Young women bond, form friendship through NASCAR driver program
CONCORD, N.C. -- When Maddie Crane moved from Georgia to North Carolina a year ago to pursue her racing career, it meant leaving a family that included six siblings to live alone in an apartment.
Crane was just 18 and competing for Rev Racing in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series as part of the Drive for Diversity program. Ali Kern, the only other woman in the D4D program, was assigned to NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East. Competing in different series, the two had little interaction.
This year, the 19-year-old Crane is joined in the Whelen All-American Series by Macy Causey. When Causey, just 16, first moved to Concord from Yorktown, Virginia, she briefly stayed with Crane. They became fast friends, and Crane said she views Causey, who now lives with family friends, as a little sister.
The only two females in this year's D4D class realized they have the same mindset when it comes to their sport, interests (especially dogs -- Causey's family has four dogs; Crane wants to get involved in dog rescue) and similar racing backgrounds. Both began driving race cars at a young age, have family members with strong ties to the sport, have their own race team at home and enjoy their fans, especially the children.
"We want to be healthy, we want to work out, we want to better ourselves and we want to be back in the program next year," Causey said.
It's a camaraderie Crane especially enjoys because she is so far away from her large family in Meansville, Georgia.
"I hope I can give her advice just as much as she can give me advice," Crane said. "This is her first year in the program, but she's been running these cars for two full seasons, actually longer than I have."
The teenagers began their 2017 late model stock car season with Rev Racing in NASCAR's two 100-lap Whelen All-American Series races last Saturday at South Boston (Virginia) Speedway. In the first race, Crane finished fifth and Causey 10th. An incident in the second race relegated Crane to a 16th-place finish while Causey placed eighth.
Racing in the same series with identical intentions allows them to motivate each other, Crane said.
"I can remember exactly what I was doing at her age in racing and outside of racing," Crane said. "I kinda know the things she goes through. I felt the same way she feels now so I can give her advice on what I have learned in the past. I'm not too far ahead of her, so she can give me as much advice as I give her."
The women are required to report to the race shop at Rev Racing daily by 8 a.m. First they work out in the facility's gym for about 1½ hours. They then transition to assisting the crew on the cars.
"You want to take full advantage of every little thing that you're given," Crane said. "We have amazing guys in the sport that work here in the shop. There's [former Xfinity Series driver] Mark Green. Davin Scites, our crew chief, has run these cars forever."
Taking advantage of each opportunity was something the two learned at an early age.
Causey first met Max Siegel, the head of Rev Racing, when she was 8. Siegel told Causey's parents if they were serious about her racing, they needed to move to North Carolina. Her parents disagreed.
"The reason we said no was because it would have been our decision, not Macy's decision," her father, Rette Causey, said. "Now, it's her decision. We're on her terms, not ours. Now, we're back at Max's place, ironically, eight years later."
Macy, who plans to attend college and pursue a mechanical engineering degree, began racing because her father raced and she wanted to be around him.
"When she was 8 [racing Bandoleros], she was doing it because Dad was doing it," said Rette, who met his wife when they raced go-karts against each other. "When she was 9 and 10, she was doing it because she wanted to do it. She just gravitated towards it. She hates to be inside."
In 2015, Causey won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Virginia Rookie of the Year Award and earned top rookie honors at Langley Speedway. She received the NASCAR Young Racer Award in 2016. When she's not driving for Rev Racing, she'll race the family's late model at tracks in Virginia and South Carolina. The U.S. Nationals of Short Track Racing at Bristol (Tennessee) Motor Speedway in May is also on her schedule if funding is available.
Crane said her grandfather, Virgil Brown, is responsible for her interest in racing.
"It was something he and I connected over and still do," Crane said. "When I go home and I go to see him that's all we talk about is racing."
Crane began racing Bandoleros at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 10 and later moved into Legend cars. By the time she was 14, Crane had 59 top-five finishes in 82 starts. Last year, she recorded two top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in NASCAR's Whelen All-American Series. Before being selected for NASCAR's diversity program, she piloted a dirt late model for two years. Like Causey, she will race her own car when she's not competing for Rev Racing.
"They encourage us to race as much as we can outside the program," Crane said. "You can't control when your opportunity comes about. You have to take what you're given at the time you're given it. Females can do just as well as the males."
Still, they are aware of the discrimination against women that has existed and still exists to some degree in the male-dominated sport. Causey's maternal grandmother, Diane Teel, was the first woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race, at Langley Speedway in 1978. And Causey knows that when her father was a boy, he rooted against her grandmother because she was a woman.
"When my grandmother raced, people would boo her when she was up front, when she was leading, when she was doing great things," Causey said. "People would clap when guys took her out. They thought it was a big joke. I'm grateful now that times have changed."
Crane said she believes being a woman in racing these days is almost more of an advantage because it can help open a door.
"We wouldn't be in this program without being females," Crane said.
Deb Williams is a North Carolina-based writer and former editor. She has covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. She has more than 30 years of experience covering motorsports and was the 1990, 1996 NMPA Writer of the Year.