Deborah Renshaw: Wide Open for NASCAR Checkered Flag
Deborah Renshaw has the distinction of being one of the few women to have competed in any of NASCAR's top series. Since her full-time ride in the Craftsman Truck Series ended in 2005, Renshaw has showcasing her talents in the NASCAR All American Whelen series, UARA Late Model Traveling Series and the ARCA Re/Max Series in hopes of securing a new opportunity and major sponsorship back in the Craftsman Truck or Busch Series.
Renshaw, a Kentucky native, nurtured her love of auto racing as a child competing in area tracks in Tennessee and Kentucky; where her father was a team owner. She received a Bachelor's Degree in Business from Northwood University in 1997 but instead of entering the corporate world, Renshaw headed back to the racetrack.
In 1999 and 2000, she competed in the Late Model Stock Car Division, but she really started to get noticed when in 2001 she joined the ranks of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series.
Renshaw took her considerable driving talents to the ARCA/ReMax leagues in 2002 and 2003, before joining the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2004. There, she became the first woman to ever lead a lap in the Truck Series, at the Darlington event in the same year.
Despite having at one time wanting to flee to New York City to perform on Broadway, during Renshaw's career in the Truck Series she garnered the side-note of being the highest ranked female driver in NASCAR history.
Talk a little bit about where you are in your auto racing career right now?
Currently, I am running a limited schedule in the NASCAR All American Whelen Series at Music City Motorplex with a second place finish being the highest ever made by a female. Actually, it is my second time finishing second since 2001. I made a comeback this season by returning to the motorplex after a five year absence while running other major traveling series.
We are currently going to experiment in three series for the remainder of the 2007 season; NASCAR All American Whelen series, UARA Late Model Traveling Series and the ARCA Re/Max Series. Also, we are striving very hard to obtain sponsorship to run with a competitive team in 2008 for a championship.
Happy? YES . Satisfied? NO!!
I think that you see SO many other women in motorsports excelling to their fullest potential; NHRA, Open Wheel Series to name a few. But in the NASCAR world there is not much at all going on to help develop a female driver. Yes, they have the diversity program going on right now, but it stops at the local levels for the females and they NEVER progress on.
Take Allison Duncan for example: She won two races while being a part of the program. However, where is she now? I have NO IDEA!! I know she is not racing. Get the point? I was part of the female driver search back in 2002 that was put on by Dodge Motorsports. They started with several potential, talented women and narrowed it down to three or four. Well, I was one of those three or four ladies and to be frank I was told by the main test team and engineers that I was chosen to represent the females in a Dodge. Next thing we all know, Dodge pulled the plug on the plan financially and they are putting all their resources behind a driver by the name of Bill Lester.
Funny how things turn out.
I had several questions: Why all the work in determining female talent and then pull the plug? Why not concentrate on putting a successful program together with the right resources? Because all of us know that money buys speed and if the package is not right, then the driver cannot and will not be successful in winning races. That is the point that we have to hit home.
A female driver will NEVER make it unless she gets an RCR, Jack Roush OR DEI behind them. I am leaving out Ray Evernham for obvious reasons. That is what I feel like will make me happy, is to speak loudly for everyone at NASCAR to hear.
DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR DIVERSITY PROGRAM FOR WOMEN!
Gather up some of your series sponsors and place a talented female behind the wheel with an experienced team in one of the top 3 levels of NASCAR. They do it ALL the time with the young guy drivers, why not a women? I truly feel that when this happens, they will have their version of Danica in NASCAR. But until they start to help financially to open doors with competitive teams, a successful female driver will not exist, period In NASCAR, it's going to have to start at the top. Maybe it's not as much NASCAR's fault as it is the other competitive teams. They all seem to have their developmental teams, however not one has a plan to put a female in a Truck, Busch car or Cup.
It's a hard sport for any driver, male or female!! Period end of story. I'm a race car driver who just happens to be female. I don't feel it is any harder on my fitness level than a male competitor. Yes, we have to stay on top of our fitness level to make sure our endurance is there but so does a male competitor. Support from other drivers? Hmmmm that's an interesting question. Off the track, I am treated just like another competitor and then there is the random comments of harassment of being a female in the garage area but that's with any woman who excels in anything she does, whether it be racing or being a top executive with a huge company. I think at some point every SUCCESSFUL woman deals with that. But, you have to be the one to stop it and let it be known it's not acceptable. On the track, it's a different story. I think it's all in who you are racing side by side with. Some you can and some you can't. I know for a fact that when I was racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, that there were several occasions when someone else's spotter told them: "don't let that girl pass you!", "I can't believe you're letting her pass you". Now, when they hear comments like that what do you think they do? They race us harder OR over their heads and they end up wrecking themselves or both of us. Now, I am not crying wolf about not getting the job done because of being female, I am just saying there are situations that come up on the track that are different because of being a female. Now, there are other competitors that are completely fine with the fact of MAY THE BEST DRIVER WIN!! But some still feel we don't belong in NASCAR!! Hopefully it will soon change!
What made you decide to become a race car driver?
My dad owned a local race team that competed in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series. I would spend weekends when I was young at the track, writing lap times down, running errands, taking tire pressures, or whatever it took to be a part of the team. I always expressed interest to get behind the wheel of a race car, however it took a lot of convincing and hard work to finally get to drive. But after the first time behind the wheel of a Legends car I was hooked and could not wait to get into a late model stock car.
Do you have any plans to go Truck, Busch or Cup racing?
I would LOVE to have the opportunity to go all the way to the top of NASCAR!! It takes so many of the pieces of the puzzle to fall exactly into place. We are currently working on a schedule for the 2008 season.
If you weren't racing, what would you be doing?
I am in the family automobile business with my dad. He has worked his tail off to create a successful operation and I am involved as much as possible. When I am not racing, I am at the dealership!
In addition to her racing commitments, Renshaw heads up the AskPatty.com expert panel. She is married to NASCAR crew chief Shawn Parker.
by Linda Przygodski
Women in Motorsports