Shawna Robinson: Part 2 - Interview with the last female to start the Daytona 500

Shawna Robinson: The last female to qualify for, start, and finish the Daytona 500 (2001) seen here in a 2005 NASCAR head shot. Photo Courtesy NASCARmedia.com

(Please Note: If you didn't get a chance to read yesterday's story then I suggest you take the time to do so before reading this interview as it will provide you with some background knowledge into what Shawna is talking about)

Now that you know more about Shawna and her story let's hear from her.

The following interview was conducted with Shawna prior to Danica Patrick's announcement that she would be leaving Indy car to go full-time racing in the Nationwide Series (with a few Cup races thrown in for good measure).

So let's find out what the last female to race in the Daytona 500 has to say about women in NASCAR and what kind of advice she has to offer to up and coming drivers. Oh, and you'll also find out about a wide range of things, from her current business interests to what kind of junk food she likes!

You'll find the entire interview after the jump, but before you head over there I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank Shawna for taking time out of her schedule and away from her family to have several telephone conversations with me so I could get her story down.

See you after the jump ...

Question: I noticed you were not in attendance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame grand opening, were you invited, or were you there and I missed you?

Shawna: I was actually called by the hall of fame to get some things put in there and we talked a few times, they sent me the contract and I got the contract. I told them I had my stuff ready and then I don't know what happened but I guess I got involved in an event that took me out of town and ... I was actually trying out for The Amazing Race and I went with another girl that I was going to do it with - we didn't end up making it, we made it to the final 15. We made it actually to the final 13 and they kept 12 but I guess I missed my window because they needed it by a certain time and when I had got back - they (The Amazing Race) put us in like ... where we couldn't talk on the phone, couldn't be contacted ... I just didn't get my stuff to them in time (for the grand opening).

Question: Speaking of women in racing, currently in NASCAR where are women at right now? Are you kind of surprised that there isn't anybody at the Cup level, or aren't you?

Shawna: No I'm not (surprised). Because it just hasn't been the right time that they've needed it I feel and I feel that now they do and that's why you've got the Danica (Patrick) situation.

It's just a good situation. NASCAR completely supports it - that's actually because of Kelley Earnhardt that we see Danica out there. She's the one who really made all the wheels turn on that. Kelley is a huge a supporter of women in motor sports. It's just a different time, and the time is definitely now.

Question: In the past with women, why has there not been a lot of women making it to the upper level of NASCAR? Has it been sponsorship issues, fan demographics, or prejudice?

Shawna: Its definitely not fan demographics, it's ... um ... there are sponsor issues, but the biggest thing that sponsor issues lead to is inconsistent schedules and to me that is the main thing you don't see.

You're not seeing a girl out there competing for points, running full-time - I mean it's hard enough for any driver to succeed in the sport.

Without running consistently and having a good chemistry with the team - I mean you see that with Jimmie Johnson and you see that with any driver who is going through a slump, it usually has something to do with just the chemistry within (the team) and there's still not a female running really a full season in any series out there (referring to stock cars) and I guess it will be Danica's choice of whether she'll decide to do that or whether she wants to stay open-wheel (Indy racing).

Question: What about Jen Jo Cobb? She's trying really hard ...

Shawna: Jennifer? She is. She needs to run a full schedule and I think then things will begin to gel more with her. It's kinda been a ‘work with what you have' (type of situation).

She's had opportunities to get the best situation out there (for a woman) other than Danica's.

Hopefully we'll see more of her getting better and more opportunities. That's what it's going to take, it's going to take somebody going out there running all the time and competing all the time.

Question: So, if I were an up and coming female race car driver what kind of advice would you give me in order to help me succeed in getting more women visible in NASCAR?

Shawna: Basically ... race your ass off! Just stay in a car and run consistently, don't get impatient and move ahead before you have the support - the backing from the team, the sponsors, the owners, the crew - that you're moving up into a situation that's going to be - I mean look at everything that Danica has and its still an extremely big learning curve - and if you're racing and you're winning continue to race and to win and then move to another (level).

Build up a situation where you can have an owner like a (Rick) Hendrick or a (Jack) Roush come to you and put you in a right-type situation like you see other drivers, drivers like Kasey Kahne who was in an area (of racing) and Martin Truex Jr. was in another (area of racing) and they were winning where they were - be successful where you're at and people will notice you.

Question: Do you think women should try and work together? For example, when you were running at the peak of your schedule Patty Moise was in there as well, did you try to work with her, did you sit down and try and talk with her or did you see her as a major adversary or just another driver?

Shawna: Well the funny thing is people would always lump us together. She was actually running before me. She was running in the Busch Series at the time and I was running in Dash cars and when I moved up into the Busch cars and when we actually started racing the big deal was "two women are running against each other".

Well I mean we never looked at it like we were running against each other, we looked at it like we were racing. We were racers. It just seemed like that's how it happened, people would always lump you as you're competing against each other out there, it's just the two girls even though there's 38 other cars they would put us against each other.

We would definitely talk and throw things back and forth, but usually you're going and communicating with whoever is running fast if you're not and say, "Man I'm having a hard time getting through this corner ..." You don't just go and talk to the person because of their gender, you talk to them because you feel you're gonna get good advice.

So Patty and I, I felt like we were basically always kinda struggling together (laughs) so we were always looking for a way to get better. You know, neither one of us had the best equipment situations in our time coming up, so we learned a lot, took what we learned and tried to make the most of it.

Question: Let's talk about your tenure at BAM. Based on what I have read, and correct me if I'm wrong, but that Daytona 500 thing in 2002 wasn't really supposed to happen. They kind of accelerated their program and weren't you supposed to develop in the Busch Series first before moving up to Cup?

Shawna: That's what I wanted to do. I just felt like, ‘Why don't you hire a Cup driver for your Cup car and put me in a position of learning because we have an inexperienced Crew Chief, and inexperienced team, and it's a brand new deal?" It just made more sense to me (to do it that way).

But they were very adamant that this was going to be a full-blown Cup program or nothing at all.

So obviously I'm not going to say, "Well I'm not gonna do it." Instead I said, "If you give me the necessities I'll definitely go for it."

So when we went to Daytona and made that race (The Daytona 500) it was huge. It was huge for any driver to make that race and go with a new driver, new team, new crew chief, basically a whole inexperienced package.

I felt I did extremely well in those first few races and it basically came down to chemistry with them and nobody was listening to what I was saying and that's when they went to Hornaday. Then Hornaday tested and told them, "She's telling you what the car is doing and you're just not listening to her."

Then it became a ‘he said, she said' kind of situation. If you've got a situation (like that) either the driver or the crew chief is gonna be the first to go and it was just a new team and we just switched crew chiefs. But we went from one inexperienced crew chief to another, which didn't make a lot of sense to me, so the next obvious change was, "It must be the driver." So that's when they went to Hornaday for the rest of the year, and then they had numerous drivers after that.

(Once I left BAM) I went to Keith Coleman racing, which was a Busch deal. I did run a little bit of truck before signing with them. That (Coleman deal) was absolutely the worst situation I've ever been in! I was like, ‘This isn't how I want to be in the sport. I'm not in the sport because I'm female and you're using me to get a sponsor. I'm in the sport because I want to race and be competitive and your cars are not competitive and I don't want to drive them." The race that I said I'm not going to was the race where they (Coleman Racing) didn't make it through tech (inspection) and they (NASCAR) basically put the car on display because they were cheating on their roof flaps. I was so glad I wasn't there. I miss racing a lot, I just don't miss those types of deals. The only regret I have is that I didn't continue to beat doors down and get the right deal because timing wise its just a much better time to be out there.

Question: So I guess your disenchantment with NASCAR at that point kind of let you to go the family way?

Shawna: Well ya, my kids were getting older and there just wasn't a good team situation out there for me so I just focused on being a Mom and just trying to be happier with my life than with things I was going through at that time.

Question: Now that you do not have a regular racing schedule, what are you doing now?

Shawna: When I was pregnant (in the 1990's) I did some painting, murals and faux finishing and by word of mouth I just got a lot of good jobs with driver's homes so I went back that route and just started to re-build that business and that's what I've been doing since ... I do commercial and residential design and I've got a passion for furniture so I create really fun whimsical, eclectic, bohemian-type chairs that are called Happy Chairs!

Question: Where do you get your inspiration for your chairs?

Shawna: All over ... I just love to mix textures and fabrics and color - and that is what my stuff is really about. They are all one-of-a-kind pieces that have their own little personality. My goal is that when you buy one of my pieces you go home and create a room around that piece instead of the piece becoming part of the room.

Please note: For more info about Shawna's Happy Chairs please go to www.shawnarobinson.com.

Question: So who are some of your clients, assuming you wish to share that with me of course?

Shawna: My clients who I've done stuff for have been Dale Earnhardt Jr., his mom Brenda, and Kelley his sister, Martin Truex has been one of my biggest clients - I've done his race shop, his home, his garage - Kasey Kahne's shop, Michael Waltrip, Max Papis, Kim and Ernie Irvin. All by word of mouth!

Question: What if an ideal sponsor came up, knocked on your door today and said, "Let's go racing!" Would you? (Editor's note: This interview was done before it was announced that Danica Patrick would be racing for Stewart Haas and that Kevin Harvick would be selling KHI to RCR - interesting insight on Shawna's part)

Shawna: Oh yes (smiling - you could hear it in her voice) I would, I would! But boy would I do it a whole different way. I would go to somebody like Tony Stewart and talk to him about developing a team, or go to somebody like (Kevin) Harvick , somebody who has the experience in owning (a team) and driving (a race car) and then put all the pieces together in the right way.

Question: Even if Mattel called you up and asked you to drive a pink Barbie car?

Shawna: Yes! Absolutely! That would be great!

Statement: I always thought that when Mattel had the Hot Wheels sponsored car of Kyle Petty back in the 1990's that you would be the perfect driver for a pink Barbie sponsored car and get all those little girls cheering for you.

Shawna: I know, I know!

Now for "The Chase Questions"! These are 12 one word answer questions!

1. What is on your Ipod right now?

Shawna: Soundtrack from True Blood, Nora Jones, Coldplay.

2. What Book are you currently reading?

Shawna: Just finished Dear John.

3. Favorite song, band, or singer?

Shawna: Favorite soundtrack from the movie Once but I don't know who performs on it. I like the Counting Crows, Natalie Merchant from the 10,000 Maniacs days.

4. What star living or dead would you like to meet?

Shawna: It would be Ashley Judd, I've always loved Ashley Judd and I would love to meet her.

5. Favorite junk food?

Shawna: Chips and dip - Ruffles and French Onion dip.

6. Amp, So-bee No Fear, Red Bull or Monster?

Shawna: Monster.

7. Favorite TV show?

Shawna: True Blood.

8. Favorite track to race at?

Shawna: Michigan and Atlanta - I have two!

9. Dream car?

Shawna: Range Rover.

10. Favorite hockey team?

Shawna: Philadelphia Flyers! I used to live in Philly so I have to be a Flyers fan.

11. Favorite football team?

Shawna: Minnesota Vikings because it's closest to Iowa.

12. Best race car driver ever?

Shawna: A.J. Foyt.

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