Inext/I Step Not The Ifirst/I Step

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Robin McCall-Dallenbach remembers her first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race… vividly.

It was 1982, and she was dressed in her driver uniform headed toward the Winston Cup garage at Michigan Speedway to go jump in her car. The only problem was the security guard at the gate wouldn’t let her through.

“I didn’t have my pass, and the gate guard wasn’t going to let me by,” said McCall-Dallenbach, who is now married to driver Wally Dallenbach Jr. “I was the only woman racing there, and he just wasn’t buying the fact I was a driver. Things were different back then, but it all worked out and I got to race. It was quite an experience.”

McCall-Dallenbach finished 35th in that race, one of two Winston Cup events she participated in that year for owner J.D. Stacy. She raced again at Michigan a couple of months later and finished 29th.

McCall-Dallenbach is one of 14 women who have competed in Winston Cup races through the years. Shawna Robinson will try to become the 15th this Sunday as she attempts to qualify (Friday) for the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway.

Should Robinson make the field in a car prepared by Michael Kranefuss Racing, she will become the first female driver to compete in a Winston Cup race since Patty Moise at Talladega Superspeedway on July 30, 1989.

Robinson has a five-race schedule planned for the remainder of this season. After California, she’ll attempt to make races at Michigan (June 10), Chicago (July 15), Indianapolis (Aug. 5), Kansas City (Sept. 30) and Atlanta (Nov. 18). Kranefuss has said if the team finds sponsorship for her, it will run a full Winston Cup season in 2002.

Robinson has raced in select ARCA and Busch Series races this season, and vows her attempt to make it in the Winston Cup Series is no way a publicity ploy.

“Nobody on this team, and especially me, is going out there (to California) just to go out there,” said Robinson, whose Ford will be sponsored by Aaron’s Rents, the same sponsor she’s had in her three Busch Series events this season. “I’m not crawling into a Winston Cup car to make history or to be ‘the first’ at something.

“I want to be something in this sport. I’m racing because I’m competitive, because I want to be a factor and because this is what I’ve wanted to do for such a long, long time. Honestly, I don’t have any significant feeling inside me right now. I’m so far from where I want to be – and that’s to be a winning driver in NASCAR racing – that this feels like the next step.

“It’s still incredibly special, don’t get me wrong. This is my first Winston Cup race, and that has to be special. But I want – and everybody on our team wants – this to be the next step in a logical progression. There isn’t any self-satisfaction in being the first female to do something. In my heart, the only satisfaction is in winning. And this is a step closer to being competitive with the best there is.”

Robinson has had her ups and downs behind the wheel this season. She’s had two top-10 finishes in two ARCA Series starts (seventh at Daytona and third at Nashville), but wrecked in her first two Busch Series races (finished 39th at Texas and 43rd at Nashville).

Her most recent Busch Series start, at Talladega last weekend, was encouraging as she finished 19th. From 1982 to 2000, Robinson made 52 Busch Series starts and is the only female ever to win a pole in one of NASCAR’s three major divisions (Busch Series, Atlanta, March of 1994). Her best finish in the Busch Series is 10th at Watkins Glen in 1994.

“I’m happy that this has worked out for Shawna the way it has,” McCall-Dallenbach said. “No matter who you are, it’s a long, hard road to get to the point of racing in Winston Cup. It’s all a matter of money and equipment, and having the right people around you. It’s got to be the right combination of driver, crew and equipment. It’s all chemistry.

“I feel like Shawna is just like any other driver. You can’t single her out just because she’s a woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, once you’ve got that helmet on, it just doesn’t matter. You’ve got as good a chance as anyone else.”

McCall-Dallenbach said she would have liked to have continued her racing career, especially at the Winston Cup level, but funding proved to be a big factor in her not being able to continue the pursuit of her dream.

She then married Wally and has since had three children. Robinson also has two young children.

The list of Robinson’s female predecessors in the Winston Cup/Grand National ranks is certainly distinguished. Louise Smith, who is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, participated in 11 races (1949 and 1950).

Sara Christian, who drove a Ford owned by her husband, was credited as being the first female to race in the Grand National Division, having participated in six events in 1949. There were only eight races that season, and she wound up finishing 13th in points.

Christian’s first race was the first Grand National-sanctioned race. It was held at the old Charlotte Speedway in 1949, and she finished 14th. She also has the best finish among any female driver in Winston Cup/Grand National competition, fifth, at Heidelburg (Pa.) Speedway in October of 1949.

The first race with more than one female to participate was a Grand National race held on Aug. 27, 1950, at Hamburg (N.Y.) Fairgrounds, featuring Smith, Christian and Ann Chester. The only other Winston Cup/Grand National event with three women to participate was the 1977 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, which featured Janet Guthrie, Belgian Christine Beckers and Italian Lella Lombardi.

Ethel Flock-Mobley gave females in racing something to crow about in 1949, when she participated in a beach-course event at Daytona. That race also featured four siblings from the Flock family – Ethel, Bob, Fonty and Tim.

Tim got the best of his family members that day, finishing second, but Ethel had the bragging rights between the others. Driving a Cadillac owned by her husband, Charles, Ethel finished 11th while Fonty and Bob both fell out early and finished 19th and 22nd, respectively.

That was one of two Grand National races Flock-Mobley drove in.

Guthrie was perhaps the most prolific female ever to grace a Winston Cup track. Guthrie, also one of the few women ever to race in the Indianapolis 500, participated in 33 Winston Cup events from 1976 to 1980.

She fashioned five top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place effort at Bristol in August of 1977, and was the only woman ever to lead a race, doing so for five laps at the old Ontario (Calif.) Speedway in November of 1977.

Married to current Busch Series standout Elton Sawyer, Moise made 133 Busch Series starts from 1986 to 1998 with a best finish of seventh at Talladega in 1995. She made five Winston Cup starts from 1987 to 1989: one at Watkins in 1987, one each at Daytona and Watkins Glen in 1988, and one each at Daytona and Talladega in 1989.

She finished 30th at Watkins Glen in 1987, but completed 156 laps at Daytona in 1988, the most laps she ever completed in a Winston Cup event.

Moise, who hasn’t raced competitively since she drove 19 Busch Series races in 1998, refused to comment on the topic of women in NASCAR racing.

Other women to participate in Winston Cup/Grand National races were: Fifi Scott (two in 1955), Ann Bunselmeyer (one in 1950), Sandy Lynch (one in 1951), Marian Pagan (one in 1954) and Goldie Parsons (one in 1965).

Robinson said she doesn’t feel as if she has a lot of expectations to live up to – except her own. This weekend’s race at California she said, however, is an important one for her in that it’s the first step toward realizing her lifelong dream of racing full time at NASCAR’s highest level.

Without any points, she knows she’ll have to qualify on speed Friday afternoon.

“We have to be 100 percent prepared when we go to these tracks,” Robinson said. “We can’t just show up and hope to make the race. We have to be ready to go. That’s what we’re looking for this week.

“Friday is going to be hectic, but our main goal is to stay focused, get good practice time in, work from what we learned in our test there (at California) last month and lay down a good qualifying lap. Saturday we want to get the race setup as right as we can get it. And we want a good, solid day on Sunday.

“I’m excited, yeah. But who wouldn’t be excited getting ready to run their first Winston Cup race? We’re going to be busy and we’re going to keep working hard. It took a long time to get this far, but we still have a ways to go.”

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