Kathryn Nunn has a very, very tough decision to make over the next few weeks as she meets with potential sponsors for her Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series team.
After testing seven women with truly diverse skill sets over the past three days on the daunting 1.5-mile high banks of Texas Motor Speedway's oval circuit, Nunn, together with engineers Brian Welling and Jerry Gordon, and along with crew chief Butch Winkle will have to decide which one of these gals they think can win races in the increasingly competitive ladder Pro series.
While the Menards Infiniti Pro Series is still in its infancy -- having been born in July 2002 -- it's apparent that drivers and team owners are finding the circuit a viable one on which to race. Particularly for the 2005 season, when the 14-event campaign will encompass ten ovals, three road courses and one street track.
That varied grouping of events requires drivers who can turn left and right and who have talent to run at the lead of any kind of race. Most important, according to Butch Meyer, technical director for the Pro series, next year's schedule of races opens up the door to different styles of drivers who can run side by side in the type of tight fields that personify the Menards Infiniti Pro Series.
During this final day of a three-day test, the Nunn Motorsports group evaluated only three drivers. Kathryn Nunn told Wendy Mathis, 25, of Brandon, Florida and Juliana Chiovitti, 23, currently living in the Henderson, Nevada area that she had seen what she needed of the duo.
Drivers Sondi Eden (27) of Crawfordsville, Indiana and Rossella Manfrinato (35) from Milan, Italy had their secondary evaluations yesterday afternoon.
Early this morning, with air temperatures hovering just about 60 degrees and under intense cloud cover (and an occasional drop of moisture), Katherine Legge, 24, of Silverstone, England completed her final evaluation.
Although Legge hadn't been invited to the test she decided to spend her own money and come over, in the hopes that her efforts might be rewarded. Nunn and the team were impressed by Legge's tenacity and, once she got into the car and on an oval for the first time by her abilities. They decided to give her another opportunity and the UK native jumped at the chance.
Legge's experience is primarily in open wheel road racing, prototypes and sports cars and she had never been on an oval before Tuesday afternoon. That she became comfortable in the car as easily as she did impressed the heck out of Nunn and her team, allowing the persistent professional driver and racing instructor to continue today.
The balance of the morning went to Lincoln, Delaware's Becca Anderson, 25, whose main experience has come in sprint cars, where she has 13 career feature wins to date. Anderson came up through karting, as have most of these drivers, yet she chose to compete in the United Racing Club's sprint car series beginning in 1998.
After lunch Sarah McCune was the final driver to take timed laps around the TMS oval. McCune, 26, of Perrysburg, Ohio, has an advantage in that she tested a Pro series car (with Sam Schmidt Motorsports) in 2003 at Kentucky Speedway and participated in two IndyCar Series tests in 2000 with Team Pelfrey. McCune also became the first woman to win an ARCA series feature event in 1996.
Once the three tests were complete and the team began dismantling their awnings to pack the truck and head back to Indianapolis, the real work began.
While Nunn jetted to her home in Florida to consult with, among others husband Morris about the talented drivers and the possibility of finding funding to run at least one - if not two of them - the hard work of narrowing the field remains left to the vagaries of sponsorship. At least, Nunn noted, she's been invited to speak with companies concerning backing for the 2005 Pro series season.
The doors are open for Nunn Motorsports to become the vanguard of support for women in open wheel racing. A group of talented drivers showed the sole woman team owner in the Indy Racing League that they are ready to compete. Which of them will she choose?