This February marks the tenth anniversary of the last time a female qualified for, and competed in the famed Daytona 500. Danica Patrick will be starting the 500 this year, but she won't have to worry about racing her way into the event like the last female who started the race had to. This is because Danica's car owner, Tony Stewart, secured her owner's points from Tommy Baldwin Racing. This guarantees her at least a starting spot in the Daytona 500.
Unlike Danica, the last female to compete in the Daytona 500 had to race her way into the show. She did so with a brand new racing organization complete with a new team, a new crew chief and a new car owner. Not very good odds if you ask me, but she did it anyway.
Then again, it seems like everything this woman has ever done in motorsports has been against the odds. So who is this Temptress of Speed you ask?
Iowa native Shawna Robinson, of course.
B.J. and The Bear aired on NBC from 1979-81 and made me want to become a ‘Gypsy' truck driver like the nomadic one portrayed by Greg Evigan in the trucking series. The Dukes of Hazzard aired on CBS from 1979 - 85 and made me want to become a race car driver, not much unlike the ones that the T.V. brothers Bo and Luke Duke aspired to be. Bo and Luke were portrayed by John Schneider and Tom Wopat by the way.
Then the terrible T.V. actors strike hit in 1982 and I lost interest in both series but their influence on me was still unavoidable. That is why I started to take an interest in ‘Big Rig' Racing (Great American Truck Racing- GATR). It was more of a passing interest mind you, but an interest none-the-less and if it were not for one particular driver in that racing genre that interest would have lasted about as long as a Jeff Gordon raced for Bill Davis.
That ‘Big Rig' driver would be Shawna Robinson.
Shawna came onto the Big Rig Racing scene in 1984, promptly winning Rookie of The Year honors in her first season. She would stay in the GATR series until its end in 1988, winning a race at Flemington Speedway in 1987.
Having to move from the big semi-trucks of the GATR, Shawna went stock car racing in one of NASCAR's entry level series, the now defunct NASCAR DASH Series (also called the Goodys DASH Series). Shawna went from the big trucks to subcompact race cars with V-6 engines just like that and in 1988 the NASCAR DASH Rookie of The Year went to Shawna.
She also won the Most Popular Driver Award for that year too - an award she would retain for the 1989 season as well. But perhaps more importantly Shawna took the checker flag at the AC Delco 100 Dash Series race in Asheville, North Carolina and became the first women ever to win a major NASCAR Touring event. How's that for bragging rights?
Back in the late 1980's there was no such thing as the Internet so news of anything remotely related to racing making its way out of the South East was hard to come by but everyone who was interested in racing, including those in my neck of the woods (Canada), heard about Shawna's landmark victory in the AC Delco 100.
Shawna would go on to finish third in the standings that year (1989).
Shawna continued her streak of female firsts into the next racing season. In 1989 she would also became the first women to win a NASCAR Touring pole position while qualifying for the Dash race at I-95 Speedway in Florence South Carolina. Then later that same year she set a new track record, won the pole and then won the race at Myrtle Beach Speedway!
Shawna would then leave the DASH Series and move up to the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now Nationwide Series) in 1991 but she struggled to find proper sponsorship and only competed in a hand-full of races that year. In 1992 however, she did finished runner-up to Ricky Craven for the Rookie of The Year title even though she officially drove for two different teams and only ran in fourteen of the races.
The 1993 season came and found Shawna driving full-time in the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series in the Polaroid sponsored car owned by Mike Laughlin - Shawna finished twenty-third in points. Shawna would earn her first top ten finish the following season at Watkins Glen and set the new BGN Series track record at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Oh, and that track record would also win her the pole position for that race making Shawna the first women in NASCAR history to win a pole in the Busch Grand National Series.
Shawna ran a handful of races in 1995 then took the rest of the season off to start a family and she would not return to racing until 1999.
When she did come back Shawna ended up driving for Michael Kranefuss in the ARCA RE/MAX Series and would become the first female to compete a full season in any national oval-track racing series. She finished sixth in the standings becoming the first women to ever finish in the top ten of the ARCA RE/MAX Series.
That season she would finish second in the race at Daytona and fourth in the race at Charlotte. She would also lead several laps at the race in Toledo Speedway becoming the first women to ever lead a race in the ARCA/REMAX Series.
Two years later in 2001 Shawna, teamed with car owner Kranefuss once again, and would become the first women to start a NASCAR Winston Cup race since Patti Moise in 1989. Interestingly enough, that same race at Michigan International Speedway was where Shawna became the first female to finish a NASCAR Winston Cup race since Janet Guthrie did it in 1980.
When the 2002 racing season started Shawna found herself in a unique situation driving for a relatively new female car owner, Beth Ann Morgenthau, at BAM Racing. Shawna would qualify for the Daytona 500 that season and in doing so would become the first female since Janet Guthrie ('77 & '80) to compete in the Great American Race. Shawna would finish the race in twenty-fourth, completing all 200 laps.
That was probably the only high-light of the 2002 season for Shawna as she and her team struggled to make races shortly after her landmark start in the Great American Race. After a series of changes within the team Shawna would eventually be released by BAM after the second Daytona race in July. BAM Racing would finish its season with a revolving door of drivers (Kevin Lepage, Stuart Kirby, Ron Hornaday, Stacy Compton, and Derrike Cope) each really doing no better than the previous one.
Shawna would race three races in 2003 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driving the Aaron's sponsored Team Texas #49 Chevy Silverado crewed by an all-female pit crew (another first by the way). And in 2005 she did a six race stint in the Busch Grand National Series for Keith Coleman Racing which didn't turn out like she had hoped.
After her experience at Keith Coleman Racing Shawna turned her focused to her family and swore that if she were to get back into racing it would be on her own terms and she adamantly refuses to be a ‘start and park' driver nor a ‘gimmick' driver because of her gender.
While spending time with her family Shawna went back to doing something else she did very well, interior design. Shawna's second career took off as she became one of the top interior designers in the NASCAR community decorating driver's houses and race shops. She was even involved with the decorating/planning of Kelley Earnhardt's wedding last year.
From the growth of her business Shawna was also able to venture into another area of interior design; creating her own furniture - specifically chairs, which she calls Happy Chairs because of their mashing of texture, color and materials to create light-hearted whimsical pieces made to invigorate any living space.
You can find Shawna's Happy Chairs at select fine furniture showrooms throughout North Carolina as well at her website www.shawnarobinson.com.
Looking back at Shawna's racing career you can easily say she was a pioneer in women's racing and helped pave the way for a new generation of female racers like Danica Patrick and Jenn Jo Cobb, but if you ask her she never really saw herself in that light while she was racing. She saw herself as just another racer 'filling up your rear-view and headed to the front' to claim the checkers for herself and if given the opportunity to go racing again in a legit ride you'd see it for yourself - the women is a racer!
If not for Shawna and the other ladies before her I feel that the opportunities provided to Danica Patrick and the other women currently trying to make it in the competitive world of NASCAR would not be available to them.
In a way I'm sad to see Danica race in the Daytona 500, as it is sort of like taking something away from Shawna and her accomplishment, but on the other hand it is like the passing of the torch since Danica is going to make her landmark start on the tenth anniversary of Shawna's famous start.
All eyes are looking ahead to Sunday and at Danica, my only hope is that those same eyes take a look back and remember those female racers like Shawna who paved the way for the female racers of today.
Tune in tomorrow for NASCAR RnR's exclusive interview with Shawna as she talks with us about her racing career, women in racing, and her design business. You just might find out some things about Shawna that you never knew before.