NASCAR Reaches Out To Females In New Millenium

NASCAR 2000, in an effort to examine the future of all aspects of racing, takes a closer look at one woman who hopes to leave her mark on NASCAR in the new millennium.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Growing up, Ashley Landen never quite mastered the art of playing ping-pong. But for the Alpharetta, Ga., native, a powerless paddle on the green tabletop is what led to her passion for a powerful pedal.

"My grandfather had a ping-pong table in his basement," said the now 20-year-old college student. "At every family party we had to play ping-pong and I never was any good at it. Instead of watching, I became interested in the restored Model A Ford he also kept in the basement. It was that car and my grandfather's influence that really sparked my interest in motorsports."

Landen's interest in motorsports grew into a hobby when she celebrated her 16th birthday and received another gift from her grandfather - a Ford Probe GT. She was more than comfortable behind the wheel and soon began competing in local races. With the help of friends, family and a few how-to books, she also quickly became comfortable under the hood.

"I like knowing how everything in the car works," Landen said. "I think knowing what's going on makes you a better driver."

Landen knew, however, that she couldn't learn all the nuts and bolts of the racing world on her own. Having realized that motorsports was her calling, she enrolled in Clemson University's Mechanical Engineering Program. The program, the only one of its kind in the country, stresses a traditional approach to mechanical engineering but focuses on automotive related courses and subjects. Graduates receive the appropriate bachelor, master or doctorate degree in mechanical engineering. Graduate and doctoral students can receive a degree in Motors Sports Engineering. In the program's short history, a number of graduates have gone on to work with NASCAR. Landen is currently a sophomore in the undergraduate program. She is the only female -- something she hopes will change in the future.

"It really bothers me," she said. "I know there are such smart and talented women out there who can handle the program and a career in motorsports." When it comes to her career track, Landen is still unsure of what route she wants to take.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do," she said. "It's going to depend on my experiences over the next few years. There are so many different opportunities available. We'll just have to wait and see what the future holds."

As the secretary of the Clemson Sports Car Club, she participates regularly in autocross and road rallies. But with the possibility of applying her mechanical engineering knowledge through an internship with a NASCAR Winston Cup Series team this summer, she says, she just might end up behind the scenes.

The one thing Landen knows she won't be doing is playing ping-pong. NASCAR 2000 is a campaign exploring the future of stock car racing, examining new-millennium developments in technology, the evolution of facilities and the plans for increased fan interaction at the tracks and through television coverage. Driving the campaign is the vision of those closest to the action -- drivers, crew chiefs, owners, manufacturers, engineers, television personalities and artists.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2000

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