Heres To You Ms. Robinson

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First impressions are often lasting impressions.

The first time Shawna Robinson caught Tony Morgenthau’s eye, Robinson had just came in contact with his driver, Matt Mullins, in an ARCA race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in 2000. The contact sent Mullins into the wall, and out of the race.

That kind of aggressiveness, Morgenthau thought, is what he wanted in a driver. A little less than two years later, that’s what he’s getting.

On Thursday afternoon at a press conference at Morgenthau’s race shop, it was announced that Robinson, who made her first career NASCAR Winston Cup Series start last summer, would drive a 24-race Winston Cup schedule for BAM Racing, owned by Morgenthau and his wife, Beth Ann.

The first female to start a Winston Cup race since 1989 when she raced at Michigan Speedway last June, Robinson will drive the No. 49 BAM Racing Dodge, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.

Tony Morgenthau remembers that day at Pocono distinctly.

“When that happened at Pocono, I asked (team manager) Eddie Jones who it was driving that car that kinda pushed our guy right off the track,” Morgenthau said. “He said, ‘oh, her name’s Shawna. That’s the kind of driver we need.’

“I didn’t realize a year and a half later she would be driving a car for us in a Winston West race out in Las Vegas (last October). We were able to get Tropicana, her sponsor, to give her a break and let her race for us. We were very impressed with the way she drove. She was very good about talking to the crew, helping them fine-tune the car on the track. So, that impressed us greatly.

“When we got back (from Las Vegas), I asked her why she hadn’t been doing more racing. She gave us various answers, and I asked her if she would be interested in joining a team. Two months later, we were able to sign her to a multi-year contract. In addition, we were able to get Eddie Sharp to join us as the crew chief. Eddie Jones is our team manager and he’s been in the business for 20-plus years. He knows a lot of people in the business. We’ve been able to bring some key people in from some other teams, so we’re very happy with the way this whole thing has come together.”

Robinson has been driving mainly in the ARCA Series over the past couple of years, but also made some Busch Series starts with Michael Waltrip’s team in 2001. She hooked up with Michael Kranefuss and MK Racing last year with the intention of racing a limited schedule in Winston Cup in 2001 and a full season in 2002, but MK Racing was never able to come up with the sponsorship money necessary to do the deal.

While she was disappointed that situation didn’t come to fruition, Robinson said she’s very happy about driving for the Morgenthaus and BAM Racing.

“It’s great situation for me and for the team,” Robinson said. “You know, I didn’t even know about the Pocono story until yesterday (Wednesday). Getting with BAM and this team really happened for me, though, in Vegas (last October). I really didn’t know about the opportunity I was walking into except for the opportunity to go run at Vegas.

“I thought, gee, that’s a great opportunity because I’m going to get the track time at a track that I know I’m going to run in the future. I looked at it like, just get in this car and do the absolute best you can do and be yourself. The whole thing was just that I was happy about being in that racecar.

“Then when I met Tony and Beth Ann and Eddie Jones and everyone and just spent a weekend racing, it was fine. It really did feel right. Honestly, running that race was a lot of fun.”

Running in the ARCA Series was fine to get started, Beth Ann Morgenthau said, but the time had come for the jump to Winston Cup.

“We started with ARCA, and I was very disappointed with the way the ARCA Series was run,” she said. “So, we decided to go straight into Winston Cup. We had fast cars. This past year was a learning experience. We had a driver that couldn’t really put his foot to the pedal, and we got rid of that driver. We decided we wanted a woman to put her foot to the pedal, and she can do it.”

Sharp, a former driver himself in the Busch Series in the early 1990’s, has built cars and provided consulting engineering work for various Winston Cup, Busch and ARCA teams in the recent past. He spent the past year handling research and development for Dodge with driver Justin Labonte at the ARCA level, testing new engine combinations that were being developed for the Dodge Winston Cup program.

The BAM Racing crew is made up of individuals who have been hand picked by Sharp. Some have come from the crew of the former Penske Racing No. 12 team, some from PPI Motorsports, MB2 Motorsports, MK Motorsports and various other Busch and ARCA Series teams.

That was one of the reasons why the team chose Dodge, that and its success during its return season to the Winston Cup Series a year ago.

“One of the reasons we chose Dodge is due to the fact that we were able to get the support of Ernie Elliott with the engines,” Sharp said. “In Winston Cup racing, Ernie is one of the major players as far as engines are concerned, and you have to have that support or you’re in trouble.

“Ernie Elliott was one of the first to step up and say, I want to compete with you guys. I want to be on board, and I want to help. Obviously with his track record of this past year with his engine program and Dodge, it speaks for itself. Another reason is that I myself had been doing a lot of research and development, at the ARCA level mind you, but for Petty Enterprises. It was just a natural fit for us. The learning curve was just accelerated. Dodge is just where we want to be.”

Since the team is a new one, they’ll begin the season without any owner points. Robinson will attempt to make both races at Daytona, Atlanta, Talladega, Charlotte and Michigan, and one race each at Las Vegas, Texas, California, Chicago, Indianapolis, Bristol, Darlington, Richmond, Dover, Kansas, Martinsville, Rockingham, Phoenix and Homestead.

The BAM Racing Shop is located in the Twin Lakes Business Park in north Charlotte. The team has between six to 10 racecars being worked on to get ready for the early season schedule.

“It’s been a step-by-step process,” Sharp said. “I’ve been on board for approximately six weeks now. A lot has happened in six weeks, but it all has come together pretty quickly. Honestly, as far as being here in this shop and getting moved, it had to happen quickly. We need to get caught up, we’re not kidding ourselves.”

Robinson said the team will do a lot of testing early on to get used to some of the tracks she’ll be racing on, as well as do some testing at places like Kentucky Speedway, a non-Winston Cup track, to get more seat time.

“There’s 12 Winston Cup track tests, but we’ll do a lot more testing than that,” Robinson said. “The whole key to this situation is the consistency of the team and the cars.”

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