Everything was set for Alli Owens going into the 2011 season. She had plans set in stone to run eight Nationwide races and four ARCA races.
However, everything fell apart on November 28th, as her current sponsors told her that they wouldn't be backing her come the new season. It left Owens stuck looking for sponsors, which comes as a tough task late in the game.
"You take that time from November to February, and that’s normally when people know what they’re doing for 2011," Owens told me. "You know, any money that was out there had already been claimed. Sponsorships had been set and budgets were determined, and I was really behind the ball."
The Daytona Beach native admits that she had her doubts about if she was going to continue racing, but credits her fans for getting things back on track.
"I went through a really hard time," she said. "I was very emotionally challenged and pick up my whole search of getting back in a car. I really kind of lost in my life at that point, like I don’t know what to do or where to go. Am I going to be in a racecar or do I need to just suck it up and get a normal job and live a normal life and be thankful for the time I had in a racecar?
"But it was my fans and friends and my family telling me to get up off my butt and make it happen," she continued. "You know, I’d come too far as a blue-collar, middle-class person and got too far to live, really, an American dream that much of us get told as children that we can live. But you know as you get older, you realize those dreams are full and in between of really coming true. It was really the fans that said, 'You know what? Do something about it and we really want to help you.'"
On Wednesday, Owens took charge of the campaign and started up a PayPal account on her website for fans to make donations. Within five minutes, she already had $300 donated from her fans.
"You know, it's small donations like $25, $20, $50 and stuff like that and we’ve been able to move forward from that," Owens said. "Now we're in the thousands of dollars and getting closer to be able to go racing strictly on fans and friends’ support. That is...it is just amazing. There is no words for it."
She also says that she's leaving the doors wide open on this, completely keeping her fans updated via Twitter and Facebook on the progress.
"In my press release today, I put a dollar figure in the press release, and everybody in NASCAR will tell you that you don’t put the money out there in public and you don’t put a dollar figure out there," she said. "But at this point in my career, I have nothing to hide. If people want to know how much I need, I want to tell them and I want to tell them exactly how much I have, who is giving it to me and where it is going."
The dollar figure that Owens is trying to reach is $35,000. If she can raise that amount between now and February, Owens says she already has a team committed to her for the Camping World Truck Series opener at Daytona.
For the past three days, Owens has been racing in the ARCA Racing Series.
"If I could do it all over again, I probably would have done more research," she told me of that experience. "I was really excited to get into the ARCA Series and I really didn’t do much research. Wish I would’ve utilized my knowledge of the marketing and strategic side of the sport and got to where I was able to grow and in three years, instead of bouncing to different teams each side.
"But looking back on that experience I got from the driver’s seat, I wouldn’t change it for the world," she continued. "I mean, it’s not every day that you get to say one of your states is outside pole of Daytona Speedway. That right there was a huge marker.
"Then going through my knee surgery when I injured it on a motorcycle in 2008 and then getting back in a racecar four weeks later was a big step in respect that I couldn’t change or ask for anything different.
"I wish 2010 I would have done things a little differently and went somewhere I was able to run more races and have a little bit more of direction," Owens continued. "I can’t change what I did then, but overall it was an awesome experience and something I wouldn’t change."
Owens adds that both on track and off the track she learned a lot of lessons that she will carry forward with her.
"On the track, I think I learned a lot about the tracks," she said. "I really focused on really understanding the tracks and how you need to drive and the pattern and the ware of the racecars and tire management and setup and things like that. I really honed in my skills on being able to communicate with my crew chief and spotter and really understanding what the racecar needs and how to improve it on the long road. You know, pit stops—different techniques like that.
"I really wanted to sharpen my skills as a driver and my ability as a driver with knowledge, not so much with going out there and trying to win every race, but understanding the whole concept of that race weekend and analyzing everything I learned.
"Off the track, I learned a lot about trust," she continued. "You got to look out for yourself. You know, motorsports is full of broken promises. I think that moving forward has made me have a strong guard on who I work with in what I do, who I interact with, who I share things with, who I help out and who I stay away from."
She first started her journey of competitive racing on two wheels when she was eight years old, training to go to the Olympics on behalf of the United States. Though when she was 12 years old, she traded all that in for a quarter midget and started racing on the dirt tracks. From there, she moved over to asphalt at the age of 15, working her way up the ladder until she moved to the ARCA Series in 2008.
Now Owens is looking to make the next big jump to the NASCAR ranks and make her first NASCAR start at her home track.
"Now, to be able to go there and run and know how I got there and how much effort was put in, it’s truly probably worth more to me than winning the Daytona 500," she said. "I mean, any corporate America company can put their name on the side of the car and stick a driver in there and go run the race. The driver will say the track is this, the track is that.
"But knowing where I come from as a person and knowing that my personal bills are sometimes late and I sometimes don’t have any money to pay for them or got to make sure my bank account isn’t over-drafting ‘cause I had to pay my power bill and really just getting by with," she continued. "I get to go race Daytona because of people of myself, that is going to be an experience of a lifetime and I am going to take each and every moment of that time on the track at Daytona as a treasured memory as it may not happen, and I realize that now.
"I realize that I did lose my racing career for a split second before my fans told me to get up off my butt and that no, they’re not going to let that happen. To be able to go to Daytona, it's going to be something that everybody cherishes ‘cause I know I will."
Making her move through the ranks has been a challenge, as she has had to face the female stereotype that sex sells.
"You know, the way I was brought up, I was brought up on the dirt tracks where you’re one of the guys and it's built on respect on the track, not media value off the track," Owens said. "And I know it's going to come back to Danica (Patrick) ‘cause it always does, but I don’t knock her as a person, she’s a really great person, but the stereotypes that NASCAR and all the media outlets have created around her is all based on sex appeal.
"I don’t know about you, but when it comes to an organization symbolizing empowerment of woman to be half-naked and driven on sex appeal instead of on success and determination, it puts me off a little bit.
"The thing that really bothers me is when I look at all these local girls from the age of 16 all the way into their 20s and look at their media kit, all of them have glamour photo shoots," she continued. "I meant, this one girl has a picture of her in a fire suit without a bra on and it’s like, ‘When did that become what the sport is?’ I don’t see the guys in their boxers in whatever magazine.
"It kind of surprises me that NASCAR and the sport went that direction, but it works for Danica—it works for her. That’s what she is, but it’s unfortunate that there are other women out there that want to drive that don’t want to do that, and they don’t want to market people who are not willing to do the sex appeal thing. I am going to stand true to that."
She got faced with the image in 2009 when sponsors approached her.
"I am going to say 2009 was my biggest year media wise," she said. "I had a lot of potential sponsors that were wanting to do some big deals with me but wanted to do ‘bikini ready’ and deals like that and I’m like, ‘No way. I’m a racecar driver; I’m not a model. If I wanted to be a movie star, I would have gone to Hollywood. I wouldn’t be in North Carolina trying to make a racing career’.
"I mean, that’s my opinion—I think now corporate America and people in the general public are looking at females in motorsports as sex symbols, and I don’t think that’s the right avenue."
Owens reflects back to her reasons for getting in the sport.
"The reason I got into racing was because of people like the Dale Earnhardts, the Cale Yarboroughs, people like that," she said. "People who loaded up on flatbeds, trucks to go racing are the people that I idolize. I would say anywhere in the era of the '80s, it's just the era not a single person, but that is what really fuels my fire to go racing."
Through her racing career, she has learned lessons from her own experience, but also from other drivers.
"When it comes to like learning from a certain driver and things like that, you know, it’s a combination of everybody," she said. "You know, Jimmie Johnson and that whole team is kind of like a role model. Then you got Kyle Busch—can’t knock the kid, even though I am not a huge fan of his—he can really drive a racecar. As a driver, you look for those things. You look for how drivers fold under pressure if they have a problem in the pits, you look if they prevail and you look at how they handle situations.
"A.J. Allmendinger is one of my really great friends, and I think he is a great model, as far as like going through a life situation and getting yourself out of a hole and getting yourself back in the game he’s done," she continued. "I could sit here and tell you a whole story of people I look up to, but I think it’s a combination of people."
Through what she has learned, she advises that you be 100 percent committed before entering the sport.
"My advice is that make sure you love the sport 100 percent," she said. "There’s one day of doubt, just turn away and do something else. You’ve got be 110 percent committed to this day in, day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or it goes away. You got to be on your game; you got to be living ahead of the year it already is. I mean, it’s 2011 now—if you’re not thinking of 2012, you’ve failed and it is so quick for drivers to come and go, that they need to stay true to themselves, their brain and what they’re working for.
"Every single day, there are not enough hours in the day for a driver to succeed, and I think a lot of people don’t do that," Owens continued. "They think it should be handed to them or it never should go away or things like that. Reality has hit me in the face, and if I wasn’t 100 percent dedicated to this, I probably would’ve walked away in November and done something different. I mean, it’s not a fun sport. The funnest time in this sport is being on the race track for those couple of hours. Other than that, it’s a road of emotional, physical abuse."
If you want to help Alli Owens with her dream, go her website (http://www.alliowens.com) and click the PayPal button on the right-hand side to make a donation, or mail your donation to:
Owens Racing LLC
400 Venture Ave
South Daytona, FL 32119