Shannon McIntosh is not the first and will not be the last driver to perpetuate a career by handing over cash to a racing team at a crucial juncture.
In a sponsor climate that continues to leave scores of drivers -- among them several high-profile females -- uncertain about their 2014 racing prospects, the 24-year-old is unique in plumbing an ingenious method of raising the money.
McIntosh has used a crowd-funding website to generate more than $11,000 to subsidize K&N Pro and ARCA series tests with Cunningham Motorsports as she attempts to transition from open-wheel racing to NASCAR. Around 140 donors from four countries and 26 states contributed.
"I think the way racing fans are to me, it's just astounding," she said. "…When it literally is funding your racing career, it's really a great example to show how powerful the support system is, and I am completely humbled by the whole thing."
McIntosh said she has "confirmation on a partner" that could be announced in the next two weeks that would allow her to enter a total of "five to 10" races in the K&N and ARCA series.
McIntosh, a product of Quarter Midget and USAC racing, last competed in the open-wheel developmental USF2000 series in 2012, finishing 18th out of 22 drivers in points as part of a well-publicized "Women Empowered" campaign by sponsor TrueCar. The automotive retailer curbed its sponsor efforts before last season, however, trimming its roster, including McIntosh, and signing off on Dragon Racing's replacement of Katherine Legge with Sebastian Saavedra in the IndyCar series.
McIntosh said she was surprised by TrueCar's move but understood the business motivations. She eventually worked in online marketing and sales while dedicating time to her fundraising.
"I said I am going to have to just do what I always do and just make ends meet," she said.
The result was a "Driving 4 Dreamers" campaign launched on Sept. 24, which netted $11,275 -- more than $3,000 beyond her goal -- before closing on Oct. 30. Donations ranged from $5 to $1,000, and each contributor was listed on McIntosh's personal website.
According to her fund-raising page on the Indiegogo.com site, at least four donated $500 to the campaign, which had tiered perks for various contribution levels. Rewards ranged from having a donor's name displayed on McIntosh's Driving 4 Dreamers homepage to specialized fan club access, personalized thank-you notes, hero cards and videos.
She shared her experiences in raising funds and conducting her first ARCA test in late October on an Instagram account.
Cunningham Motorsports has fielded cars for ARCA rookies of the year Alex Bowman, Parker Kligerman and Dakoda Armstrong. Armstrong (Richard Petty Motorsports) will contest a full Nationwide Series schedule in 2014 while Kligerman was announced on Tuesday as part of a two-driver Sprint Cup program at Swan Racing. The move to Cunningham, McIntosh said, will allow her to return to her roots and interests in racing.
McIntosh and some other female drivers attempting to find work appear to be experiencing the odd result of increased female participation at higher professional racing levels. Integration is the goal for all female racers, but it has had an unforeseen impact on sponsorship acquisition.
"I think that since the recession, really, I haven't seen it be favorable to women at all in any way shape or form. I don't think it's the other way, either," said Legge, who drove in the American Le Mans Series in 2013. "Back when Danica [Patrick] was doing IndyCar and I was doing Champ Car, there was definitely an element of uniqueness and novelty, I guess. And so, yes, it got the attention and we got coverage and therefore we got the attention from sponsors.
"And now, it seems like there are many, many more women involved and even though it's still nowhere near the level of the guys, it's all of us and it doesn't seem to help in the funding stakes. I think in a way that's a good thing and in a way that's a bad thing. I would love to have sponsors knocking at my door, but it just goes to show we're not a novelty anymore and that we're just race car drivers."
Erica Enders-Stevens, the only female to win an NHRA Pro Stock event, joined Elite Motorsports this offseason after spending her entire career with Cagnazzi Racing. That team was forced to shut down her program in June -- although she was fourth in points at the time -- because of sponsorship shortfalls. Enders-Stevens still qualified for the six-race NHRA playoffs and contended for the championship.
"I'm sad to leave [team owner] Victor Cagnazzi,'' she said in a release. "We've worked together for the majority of my Pro Stock career, and I will always be appreciative of Victor and his wife, Brita. I certainly value our relationship. The deal Richard [Freeman, Elite Motorsports owner] offered assures me a fulltime ride in his top car, so at this point in my career I thought it was the best move for me to make."
Enders-Stevens has six wins in 102 national events, becoming the first woman to win an NHRA Pro Stock even in Joliet, Ill., in 2012. /p>
She is unique in her security. Delta Wing co-driver Legge, Simona de Silvestro (IndyCar) and Ashley Freiberg, who had become the first woman to win a North American GT3 Cup Challenge event before she severed ties with her team in July, confirmed to espnW.com either personally or through their management that they do not yet have contracts for 2014.
Legge, who this year became the first woman to lead an ALMS race, had the fastest lap in November at TUDOR United SportsCar Championship testing at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the Rolex 24 but has expressed interest in returning to IndyCar. De Silvestro finished a career-best 13th in points and was second at Houston this season but has not yet solidified 2014 plans.
Johanna Long, who ran 20 of 33 Nationwide races this year with a best finish of 12th, also is without a "finalized" contract at ML Motorsports, according to a team representative.