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Female Drivers

Leilani Münter
More and more women are joining the ranks of racing but it hasn't been fast nor easy for any one of them. Females have had to work extremely hard to crossover from fan to female racer and owe a lot those who went before them like Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney and Lyn St. James, among others. While Danica Patrick is every racing fan's favorite femme fatale at the moment, we're fairly certain she won't be the only lady in pit row for long. There is, however, a slim chance that she might be the first female to win a NASCAR race.

It seemed as if Leilani Münter's future was destined from the start. Her middle name, in greek spelled "Maia" in greek mythology is the mother of the god of speed. She always had a lead foot, during her first year of having my drivers license she almost lost it do to (you guessed it) "an excessive number of speeding tickets." But she was hook line and sinker when, while studying for her degree in biology, a friend took her to an amateur car club race and she ended up racing and winning her first race that day. But being a starving college student, she had no money to race cars. When she graduated and landed a job as actress Catherine Zeta-Jones' double, she started doing precision driving and trading in her paychecks for laps at the racetrack. The rest, as they say, is history...

She started racing stock cars in the Allison Legacy Series where she fought for the lead for several laps in her first heat race. She spun attempting to make a pass for the lead and finished fourth. Qualified and finished seventh in main event. She relocated to North Carolina, worked at a racing school, tested late models. Studied race car set up, geometry, and aerodynamics with Larry McReynolds (former Winston Cup crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Sr.).

Leilani signed a multi-year driver development contract with Team Bristol Motorsports, home of the 54 Busch Series race team. After an impressive test where Leilani turned lap times just 2/10 of a second off the pole position, Leilani debuted in the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series with a 9th place finish in the Coor's Light 150 at South Boston Speedway. In the final laps of this 150 lap race, Leilani was turning the same lap times as the leader. Two weeks later, Team Bristol Motorsports encountered financial difficulties that forced the team to retire from competition.

In her first super late model race and her first race at Texas Motor Speedway, Leilani was 6th fastest of 26 race cars in practice. Leilani set the record for the highest qualifying effort for a female driver in the history of the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway when she qualified 4th for the First Convenience Bank 100 on June 12, 2004. She started 4th and finished 7th on the lead lap and closing in the ROMCO Super Late Model Series.

Münter began working as an instructor for Andy Hillenburg's Fast Track High Performance Driving School, giving rides and instructing at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Nashville SuperSpeedway, Kentucky Speedway, and Atlanta Motor Speedway. She set the record for the highest finishing position for a female driver in the history of the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway when she finished 4th. Also became the first woman to qualify in the 45 year history of the Bettenhausen Classic. Raced against NASCAR Nextel Cup Champions Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth posting a time that was only 3/10 of a second off of Stewart’s quickest time.

In the SMART Papers Dallara after an impressive performance during her rookie test for the Indy Pro Series, she signed with Championship Indy Pro team Sam Schmidt Motorsports to run Kentucky Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway. Leilani became the fourth woman in history to compete in the Indy Pro Series in 2007. She qualified 5th for her debut at Kentucky Speedway on Aug 11, 2007. She had trouble on a restart and dropped back to 13th but surprised and impressed many by racing her way back up to the front of the field. She was about to pass for 4th place when she was collected in a multi-car accident.

Leilani Münter will be driving the #59 NextEra Energy Resources Dodge for Mark Gibson Racing (MGR) in the three day ARCA Series open test at Daytona International Speedway. Leilani hopes to expand her partnership with MGR to include at least 10 ARCA races in the 2010 racing season starting with the season opener.

This will be Leilani's third trip to the ARCA Series open test at Daytona, the most storied track in NASCAR. Her first laps at Daytona came in 2006 driving for Andy Hillenburg. In just two runs, her top speed of 177.644 mph was 24th quick of 59 race cars in testing in the Saturday afternoon session. She returned in 2008 to drive for racing legend James Hylton and turned a lap quick enough to put her 16th on the starting grid of the ARCA Daytona race but due to lack of sponsorship, she was unable to participate in the race.

In addition to Daytona, the other events MGR and Leilani are looking to enter include Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Pocono Raceway, Michigan Int'l Speedway, Iowa Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway and the finale at Rockingham Speedway. All these races will have live or same day coverage on SPEED. Leilani and Mark Gibson Racing are excited to announce a unique opportunity for companies to get involved as sponsors for these races without spending a single marketing dollar.

Even before she could drive, Candace Muzny knew she wanted to race cars. She figures she was 3 weeks old when she attended her first race at Oklahoma City's State Fair Speedway. Her mom, Vanita, believes she was more like 4 years old. In any case, Muzny was at the races almost every Friday night, watching the cars circle the oval track and wishing she were out there.

She never did get to race at State Fair Speedway, which completed it 55th season of racing last summer and canceled the 2010 season. But last season, Muzny had a dozen top-15 finishes at Hickory Motor Speedway in Newton, N.C. And she will compete in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown on Saturday in Irwindale, Calif. The Grand National and Elite division races will air live at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday on the Speed channel.

Muzny, a twentysomething who doesn't like to broadcast her age, hopes to qualify in the Camping World Series division. "I'm renting a ride from a guy, because I can't afford one of those cars," said Muzny, who will drive the No. 62 car in the 225-lap event. "I'm hoping to do really well so I can get some recognition and run that full time. I'm ready for Craftsman (NASCAR division) right now. I just don't have $2 million. But even if I did something bigger, I'd still race late-model stock cars in between. It's short-track racing, which I love."

Another thing the Bishop McGuinness graduate loves about short-track racing is that she can get behind the wheel almost every weekend. She owns two Chevy Monte Carlos she races in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. One is just a bare frame right now, as she and her team are rebuilding it in preparation for the racing season that runs March through November in North Carolina. "I'm pretty hands-on with everything, because you've got to be familiar with what you're driving so you know how to make changes on it," said Muzny, who used to do brake jobs and oil changes while working for her dad, Al, at his Texaco station in Oklahoma City. "I'm no expert, though, and that's why I have people around me who really know what they're doing. And I learn from them so I can become a better racer."

Muzny's best race was a runner-up finish in August at Hickory Motor Speedway. "The track is worn out and has no grip," Muzny said. "So, you are racing sideways most of the time, which is fun." Muzny's most memorable race so far is the 2009 Fall Brawl in October at Hickory. Her parents were on hand to see her turn an 18th-place start into a fourth-place finish. If not for a collision that sent her to the back of the pack, Muzny believes she would have won.

Her slogan heading into this season is, "We're going to win in 2010." She plans to race her No. 92 car almost every weekend. Muzny has taken all the pink off her car because she wants to be known as a racer and not a girl racer. "And, hopefully, we'll get enough funding to do something bigger than late models. But if not, at least I'll get to race every week, and I'm happy with that. I do miss Oklahoma, but there's no racetrack back there. Out here, we have 22 racetracks within 200 miles. This is the place to be."

Thanks to sponsors, Candace Muzny is able to pursue her passion for racing. Her first race was the Mechanix Wear Speed Truck Challenge in November 2002 in Las Vegas. She started 32nd and finished 14th. Since 2005, she has posted 94 starts, seven top-five finishes, 55 top-10 finishes and 92 top-20 finishes. "You win enough to pay for tires and passes," Muzny said. "It's like Hollywood - you're a starving race-car driver until you make it."

One of her sponsors is Oklahoma City's Arrow Wrecker Service, which is owned and operated by her family. Other sponsors include West Coast Choppers, Alliance Metals, Cal West Personnel, Currie Enterprises, DGGR Packaging & Crating, ESAB, Ed Hardy, Hamke Race Cars, Manale Landscaping, O.C. Driveline, Simpson Race Products, S.W. Smith & Sons and Wheat Communications. "Sponsorships help pay bills," Muzny said.

From Louise Smith to Janet Guthrie, female drivers have played roles in the development of stock car racing. In 1946, three years before he started NASCAR, Bill France Sr. needed a novelty driver to promote a race at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina. He chose a woman. Louise Smith had never been to the racetrack or driven a race car, but her credentials were highly regarded in the Greenville community. She was rumored to have "outrun every lawman and highway patrol" in the area. They labeled her "crazy."

Smith's fearless and aggressive style of driving earned her a Third-Place finish that day in 1946. Although Smith was only chosen as a publicity stunt for one race, she made a name for herself in the racing world by recording 38 minor-league victories over an 11-year span. Along with those wins came broken bones and one horrendous crash that left her with 48 stitches and four pins in her knee. In 1999, Smith was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

It was a trait that served Janet Guthrie well during her career, as she moved into areas women had never been. Guthrie became the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. She holds the title of being the only woman to lead a Cup race, and her Sixth-Place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1977 remains a record for a female driver in NASCAR. In addition to her accomplishments in NASCAR, she also achieved many "firsts" in the IRL series.

Two years after her last competition in 1988, Guthrie said, "The thing women don't have that men do have is money. Without money, the best race driver in the world is nothing." The exceptional aspect about the sport of racing is, once a driver gets a ride, it's a playing field in which both male and female drivers can compete equally. Every car begins at the start/finish line, makes the same turns, and follows the same rules, but peer approval and corporate sponsorship are hurdles that female drivers have had to overcome in the past.

She blazed the trail for women in big-league racing, but she certainly didn't fight her way into the male-dominated sport for the sake of the women's movement. When the world first heard of Janet Guthrie, she was already an experienced racer with a desperate need to advance. "I was a racer right through to my bone marrow," says Guthrie, who is being inducted April 27 into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (IMHOF) in Talladega. "I was a racing driver who happened to be a woman. I knew that didn't make any difference, [but] nobody else seemed to at the time."

Guthrie's big break-an invitation to make a qualification attempt for the 1976 Indianapolis 500-came in late 1975, after she'd already competed in 120 sports car races over 13 years. The quiet young lady with a wide smile, a former aerospace engineer with a degree in physics, was a good driver; she had won her class twice in the 12 Hours of Sebring, but she was also dead broke. "I had no house, no jewelry, no insurance, no husband, no savings. I was in debt," she says. "I had one used-up race car, and I was saying to myself, You really must come to your senses and make some provisions for your old age."

Then the phone rang. It was Indy team owner Rolla Vollstedt, whom Guthrie had never heard of. He asked her if she'd like to take a shot at the Indianapolis 500. "All that followed was due to Rolla Vollstedt," Guthrie says. Guthrie drove in her first IndyCar race at Trenton in early May 1976. Then it was on to Indianapolis, where most of the drivers and crews, and some spectators, chose not to welcome with open arms this single, 5-foot, 9-inch, 135-pound female driver.

Vollstedt's car had not made the field at Indy in 1975, even with experienced open-wheel driver Tom Bigelow behind the wheel. Guthrie also could not make it go fast enough to qualify in 1976. But another opportunity had presented itself. Guthrie had received an offer to try to qualify for the World 600 NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "The day after the last day of qualifying at Indianapolis, I was on my way to Charlotte, where it was just like Indianapolis all over again," she says. "People said, 'She'll never make the field.'"

But she did make it, qualifying right behind Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott. Then some folks said Guthrie would be worn out after 40 laps in a stock car with no power steering, and she'd have to pull in. They were wrong. They didn't know this soft-spoken, modest woman who liked classical music and ballet was also very, very determined. "I finished Fifteenth," Guthrie says. She had become the first woman to qualify for and compete in a NASCAR race during the sport's modern era.

Guthrie drove in some more NASCAR and IndyCar races in 1976. The next year, she became the first woman to qualify for and race in the Daytona 500. In May 1977, Guthrie and her crew overcame one frustrating problem after another to put a prototype car in the field at Indianapolis, making her the first female driver to qualify and race there. In all, Guthrie competed in three Indianapolis 500s - her best finish was Ninth in 1978 - and 33 NASCAR races between 1976 and 1980. Guthrie's top NASCAR finish was Sixth at Bristol in 1977, where, according to Greg Fielden's book, Forty Years Of Stock Car Racing, she was relieved by driver John A. Utsman. Using a relief driver at Bristol was common in those days, however.

Patty Moise's racing career spanned fifteen years. The daughter of a stock car racer, Moise later married fellow racer Elton Sawyer in 1990. During her career she faced three major challenges. First, Moise had to prove that a woman could succeed in a sport dominated by men. Second, she had to prove herself on the track, not as a woman, but as a driver. Third, Moise had to convince sponsors to fund her racing career. On the first two counts, Moise came through with flying colors, but securing adequate and ongoing sponsorship was her nemesis that ultimately forced her into early retirement.

Patty Moise was born in 1961 in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father, Milton, was a veteran stock car driver and avid racing fan. Moise followed in his footsteps. Although she was never big on sports, she loved speed and accumulated so many tickets and accidents as a teenager that the family's automobile insurance was revoked. Moise attended Jacksonville University, earning a degree in business, but her heart was always in racing. "I'm an adrenaline junkie," she explained to Cosmopolitan. "I like to do things that involve danger."

Moise began racing in 1981, under the guidance of her father. She started out driving road races the first five years of her career. In 1986 Moise switched to oval tracks. Because she was unable to secure adequate sponsorship, during her first three NASCAR seasons she was only able to race part-time. In 1987 she became the first woman to ever lead a Busch event (Road Atlanta), and in 1988 she became the first woman to win a Busch qualifying race (Talladega).

Moise got a break in 1990 when Mike Laughlin, a Simpsonville car builder and team owner, took her on as a full-time driver for the entire season. In the same year she married fellow driver, Elton Sawyer, whom she had met at an auto show. Also in 1990 Moise turned in a NASCAR record fastest lap on Talladega's 2.66-mile track. She shattered the old record by nearly five miles per hour, making the trip around clocked at 217.498 miles per hour. Because Moise completed the lap on a closed course, the previous record of 212.809 miles per hour set by Bill Elliott in 1987 during a qualifying lap remains the official NASCAR record.

NASCAR racing is a fickle business in which finding and retaining sponsorship is the key to success. When Moise failed to make enough good starts in 1990, the following year she returned to part-time racing. From 1991 to 1993 she lined up for a total of only twenty races. In 1994 both Moise and Sawyers secured sponsorship on the Busch Grand National level, a step below the Winston Cup. During the year they often raced against one another, drawing attention from the press. "I think it's great for us to be able to work together," Moise admitted to a NASCAR representative. "As for racing on the track with Elton, this sport takes such a high level of concentration that you really don't have time to think of other drivers, including my husband. But deep down inside I can tell you that passing Elton for a win would make for some interesting conversations during the ride home from the race." In 1995 Moise completed the best finish by a woman to date, running seventh at Talladega.

In 1996 Sawyer made it briefly into the Winston Cup circuit, driving the David Blair Motorsports Ford, and Moise was racing in the Busch Grand National with a Dial-Purex Ford that she and Sawyer had purchased together. On the racing circuit the pressure to perform, to provide value to sponsors' funding venture, is constant. "You can't compete at this level without the sponsors," Moise told USA Today. "And once you get a sponsor, you are an advertising mechanism-you are working for someone else, and you feel the pressure to do well." Again losing sponsoring after the 1996 season, Moise only started one race in 1997, working with limited sponsorship from Pure Silk, whose parent company also sponsored Sawyer under its Barbasol label. On May 31, 1997, Moise completed five laps at Busch Grand National Series race at Dover Downs International Speedway in Dover, Delaware, before crashing and subsequently finished last. She tried but failed to make the field for the Watkins Glen road race.

Moise's future brightened at the end of her dismal 1997 season when she secured a commitment to drive for Michael Waltrip and his wife Buffy. Her car was sponsored by Rhodes Furniture, with associate sponsorships coming from the companies that provide Rhodes' product lines, including Simmons, Kroehler Company, Berkline, La-Z-Boy, Kincaid Furniture, and Sealy. Moise sold herself to Rhodes by pointing out that forty percent of racing fans are women, who in turn make most household decisions. "We all felt that giving a woman the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with adequate funding to support a first-rate team was the right thing to do," George A. Buck, executive vice president of Rhodes told the Associated Press. "Of course," he added, "we also believe it would be good for business."

Moise raced on the Busch Grand National circuit full-time during 1998, but once again funding dried up at the season's end. This led the forty-year-old to decide to retire and focus on her husband's racing future. "Moise should still be racing," Jerry Bonkowski of ESPN noted. "She wasn't just a good female racer, she was a good racer first and foremost, regardless of gender." Following her retirement, Moise declined interviews, preferring that reporters talk to Sawyer whose career was also on hold due to a lack of sponsorship.

During her on-again, off-again racing career, Moise made 133 starts. She was, at the time, only one of six women to ever race on the Busch Grand National circuit. Moise became comfortable with being a woman in a sport dominated by men, but acknowledged that on the track she saw herself as a race car driver, not a female race car driver. She was asked so often how it felt to race as a woman, she began tossing back in response a humorous rebuttal, "You mean, as opposed to when I used to be a man?"

Shawna Robinson began racing snowmobiles. Then, at the age of 19, she began racing diesel trucks in the Great American Truck Racing tour where she competed from 1980-1988. In 1988, she made her NASCAR debut in the Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series finishing third in the Florida 200 at Daytona. She won the Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series event at New Asheville Speedway becoming the first female to ever win a NASCAR Touring event. To cap off her rookie season, she won the Rookie of the Year title and Most Popular Driver. In 1989, she was voted Most Popular Driver for the second year in a row. From 1988-1989, she started all 30 races in the Charlotte/Daytona Dash Series. She scored 3 wins, and 21 top-10s.

In 1991, she made the move to the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series. In 1992, she started 7 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races. Her best finish being a 24th at Daytona. In 1994 she won the pole for the Busch Series event at Atlanta setting a new track record of 174.330 mph and the same year she had her Busch Series career best finish with a 10th. After taking a few years off from racing, Shawna returned to motorsports in 2000 competing in the ARCA/RE-Max Series driving for Michael Kranefuss. She ended the season points championship in the top ten.

She started 3 more events in the Busch Series in 2001. Her highest finish was a 19th place finish at Talladega. She started 1 Winston Cup event in 2001, finishing 34th and 7 events in 2002, her highest finish being 16th at Texas. She started 3 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series events in 2003, her highest finish being 18th at Texas.

Sponsored by BAM Racing in 2002, Shawna Robinson was scheduled to compete in 24 races. Even though Robinson had success in previous years in ARCA and the lower ranks of NASCAR, lack of sponsorship monies and faulty equipment cut her debut in Cup racing short.

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