February 11, 2010
By Doug Demmons
No female driver has ever won a race in one of NASCAR’s top three series or in the ARCA Series.
That could very well change this season -- the Year of Danica.
But here’s a contrarian prediction -- the first woman to break through to Victory Lane won’t be Danica Patrick.
It’ll be ARCA driver Alli Owens.
Owens is from Daytona Beach and is driving this year for one of ARCA’s top teams, Venturini Motorsports. Last year at Talladega she finished sixth and led four laps to much less fanfare than the sixth-place finish that Patrick earned at Daytona last Saturday.
She has gotten this far pretty much on the strength of her own grit and determination. Without a huge family fortune to bankroll her racing career she did something few other drivers have ever done -- she developed a sponsorship program and went out and sold it.
ElectrifyingCareers.com is her sponsor. It’s a project she pitched to the electrical workers union as a way of recruiting young people into careers as electricians.
Last year she drove for Eddie D’Hondt in a part-time schedule. This year she landed with Venturini. There’s no substitute for driving in top equipment and Owens demonstrated that last Saturday.
With about 10 laps to go she was in third place and looking to make a move on the leaders. She got squeezed off the bottom and fell back. Then she ran through some fluid when someone’s engine let go, spun out and ended up 23rd.
She did all this in the midst of the Danica Mania media frenzy at Daytona, something she admits she resented at first.
“When it came time for practice we jumped inside the top 10 quickly and maintained a good time all throughout the testing session,” owens wrote on her Facebook page. “The hype was still around the GoDaddy pits. It was about that time when I realized that it didn't matter how well we did, we will not be able to get the spotlight shed on our team, which my guys deserved. It made me think, there were five other women in the field, and we all are hanging on shoestrings to make it in this sport financially. Take me out of the picture and look at Leilani Munter. She has struggled for the past three years to get in a car and race competitively. She found a sponsor and got in a good piece of equipment and not once did she get acknowledged about it. It just bothers me that so many people asked us women what it is going to take for women to be successful in this sport and it's simple, let the rest of the world know that there are more women out there capable of being great drivers.”
Indeed. This Saturday in the Nationwide there will be another promising female driver in the race -- Chrissy Wallace, driving for Rick Ware Racing. But the spotlight will be on Danica.
But that’s not a bad thing for the rest of the female drivers trying to make it in stock cars. Danica is the center of attention right now but she is also greatly boosting TV ratings.
Last year when Owens drove at Daytona the audience on Speed TV was 1.3 million. This year it was 2.4 million, an 87 percent increase.
And Speed did spend time during the race talking about Owens -- although one announcer referred to her as “ol’ what’s her name” -- especially when she was running up front, as well as some of the other female drivers.
In the end, Danica Mania will likely rub off on Owens in a positive way. And Owens acknowledged that in her Facebook post.
“I noticed I had an anger being built up toward Danica and was totally frustrated about her being there,” she wrote. “I felt like I was racing in the DANICA 200 instead of the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200. We have struggled for 3 years to run a full season in ARCA and finally are with a good (team) and was a threat all week long and never once got good recognition for it. For a struggling driver it truly hurt my feelings.
“It wasn't until after the race and talking to Danica that I realized I liked her as a person and it was the media that I was unhappy with. The whole DANICA MANIA was influencing my opinion on her,” she wrote. “For that I truly apologize, but as for the media and everyone else, please realize that she is the same as the rest of us out there under a helmet and strapped into a car. I think her off track brand and image is speaking louder than her on track performance, but let it stay off track people. Open your eyes and realize for the majority of the ARCA race TWO women were proving a point. WE DESERVED TO BE HERE!”
Yes, they did.
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at Blog of Tommorow
Follow Doug on Twitter: @dougdemmons
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.