scholarship, which later turned into Cobb being an alternate cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs. When the call came to cheer for a Monday night football game, Cobb went to work on her race car instead.
It was unfortunate for mom who thought she raised a ballerina and cheerleader but said Cobb, “my heart was always in that garage with my dad. Until boys came along and my own cars.”
“It’s very natural for me to be a racer and for me to be a girly girl … I always got a hard time at the local level for wearing makeup at the racetrack. I would get out of my car, check my own tires and then go powder my nose and brush my hair.”
Today she still does the same with no plans on changing. The dream and passion she’s had since she was young still burn as they did back then, and she said they haven't wavered an ounce.
Of course, the more she gets to race the harder it will be to take the smile off her face or keep her from having fun.
“They always say if you not having fun then don’t do it,” Cobb relays, “And some weeks aren’t fun. Indy was stupid, it wasn’t fun at all, that’s not the track or anything, it was just our day was not good. You’re going to have every once in a while.”
But in the end, “my enthusiasm will continue to grow every week instead of waning.”
Cobb won’t be alone in that department as her fans, who are still working on a nickname for themselves, will be along for the ride.