Fast and the Curious: Rising NASCAR Star Caitlin Shaw Lets You Into Her World

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IJuly 28, 2009

SOUTH BOSTON, VA - OCTOBER 14:  Caitlin Shaw waits for her turn on the track during the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine at South Boston Speedway on October 14, 2008 in South Boston, Virginia.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Most 19-year-olds across the continental United States are either working summer jobs or catching a wave at the local beach with family and friends.

Some are earning their hard-earned cash for the rush back to school, while others are spending their cash simply being, well, kids.

In the case of 19-year-old Caitlin Shaw, she's been spending her summer on the racing circuit on her home away from home, if you will.

Climbing up the racing ladder from quarter midgets to her NASCAR debut last Friday night in the Camping World Truck Series event at O'Reilly Raceway Park, the Albuquerque, N.M., native went to "school" in the 200-lap event.

Racing from a 32nd starting position, Shaw raced the No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra machine to a 24th place finish.

With the transition from late models to the heavier truck chassis, Shaw had a respectable performance at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.

Rest assured, this is not the first and last time you'll hear about Shaw and her racing career. As you'll see in this interview, there's a bit of a surprise with this young gun that might be a bit shocking (in a cool way, of course!).

Much like how she is a racer, Shaw, as an individual, is methodical, thoughtful, and fun-loving, which are all qualities that will definitely make her into a fan favorite at the races.

Thankfully, she is out there, competing and honing her skills to become one of the next stars in the NASCAR series.

Following the racing ladder of success like stock car icons Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Mike Bliss, Shaw has graduated from the USAC Midgets into the NASCAR ranks.

Wherever she competes, watch for this racer to learn the tracks and her car quickly, much like a music prodigy who continually progresses into a masterful artist of their trade.

A member of NASCAR's Drive For Diversity, the best has yet to come from Shaw. In that case, we're in for quite a treat with this young woman, who is also attending to her collegiate studies while racing on American asphalt.

Because this was my first interview with a truly new racing star, like you, the fans, I wanted to learn as much as I could about Shaw. Hopefully, upon reading this piece, you'll know Caitlin Shaw, the person, the student, family member, and racer.

My extended thanks to Caitlin Shaw for being very cordial, prompt, and detailed with "our" piece. She definitely knew when to mash the pedal and when to take the time to say what's on her mind with the interview.

Rob Tiongson:
First of all, most 19-year-olds, if they're ever going to "race" at O'Reilly Raceway Park, they're probably "racing there" because of those NASCAR video games on the consoles and PC.

Meanwhile, you were out there on the track last Friday night with guys like Todd Bodine, Stacy Compton, Brian Scott, and Ron Hornaday. Describe to me how it felt to go out there and race at ORP behind the wheel of the No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra.

Caitlin Shaw:
It was an incredible feeling. I think it really hit me right after driver introductions riding around the track in the back of the pick-up truck before the start of the race.

I saw just how many people were there waving at all of us and started to see the other drivers coming around the track in the same pick-up trucks I was in and I thought to myself, "Wow. This is huge!"

It all happened so fast, signing the contract a week before the race, and trying to put everything together...I never really had a time to reflect on it until then—it was exciting.

I was actually getting to race with the guys that I had been watching on TV and looking up to for so long.

RT: Being that you're from Albuquerque, N.M., you hail from a state and area infamous for the Unser racing clan. We know what kind of racers that New Mexico produces. Were they among your racing inspirations? Who else were your idols in the motorsports world?

I’ve never had much contact with the Unser family, but obviously they are great competitors that anyone can look up to.

I would say my main mentors in the motorsports world would be my dad. He’d drive anything that anyone wanted him to drive. He mostly drove open wheel cars so I could always ask him questions with the midget and get a great evaluation.

I also like to watch drivers like Johnny Chapman, Jerry Coons Jr., Mark Martin and Todd Bodine. I really try to learn as much as I can from those great veteran drivers. They all have so much talent on the track as well as how they handle themselves in the media off the track.

RT: You've been in racing for the past decade, which is an incredible accomplishment. Thus far in your young racing career, what's been your proudest achievement? What's been one of your "lighthearted" moments at the track?

CS: I think most people would expect me to say competing in the Camping World Truck race, which was an amazing accomplishment for me.

But the one thing that really sticks out in my mind was when I was ten years old. I was competing in the Senior Novice Quarter Midget race division at the Valley of the Sun quarter midget club in Phoenix, Arizona.

I came from the back and won my very first race and I could see my dad’s smiling face as I crossed the finish line and I was so excited for both of us—that was my proudest moment.

RT: Now, looking over your career info and photos from your site, you have raced at some impressive, historical racing facilities. Which track has been your favorite as a fan and a racer?

CS: My favorite track as a fan would have to be O’Reilly Raceway Park. The track is right in the middle of so much Indiana racing history and the racing action is always so exciting no-matter what race division it is.

I’ve watched midgets, silver crown cars, late models, NASCAR Trucks and Nationwide races, and everything is side-by-side, high groove racing. It’s a great racetrack that always draws a large crowd. I love being there.

As a racer, I love driving at Phoenix International Raceway. I’ve never been there in a truck, but I loved the adrenaline rush that competing in the midgets gave me there.

It’s a high speed track with two different corners. In the midget you can feel the drafting and the car almost floats across the straightaway because it is so light at such fast speeds. Racing there is hardly like any other track—it’s intense.

RT: Some of NASCAR's best have raced in a similar "ladder to the top" style like you are currently doing, as you started off racing quarter midgets to the USAC series.

What are some of the lessons and experiences you've applied from racing those cars to the heavier machines you've piloted in recent years?

CS: In everything that I’ve raced, I’ve always been thrown into something bigger and faster. I think it’s really helped me to adapt to the different types of cars a lot faster.

Last year, I jumped from the Ford Focus Midget Series straight into the National USAC (United States Auto Club) Midget Series which was a huge horsepower and competition level jump rather than working my way up through a regional series.

I think those huge jumps can be frustrating at times because I don’t usually have time to win in the series I’m in right away. But results aren’t everything. It's the experience and seat time that has helped me to adapt to different racing at a faster pace.

The open wheel series has taught me a lot about reaction times. In the midgets, it seems like everything happens a little faster because of the short wheel base.

I think this has helped me in the stock cars because my reaction time is already there for the fast speeds that the truck series competes at.

RT: Oftentimes, fans have a hard time distinguishing how much success should be attributed with a driver, their team, and equipment. In other words, it's the old "talk" of car and driver/team.

What's your take on that? Is success on the track due to completely one thing or a various aspects of racing?

CS: Success on the track is definitely a combination of so many factors – including luck. Driver-to-crew chief communication is huge in order to get the car set up correctly for the race and during pit stops. Communication between the spotter and driver is also important to avoid accidents on the track.

Then, there are also the B-factors that are uncontrollable. At Hickory this year, the inside of the wheels were breaking, causing cars to get into the wall.

That’s something nobody could have predicted. There is so much energy in the shops that go into preparation to try to eliminate those B-factors, but often times those things are just out of our control.

RT: Stepping aside from racing, what do you like to do for fun? (If it's racing, I completely understand too!)

CS: I really don’t do a whole lot that doesn’t pertain to racing. I absolutely love the sport, whether it’s local Saturday night racing, watching professional racing or learning a new aspect of the sport—it’s addicting.

I really have been interested in the public relations aspect lately. I love to write press releases and see what I write being picked up by other newspapers and internet sites, that’s exciting for me.

However, I’ve always been an extremely competitive person even playing Boggle with my Grandma and two little cousins, Alec and Claire, is something I always play until I win at.

Claire, my youngest cousin, has been practicing to play me when I go home, so I hope I can keep my winning streak! (laughter)

I love to swim, run, play soccer and go kayaking—pretty much anything active that I can push myself in I love to do.

RT: Off the track, you spend some time reading to young students in the elementary school as well as hospitals and libraries across the country. What was your impetus and inspiration doing these readings?

CS: I’ve always loved to read and I think that it’s really important for kids to keep their love of reading especially with so many video games, TV shows and computer programs coming out.

However, it’s also so much fun for me to see the kid’s faces light up and get so interested in a book.

I went with Speedway Children’s Charities to Freedom School Summer Camp and read to homeless students in their Harambee story time. The kids there were so excited to meet me and it was such an inspirational event.

They all asked questions about the books and were lining up to give me a hug after. Events like that make me realize how lucky I am, and I love that I can help be an inspiration to those kids who need someone to look up to.

RT: I read from Duke City Fix that you're pursuing a degree in Business. How are you collegiate studies going so far?

CS: I’ve always loved school. College has been difficult because I travel so much. In my first semester of school I was only in North Carolina for two weekends, which was difficult.

As long as I get my work done, my professors have been willing to work with me on missing classes. I’m taking 19-hours in the fall so my schedule will be busy, but I was l ucky to schedule most of my classes for Tuesdays and Thursdays so I won’t have to miss class.

RT: Alright, Free Association time, Caitlin. You've seen how it's it's your turn with these!

Albuquerque, New Mexico.

CS: I love being in New Mexico. The mountains and sunsets are incredible and my whole family is there. I love getting to go home and see everyone.

RT: Favorite music.

CS: I mostly listen to country music, but I really like most kinds of music—especially Taylor Swift.

RT: Your future.

CS: I hope to make competing in NASCAR my professional career. However, I also would love to work in the public relations or marketing side of NASCAR.

RT: Greatest fear.

My greatest fear would be to disappoint my parents. I love them so much and they’ve worked so hard to help me get everything I’ve ever wanted that I wouldn’t ever want to do something that would hurt them.

RT: Greatest comfort.

CS: My greatest comfort is knowing that I have my family and friends behind me in whatever I do. It’s great to have a group of people that you can trust with anything and everything.

RT: Yellow flags.

CS: Tearing my ACL when I was younger seemed like a huge yellow flag in my soccer career, but it was a blessing in disguise because after my surgery, I decided to continue racing and focused on that.

I think a lot of yellow flags in our lives are just opportunities to try new things and discover a new green flag.

However, a major yellow flag in my racing career would be sponsorship money. Racing without the funding behind you is a hard task to overcome.

RT: Victory.

CS: I have little victories every day that help me get to my goals. Whether it’s being able to run an extra mile in my workout or getting an article I wrote published all of the little things are exciting.

Then I’ve had larger victories like being able to compete in the Camping World Truck Series and winning my first race.

RT: Education.

CS: Education is so important. I’m currently in my sophomore year of college and I think it’s important for me to finish my college degree so I can be a role model to younger kids.

RT: If you could be anywhere in the world, it'd be...

CS: I’d love to get an opportunity to compete in Disney World. They don’t currently run the track there in the NASCAR circuit, but Disney World has always been my favorite place in the world and combining racing to the happiest place on earth would really make it a magical experience!

RT: Right now, you're working on making it to the NASCAR top three racing series. What are some of the great races, in any series, that you would love to compete in?

I would love to compete in the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the All-Star Race and the Indianapolis 500.

(I'd race) The first two because they are prestigious NASCAR races. Then, I'd do the All-Star Race because of the exciting atmosphere it brings to Lowe’s (Motor Speedway) and the Indianapolis 500 because there is so much history that goes into the month of May in Indianapolis.

It's no secret that there are some fans and even those in the racing industry that feel that racing is a man's sport, which I think is foolish.

What do you have to say to that, given that there have been successful women in racing like Shirley Muldowney in the NHRA from the 1970s, Lynn St. James in the '80s-'90s with the open wheel circuit, Danica Patrick, and Ashley Force?

CS: I think that racing is a driver’s sport. Whether the driver is a male or a female, it shouldn’t matter when the competitors are on the track.

Women like Shirley Muldowney and Janet Guthrie have paved the way for females in motorsports.

Drivers today such as Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick are both top competitors in the IRL and Ashley Force has done extremely well in the NHRA. They are all earning a lot of respect in their driving careers.

RT: What other sports do you follow, being that you hail from the Southwest?

CS: I don’t follow a lot of sports other than motorsports, but I really enjoy watching professional soccer and tennis.

RT: As a racer, what motivates you as you make your laps around the track? As a person, what makes you determined to succeed?

CS: I love the adrenaline rush that racing gives me. It’s a nervous-excited feeling, sitting on the grid, waiting to get out on the track, and I love the strategy that goes into passing cars out on the track.

I’ve always been a very goal oriented person. If I set a goal for myself, I have a "never satisfied" mindset until I reach my maximum potential in that goal.

Last August, I told myself that within a year, I would race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and I worked hard to make that happen.

There are always sacrifices to get to the goals I set for myself, but I would rather sacrifice the smaller things now to achieve a goal for the future. For me, there is a thrill in achieving my goals and having something to focus and work toward.

RT: What's one thing about you that you think racing fans would be make them say, "Oh wow! Really?"

CS: I actually quit racing when I was 14 years old. I wanted to focus on soccer and winning a national championship with my team.

Then when I tore my ACL, I couldn’t play soccer for a year and decided to race as a hobby. That hobby escalated and I knew I wanted to pursue racing as a career.

Yet, I still had that goal of getting to nationals with my soccer team so two knee surgeries later, I rehabbed my knee and went on to win the US Club Soccer National Champion title with my soccer team in 2006.

I went from playing soccer in the day to driving three hours to race at Hickory Motor Speedway during the night. Luckily, Nationals were in North Carolina that year!

RT: Now being the youngest of three, I can relate to your experiences with families. Do you have any siblings in your family? You seem like a very family-oriented kind of person, which is rare nowadays.

CS: I have a half sister that I don't get to see very often unfortunately. However, I also am very close with my cousins Landan, Elycia, Alec and Claire.

I would give up anything for them. Landan has always seemed like a big brother to me. My mom and dad took care of him when he was younger so he spent Christmas, birthdays, and most of his time with us when I was little.

RT: If you were in charge of NASCAR for a day, would you change any, if not, many aspects of the sport?

CS: I haven't raced in NASCAR long enough to really know what aspects of the sport I would want to change. Although when I signed autographs for some fans outside of ORP this weekend, I heard many of them talk about how they would like more access to see the drivers or garage areas.

RT: You must've gained a lot of fans from the past weekend at ORP. What's been about the coolest thing about your new following since your NASCAR debut?

CS: I really love the fan mail I've been getting. I've had a lot of younger kids tell me that they want to be my friend, and want to be racecar drivers when they grow up. I love being able to be a role model for these kids—it's exciting!

To any future racer out there, be it in the bullrings of America or road courses across the world, what advice do you have for these prospects who want their big break and moment in the "bigs?"

CS: I would say to never give up. It's a tough sport with a lot more low moments than high points so staying positive and persevering through the rough patches is going to be critical. They need to keep dreaming and believing in themselves. Then with a lot of hard work they can achieve their goals."

RT: I hope we'll get to see you more on the track in the not so distant future. Are there any plans for you to enter additional CWTS races or other racing events for the rest of 2009?

CS: I'm working on sponsorship partners to continue competing in the series. I'm looking forward to Iowa or Martinsville as a next race possibility. Then, if I can get approved, I'd like to run a full season in 2010.


    Every Team's Most Depressing Stat

    Featured logo

    Every Team's Most Depressing Stat

    Adam Fromal
    via Bleacher Report

    NBA Free Agency Winners 🏅

    Featured logo

    NBA Free Agency Winners 🏅

    Zach Buckley
    via Bleacher Report

    Most Important Players to Follow in Training Camp

    Featured logo

    Most Important Players to Follow in Training Camp

    Gary Davenport
    via Bleacher Report

    The NBA's Most Untradeable Contracts

    Featured logo

    The NBA's Most Untradeable Contracts

    Dan Favale
    via Bleacher Report