CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Nov. 8, 1999) -- Sometimes you just have to go with gut instinct -- that gnawing feeling inside that tells you to keep going when others might call it quits. Several years removed from a racing career that saw Shawna ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Nov. 8, 1999) -- Sometimes you just have to go with gut instinct -- that gnawing feeling inside that tells you to keep going when others might call it quits.
Several years removed from a racing career that saw Shawna Robinson capture the 1994 NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division pole in Atlanta, the Iowa native is following her instincts, inching her way back to a full-time NASCAR ride.
"I've always felt that I was doing this for a reason," said Robinson, the first woman to win a NASCAR pole position. "If I felt I shouldn't be doing it, or that I shouldn't be here, I would quit. I think I am reaching people in different ways -- whether it is kids that have dreams or people who might be ready to give up on something. There still is a reason for me to be out here."
Robinson's return to racing might be coming at the perfect time. "The missing link in racing is females," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president of Speedway Motorsports and Lowe's Motor Speedway at Charlotte, N.C. "The most dramatic surge in ticket sales I have ever seen came the day Janet Guthrie qualified for a race. It brought the speedway to a halt. We sold every ticket we had. Taxi cabs were unloading people that had come to see history."
For Robinson, getting back on track has been a slow process. After finishing second in NASCAR Busch Series Rookie-of-the-Year points in 1992, Robinson completed a full Busch season in '93, finishing 23rd in points with earnings of $71,325. Her career off to a promising start, Robinson took an extended pit stop to start her family. Now a few laps down, she has started chasing down the leaders.
Robinson's peers from her Busch days are a virtual "Who's Who" in Winston Cup. Jeff Gordon, the Burton brothers and Joe Nemechek all went wheel-to-wheel with Robinson before she took time off to have Tanner (3) and Samantha (2).
"My route has to be different now," Robinson said. "I will have to go through the ARCA series or Truck series to get to (Winston) Cup. It's all about who you team with. Is it a Roush team? Is it a Yates team? Is it a Kranefuss team?"
Robinson's talent behind the wheel is not in question. In fact, with a pair of top-five finishes in three ARCA races this season, interest is escalating.
"I wouldn't suggest she work with us if I didn't think she could hack it as a driver," said NASCAR team owner Michael Kranefuss, who is working to put together a deal for Robinson. "If we find the money and she gets a regular deal to run 15-20 races, I think she can win."
Added Robinson: "To other drivers you are just a racer. There are always a few dumb comments, but when they race beside me, they are comfortable. They know I am not a squirrel on the track."
Although Robinson feels comfortable with her long hair tucked up into her helmet, she knows the "gender" card always comes into play. "Being a woman has always been a Catch 22 out here," Robinson said. "I haven't been able to get a ride in a car without bringing the money, but as a woman, obviously there are sponsors and products that I can be a better spokesperson for than a man."
Says Wheeler: "There is no doubt that a sponsor is buying the media coverage, and if Shawna can run in the top 10, she would have the largest sponsorship potential our sport has ever seen. Racing would end up on the cover of Time magazine. It would transcend the sport." Although immediate focus is on an ARCA or Craftsman Truck Series ride, Robinson's goals are set firmly in Winston Cup. Kranefuss feels the goals are achievable.
"Shawna is a very mature driver," said Kranefuss, who teams with motor sports power broker Roger Penske as owner of the No. 12 Ford Taurus of Winston Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield. "In a sport dominated by men, she has proven herself."
Robinson knows her time will come.
"It's going to happen," Robinson said. "There eventually will be a competitive female racer in Winston Cup."
Just on gut instinct, it will probably be Robinson.