This Week in Ford Racing - Special Edition

This Week in Ford Racing - Special Edition May 12, 2004 Last week in Indianapolis, four young women race-car drivers were evaluated over two days as part of Ford Racing's new initiative to identify a young...

This Week in Ford Racing - Special Edition
May 12, 2004

Last week in Indianapolis, four young women race-car drivers were evaluated over two days as part of Ford Racing's new initiative to identify a young female driver with the potential to develop into a race-winning NASCAR driver.

Although a number of qualified candidates were considered, Erin Crocker (Age 23; Buffalo, NY), Alison MacLeod (Age 14; Mississauga, Ontario, Canada), Michelle Theriault (Age 18; Atlanta, GA) and Lynsey Tilton (Age 17; San Diego, CA), were selected based on their racing accomplishments, background and recommendations from renowned USAC Midget team owner Bob East and female racing legend Lyn St. James, and subjected to a comprehensive program that evaluated their skills both on and off the track.

The first part of the evaluation included an on-track session at Anderson Speedway (Anderson, IN) in a Ford-powered midget car owned by East, who has discovered and developed several current NASCAR stars. East's son, Bobby, who currently leads the USAC National Midget Car standings, shook the car down before each session to establish a baseline around the quarter-mile circuit, and all four drivers spent time in the car being observed and receiving instructions and advice from East.

The second part of the evaluation took place at the National Institute of Fitness and Sport (NIFS), located on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, where the drivers were put through a physical and mental readiness assessment administered by Human Performance International designed to evaluate their physical and mental fitness. After undergoing a battery of physical tests that measured muscular strength and endurance, each candidate underwent a number of mental tests designed to evaluate their concentration, information processing and visual tracking skills.

As a third part of the test, the drivers also underwent a media training and evaluation session where they were introduced to some basic concepts and recommendations on how to best interact with the media.

DAN DAVIS , Director of Ford Racing Technology

DID YOU GET OUT OF THIS PROGRAM WHAT YOU HOPED?

"First off, it needs to be known that identifying a woman driver capable of competing and winning in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup will be an ongoing initiative for Ford. As far as last week's program goes, yes, I was extremely pleased with the results of the program. We offered four very talented drivers an opportunity to showcase their talents and abilities, and hopefully the experience and knowledge they gained from this will continue to benefit them in their racing careers.

"Now, as far as having found a driver for NEXTEL Cup, obviously it's way too early to say. I can say that all four drivers impressed us, and all would represent us well. However, this program is a long-term proposition and we are willing to be patient with not only the drivers, but in making the decision on how we proceed. We are in the process of reviewing the reports and assessments and speaking with those involved in the program prior to making a determination on our next steps. Again, one thing is for sure, based on what I saw and the feedback I've received thus far, all four of the women involved in the program are incredibly talented."

WAS THERE A CLEAR "WINNER?

"I was incredibly impressed by what I saw. If by winner, you mean one who clearly distanced themselves from the others, then no. but, that's really a testament to the breadth and depth of each of the drivers' abilities. All four were strong across the board, but excelled in different areas. This was a very comprehensive program when you consider not only the on-track test with Bob East, but also the HPI and media training aspects of the program. We designed the program to be a tough, so we expected the decision to be equally tough."

WILL YOU CONTINUE TO GO FORWARD WITH ONE OF THE DRIVERS FROM THIS GROUP?

"Yes, and there may be an opportunity for us to support more than one. but again, this is a long-term process. There are still years of competition, at various levels, that any of these drivers will need before they could make it to NEXTEL Cup."

WHEN IS THE NEXT DRIVER PROGRAM SCHEDULED?

"At this point we are solely focused on the drivers who participated in the program held last week and remain committed to developing and exploring their talents. We have several next steps of evaluation to complete before we decide what the next phase of the program looks like. It's important to remember that cultivating talent but not having a place for them in our program doesn't help anyone and we want to ensure there be opportunities available to them within the Ford racing program."

LYN ST. JAMES , founder of the Lyn St. James Foundation and Driver Development Program, and a driving force in generating opportunities for women in racing.

YOU HAVE AN EXISTING RELATIONSHIP WITH SOME OF THESE DRIVERS, BUT WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS AFTER SPENDING A COUPLE OF DAYS WITH THEM IN THIS ENVIRONMENT?

"Well, I think it confirms what I already knew, which was that we had outstanding candidates. Sometimes people think that out of that group of four, only one of them was going to be really, really, really good, and I think what we ended up with was what I call the cream of the crop. What's interesting is that I know there are others as well, but I think we really did find the cream. There was diversity in age among all of them -- not huge, but fairly broad -- and also diversity in their experience. They all had a lot of experience under their belts, which is interesting, but their backgrounds were different and their geographic location was different, yet they all seemed to unite very quickly. There was this sort of camaraderie that developed between the four of them instead of this inner competitiveness. They were competitive, but I think they were all just delighted to meet each other and it was great to see that dynamic, which is quite frankly something I experience when I do other women sports evaluations. It's often said that if you've got a bunch of guys together you probably wouldn't see that same dynamic, and I think it's neat. They were all supportive of each other."

COULD YOU SPEAK TO FORD'S INITIATIVE IN TRYING TO CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR WOMEN TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN RACING?

"I think that Ford has really stepped up and taken a true leadership position by providing an opportunity for women drivers to have factory support, equipment, personnel and other resources to go all the way to the top."

WERE YOU PLEASED WITH HOW COMPREHENSIVE THE EVALUATION PROCESS WAS?

"Yes, this wasn't just about watching the drivers turn some laps in a race car with a bunch of important people standing around with stopwatches to figure out who's the best. The on-track performance is certainly a key component as it should be, but I think Ford created a very objective and comprehensive approach to finding what skill strengths and weaknesses each individual driver possesses. In today's world of racing, drivers need to have the total package. Not only do they have to be fast on the track, but they also have to be smart, polished and have the mental and physical acumen for the sport.

"With the growth that motorsports has experienced over the last 15 or 20 years and knowing how difficult it is to forge a successful career as a race-car driver, how important is a platform such as this in helping women to get the right opportunity? "I think it's very important. This opportunity was extraordinary, not only for the four young women asked to participate, but also provides incentive and gives hope to all the women who are currently racing or who have aspirations of racing. I think the motorsports industry has come to the realization that they have to diversify their "stars" beyond white males if they are to reflect the whole of society and grow the sport. I think that as time goes on you'll start to see more efforts being made, like the one that Ford stepped up with, or at least I hope so, and I'm dedicated to making sure that these opportunities continue to exist."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR
Drivers Lyn St. James , Erin Crocker , Michelle Theriault , Alison MacLeod