Shawna Robinson - No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge Intrepid R/T NOTE: Robinson, a 37-year-old Des Moines, Iowa, native who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., will attempt to compete in 24 NASCAR Winston Cup races this season in the BAM Racing Dodge Intrepid...
Shawna Robinson - No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge Intrepid R/T
NOTE: Robinson, a 37-year-old Des Moines, Iowa, native who now lives in Charlotte, N.C., will attempt to compete in 24 NASCAR Winston Cup races this season in the BAM Racing Dodge Intrepid R/T owned by Tony and Beth Ann Morgenthau of Coral Gables, Fla. Eddie Jones is team manager, Eddie Sharp is crew chief and Ernie Elliott will supply the engines.
"Last year I ran a Winston Cup race at Michigan. I ran ARCA here at Daytona and at Nashville. I left Nashville leading the ARCA points. We were going to continue running ARCA races and throw in six to eight Cup races and then just ended up doing the minimum Cup races. It was tough to go to one track every three months. That's not a fun situation to be in, but at the same time, it was the only opportunity I had and we were just trying to make the most of it. We made Michigan. We broke in California qualifying. That was a little heartbreaking because I did have a good lap going. Segment wise it was going to be a good lap. We learned a lot at Michigan, that was the big thing there. We got some seat time and learned gear wise where we should have been and what changes we would make going back. It kind of went downhill from there. It was tough.
"I have a really good outlook on this season because we're building new equipment right off the bat. We've got two new Daytona cars, a new Atlanta car, and we bought a car for Vegas from an existing Dodge team. It's a good car. It's the best effort I've ever had put toward me, and that's what I think I've always been lacking -- consistency in the seat. You've got to have that. We chose the 24 races because of the intermediate and speedway tracks and the fact we can utilize cars and build cars. From September on, we're running everything. We feel we need to take those steps to get ready and be good by September so we can run everything and then get to 2003 with a full season.
"We're running Ernie Elliott motors, and that's the biggest reason we chose to run Dodges. I think any time, especially if you're an independent team, you're going to put a Cup team together, you know what your odds are. You're up against Evernham who's got three teams and Robert Yates and Jack Roush and all those multiple teams. To come in as an independent single team with no manufacturer backing, it's tough to do. It's an odd situation, but the owners are committed to getting the program put together right up front. The way I look at it, don't be concerned about sponsors for the first three races. Let's go and make these three races and show we're consistent and legitimate. Then it'll come. To me, you've got to perform. It's hard for me to go out and sell the sponsor aspect of it. There's a lot of good reasons, but let's perform on the race track and get that part of it done. Last year didn't help me any on that. Not making races didn't help me. It was a situation I should have never put myself in, trying to make six events and not doing anything in between that. If I was running races and then trying to make Cup races, that would have been different because you're racing. I don't care what you're driving. Being in something gives you confidence, it keeps you at the top of your game. Not being in something, then that puts pressure on you to perform (when you do get a ride) because what you're in is going to take you to the next thing. At least in this situation, I'm running 24 races, testing 12 times.
"They're putting me in the rookie category, but being a rookie against Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson.... If I was running the whole season, then I could say we're all rookies and anything can happen. I've only raced one Winston Cup race. I ran Busch and ARCA and Dash. I've been around for a long time, but I haven't been at this level, especially consistently. A lot of people question why are you doing this? Why don't you go Busch, especially now when there are no Busch teams out there?
"First of all the owners, Beth Ann Morgenthau, that's where the BAM comes from, and her husband Tony are very professional business people. They own a lot of companies. Her father invented a piece of medical screening equipment that helps detect AIDS and cancer. He had a patent on that. When he passed on, basically the patent was sold and the money was split when she was young. She invested and was a very smart, professional woman. They're originally from Baltimore, but they live in Coral Gables now. She's a racing enthusiast. They dabbled in ARCA last year. They had a Cup car but didn't have a lot of success with it. They just kind of went here and there and didn't focus on it. They wanted to own a Cup team.
"I ran for them in Vegas (Winston West race). I didn't know who they were, really didn't know anything about it. I just saw it as an opportunity to run Vegas, which is a track I hadn't run. We qualified fifth and were running third and ended up breaking. They liked what they saw and how I drove. They had followed me in the ARCA series.
"I'll drive anything. As a driver, you can't get enough seat time. I grew up in the Midwest around sprint cars and stock cars and around USAC and dirt tracks and asphalt tracks. The reason I raced trucks (8,000-pound, 18 wheelers) and kept racing trucks from '83 to '88 was because there wasn't another series out there where you could go run speeds of 150 or 160 mph one weekend and go to a dirt track the next. They were cool. I was 18.
"A.J. Foyt got in one of 'em at Indy at the fairgrounds, and he could drive anything. He really thought they were cool. They were twin turbo-charged and they were fast. We were sideways on dirt tracks in corners, and I learned a lot there, mainly because of going from dirt to asphalt and from speedways to short tracks. When I was racing with my dad, he promoted short tracks. We were doing like the sprint car schedule. Everywhere they went, we were in the same area. That's how I started. In '84, I got with the Great American Truck Racing Series and they ran at Pocono, Atlanta and all kind of tracks. I went into the Dash cars in '88. I finished third in a stock car in my very first time here at Daytona. I won in my sixth race and finished third in points. I did the Dash Series two years. The plan was to go Busch. I got real impatient and went the Busch route, with a limited schedule here and
there. Polaroid sponsored me in '93 and '94, and in '95 I was with a team that went bankrupt three races into the year. It was one of those dreaded deals that you get yourself into.
"I took some time off to evaluate. I was making decisions because I wanted it so bad, not because they were smart. I was putting myself in equipment that wasn't making me look good. There's a time you need to be at the race track because you need to be there. You get in whatever you can get in just to be there and hopefully that will get you to a better ride. You can do that for so long, but you need to be getting into better stuff. If you keep doing it, it's only making you look so good and eventually you'll be tagged. I felt I wasn't making good decisions. I wasn't even leveling. I took time off and evaluated. I had a family, two children and came back in '99.
"When I started talking to people about getting back in the race car again, I decided I wasn't going to get in anything that wasn't capable or competitive or proven. I drove for James Finch. Any time he brings a car to the track, it's fast. He doesn't bring bad equipment anywhere. I drove ARCA for him here at Daytona in '99 and we finished second under caution. That led me to Michael Kranefuss, and I ran ARCA for him full time in 2000. Last year I did the Cup attempt and now here I am, a whole new deal.
"I think I've been around enough that people know me, and it's not like a new thing having a female driving a car. As far as racing these guys, you've just got to race with them. They're going to treat me like any rookie, and they're probably not going to choose to go with me, especially at a place like this. We need to put ourselves in a situation where we have a good enough car that you don't base it on.... When I ran ARCA, every time we went to a fast track, we were strong. We were probably one of the strongest cars. They didn't treat me like a girl driver. They treated me as a car you need to go with. As far as experience, in the ARCA series, I was considered a veteran . I had more experience on the speedways than most of the drivers out there.
"We always did well at Daytona. I love tracks like this. It's going to be more of a 'let's put ourselves in a situation and you're in line and you've got to go.' I don't think somebody is going to be in line and see me and think they've got to move, unless I do something stupid. They've seen me race. They know I know how to race. At this level, there is so much more professionalism here. Believe me, I've been in situations where I have been literally taken out because the guy was mad I had a name on the side of my car and he didn't. He'd think because I'm a woman that was the only reason I had a name on the side of my car. It's true. Some drivers do that. They get so angry because they think things are handed to you.
"There's no question my career has taken back steps because I haven't had sponsorships or manufacturer backing or a Jack Roush or a Robert Yates or Rick Hendrick that's going to come up and say 'we're going to put you in a car.'
"I'd love to be Casey Kahne. Robert Yates is putting a Busch car together to run, and he's working through the steps. Those opportunities weren't there for me. My timing wasn't right. I think that now I'm where I need to be, and I think the timing is better. I think it's better with NASCAR. I think it's there for the fans. I think when I prove that we can perform or we can be consistent... It's going to be hard to perform to a certain level when you're competing with who you're competing with.
"I'll tell you right now, I can get in any fast car out here testing and run the same speeds, any driver out there could. You're flat-footed. They could run a lot faster if you didn't have the plates on or if you didn't make these rule changes or if the spoilers weren't the size they are. When you're out there racing or drafting, that's another story, but when you're out there running a lap, there's no question. If I'm in any of those fast cars, I'm going to run those speeds.
"In my situation, I can bring in to this sport a lot of people who might not (otherwise) stop their TV channel. I can cover areas in the women's magazines and different publications, different television for whatever reasons. Whether it's for the health reasons, female, whatever. I'm more apt to be on Oprah or Good Morning America or Today or Rosie O'Donnell than other drivers are.
"I talk a lot. When I was 18 and graduated high school, I took the summer to decide what I was going to do. My dad raced from the time I was born and then he started promoting. When I went with him to help promote, that's kind of when it all started. He was a good promoter, and he told me I needed to market myself. Basically what I learned, we had budgets for each event we put on. A minimum of two weeks prior to a race, usually a month prior to a race, I would go to the city where we were going to race and get the phone book out and hit the three TV stations and the main newspaper and pick two or three radio stations and buy advertising time. We had tapes with 30-second spots that we would advertise. I'd set up my time, buy my advertising and say at that point, 'could you introduce me to your sports director?'
"Then I would go to the sports department, and 'oh by the way.' You're there in your business suit and you're selling your commercials and then you say, 'oh, by the way. I drive.' You hand them a little media kit, and this was back in the 80s. Obviously the media kit I had wasn't like they are today, but that's how I did it. I knocked on doors. That's what my dad taught me. Nobody is going to come knock on yours. You have to let people know you're out there.
"Every little town we'd go to, we'd always try to have three interviews on the news before the races. We'd have 30-second spots running and that's just how we did it. We went everywhere, from Texas to Phoenix to Florida, everywhere. We ran all the little tracks around Florida.
"The biggest thing is getting with a consistent program. Take Ryan Newman or Dale Jr. The Busch team moved into Cup, and it's consistent. He's with the same people and same situation. When they put Ryan Newman's team together, they learned and grew together. Now, there's no question he'll be powerful this year. That's what it takes. I have two guys on this team that I brought over and this is our third year. We ran ARCA in 2000 and did a little bit last year. It's the first time I've ever had the same people on my team.
"You're never satisfied. You look at your notes and stuff, and we're about 30th here at this test if you look at all the time sheets, but you can never really tell. You don't know who's doing what, but we're not disappointed.
"Considering we're a month behind and we've got one speedway car ready and we've got the other one back at the shop getting ready. When we go to Talladega to test at the end of the month, we'll have both cars. We'll determine at that point the primary car to bring back here. That will be a really critical test for us. This one is for rhythm. Let's see how everybody works together. We have no wind tunnel time, and that's critical. How do you compete against all these teams that have been to the wind tunnel numerous times?
"The only thing I say, this is kind of like a grass roots deal. I've got a lot of hardcore racers on this team. A lot of them have had opportunities to go to DEI or Penske. We need them, and we hope they don't leave. It's not about going to a big name team for some of these guys. It's more that they want to see some results. They're supporting me, and that's huge. They have to believe in me to be here. There were engine programs we went in to talk to people, and they didn't want to do it because they didn't think I'd make races. Yates wanted to do something. They've always been supportive, but looking at everything, when Ernie Elliott said, 'I'll do something' and made a commitment to run a minimum amount of races and then probably more on top of that, there was no question.
"I'm really glad we did that. I don't care what car you put me in out there, I'm going to go fast. I know how to drive on these kind of tracks. In this situation, it is critical that I make the Daytona 500. It is critical. There's no better car or engine program to be in. That's why we chose Dodge.
"Right now, I'm in the C group of drivers. I'm a rookie. I have no experience. I'm not the same kind of rookie that Jimmie Johnson is. He comes here and has the fastest car in testing. It's like Kevin Harvick getting with an established team. Newman is a little different. They brought him up through the ranks. I'm a C driver no question. I think realistically, I can be a consistent B driver by the end of the year. That's where I want to be. Based on the resources that I have, that's going to determine if I'll ever be an A driver. You can't do it without having good resources. I'm not going to be that difficult to train. I know how to do it, but I have to be given the opportunities, and I have to learn. I have to get more seat time and learn these tracks."