Al Heisley contacted me back in mid-September and asked if I would be willing to put together a couple of thoughts about being a female crew member in a male-dominated sport. I agreed but struggled with what to put down. First, because I’m not a very good writer, and secondly, because I wasn’t sure how to approach the subject.
I can sum up everything in one statement – I just want to race. I don’t know why I love nitro drag racing so much or why I’m compelled to spend all my free time pursuing something that doesn’t make sense or enhance my personal finances. I gave up a long time ago trying to understand why because it doesn’t matter. What I do know is; I love the challenge of the work, being pushed to see what I’m made of and the camaraderie that comes with being a part of a team.
Like many others, I grew up in the sport. My dad was part of a fuel team back in the 1960-70’s and I would tag along with him to shop nights and races. I was always fascinated with the car and how it worked – I never grew tired of being around it and fortunately, was given little tasks to do. My dad didn’t treat me differently because I was a girl; he recognized that I loved it and encouraged me to learn as much as I could. There were many girls that were involved back then, but most of us grew up and grew away from anything “hands-on” as far as the car was involved.
My father quit racing in the late 70’s and I had a teenage falling out with him. Then one day in March 2004, my dad passed suddenly. I regretted not making the situation right with him before he died and about a year later found myself at a nostalgia event at Sacramento Raceway hoping to recapture that lost connection with him in some way. The flood of emotions was overwhelming, and I realized that racing was as much a part of me as breathing air.
Through a series of interesting coincidences, I found myself back in the sport, helping here and there and finally as a full team member on a funny car (sorry, Dad). The more I did, the more I wanted to do, and I was blessed with people who recognized this and gave me more to learn and do. I think the key is remaining teachable and willingly accepting criticism with a desire to do better next time.
I don’t think there’s anything on the car I can’t do, but there are things on the car that I’m not suited for because of my size, age, and physical ability. I’m sure there are some women that can handle pulling heads, but I’m not one of them. I’m ok with this and know that everything on the car isn’t about physical strength. Most of racing is mental – you need to be thinking ahead and prepared for what MIGHT come up. I run entire races in my head, even before we reach the track.
Am I treated differently than some of the guys on my team? Yes and no. The guys get more direct with each other than they do with me, but they don’t mince words with me either. I am expected to do my job correctly just like everyone else and I probably work a little harder than I need to because I want to push myself to be good. As a result, I feel I have the earned the spot on my team and have the respect of my teammates.
I’ve had the opportunity to work on some world class teams and had the honor of standing in the winner’s circle for the 2014 Championship with Horan Racing. Right now, I’m in my second season with the Shakedown nitro funny car; owned and driven by Bill Windham. I couldn’t have a better crew chief in Glenn Hutchison, who continues to give me opportunities to learn and grow on the car. This is a quality team of good people, who are supported by understanding wives/girlfriends, who I respect and adore.
It’s been my experience that more people have wanted to help me learn about racing than people who don’t, and I receive far more positive comments than negative. I love when there’s a young lady who comes by the pit and tells me she didn’t know girls could work on racecars. More young girls should be encouraged to learn about and work on a racecar if that’s what they want to do. The next great crew chief could be among us in pigtails and pink painted nails. I was blessed by having a father who always encouraged me to pursue this passion I don’t fully understand; even though we didn’t always see eye to eye. I love nitro drag racing and will continue to do this as long as the good Lord sees fit to allow me to do so because – I just want to race.