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Friday, December 13
Robinson looking for Busch program
By Jerry Bonkowski
Sometimes in racing, you have to take a step back to regain your footing, with the hopes of eventually taking a leap forward to where you want to be.
That's the case for Shawna Robinson, who will likely forego competing on the Winston Cup circuit in 2003, and will instead try to make her mark in the Busch Series.
"The reason that the focus is on the Busch car is because money and sponsors are just really hard to come by right now," Robinson said. "(The Busch Series) is very, very competitive. Believe me, honestly, in this situation, it's not going to be any easier to go run Busch than it would be for me to go run Cup."
It's not that Robinson doesn't want to be back in Winston Cup next season. She does.
The reality, however, is Robinson is doing battle with every driver's nemesis: funding. If she wants to remain in the eye of team owners and sponsors, Robinson knows the Busch Series is where she can get seat time and exposure, with the hope that a full-time Cup ride could be on the horizon.
"There's no question I'll be in Winston Cup again somehow," Robinson said. "I would love to say that's where I'm going to be. The best situation that could happen, if it was, OK, Shawna, what is it that you want?', obviously, I'd say, 'I want a full ride in Winston Cup with Chip Ganassi.' But that's not going to happen.
"So, I would say the best situation for me would be to get into a Busch car that's a competitive situation and show that I can drive.
"What I need to do, if I could just take everything away, take the marketing thing away, take the woman thing away, take it all away, (is) let's just go racing full-time. Let's go to where we can be competitive every time we unload that car, or at least you'll know you have a chance to be."
Robinson had high hopes for last season when she was hired to drive for the newly-formed BAM Racing operation. It seemed that all her work, effort and sacrifice was about to pay off. But a young and inexperienced team, along with on-track mishaps, ended her season abruptly.
She qualified for just seven races, finished only four of those and was knocked out of the other three due to accidents or mechanical problems. Robinson's highest finish was 24th at the season-opening Daytona 500. Unfortunately, her season ended at the midway point of the campaign when she was removed as driver of the No. 49 Dodge after the Pepsi 400 at Daytona Beach, Fla.
"If I would have stayed in the BAM car this year and wouldn't have stopped after seven races and ran for the year and grew with the team, because the team would have stayed a lot more consistent, we'd have gone into 2003 knowing that we took everything we learned in 2002 and would be better," Robinson said. "And I feel we could have done that; there's no question in my mind that we could have done that. But, things didn't work out that way. There were a lot of other areas that were researched and tried, and that's what a new team has to do to really find their place."
Ironically, when Robinson joined BAM prior to last season, she suggested starting in the Busch Series, and eventually making the transition to Winston Cup.
"I'm fortunate to be under contract to BAM because that's the commitment we made at the beginning of the year," she said. "And, at the beginning of the year, my thoughts to them were 'Let's go Busch racing, and then towards the end of the year, let's do five Cup races and really grow this team.'
"What I learned in the seven races and what I learned in any races prior to that, I'll take and make better every time I get into a car. It's just getting an opportunity to get in the right situation and that's what I'm trying to do now."
Robinson remains under contract and is currently working with team officials to find sponsorship to compete in as many Busch events as possible in 2003. She also may do some driving for hire in the NASCAR Truck Series, as well.
"I just want to stay in NASCAR and run Busch, run trucks, run a little bit of everything, just so I'm constantly in the seat," she said.
The Des Moines, Iowa native, now a resident of Charlotte, N.C., hasn't been idle during her time away from the track. Professionally, she's working diligently not only on finalizing a Busch deal, but also looking forward to her first opportunity of racing in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
"I know right now we're working very much on the 24 Hours of Daytona," she said. "I'm really not much of a road racer, but that is an opportunity that we actually started looking at last year, were hoping to do, but time-wise it just didn't work out. This year, we're hoping to do a Speedweeks tour starting with running the Corvette at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and then running a Busch car at Daytona."
While she'd obviously like to be racing, Robinson's stint away from the track has allowed her to spend a lot of quality time with her two children.
"It's funny, but lately I seem to be in 'normal land,' which is a place that I've never spent very much time in," she said. "What I mean by that is my schedule and routine, probably about three-quarters through the season, I slowed down a lot and spent a lot more time at home, didn't travel unless it was something I really needed to do, only because I wanted to do that. So, when I had the quality time I had to spend with my children, I took it because in January and February, you never know what's going to happen next."
What hasn't been normal, however, is the long road Robinson has traveled in pursuit of her dreams. Even with her marketing appeal and media savvy, the fact that in 2000 she became the first woman to attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 in more than two decades, the positive image and role model status she conveys as a woman, despite all that Robinson has yet to put together a competitive situation in Winston Cup competition.
That's why she's taking a step back to regroup, with hopes that she can run as full of a season -- if not an entire campaign -- as possibly.
"Honestly, the only way to do it is to do it full-time, that's the only way to do it right," Robinson said. "All these situations, and thank God I've had opportunities, but the problem is they've never been consistent, and they have to be. At this point, you almost do get frustrated and just say, 'You know, if I'm not going to do it right, I'm not going to do it all. I'm tired of the way that I'm in and out, never knowing what I'm doing.'
"Hopefully, by the end of this month, I'll know if I'm going to Daytona at the end of January or not. Right now, I don't know, but I'd say yes."
Not only is Robinson a talented driver, her desire to continue working toward her goal has never faltered. Sure, there have been trials and tribulations, but through it all, Robinson has kept a smile on her face, persevered and continued to push forward. When an obstacle has blocked her path, she's either gone around it or pushed it aside. She's as driven in her personality as she is behind the wheel.
"I have to be," she said. "I'm not going to say there are not times where I think what's going to happen. But believe me, I have been in this situation. I've been in NASCAR since 1988, and very rarely has it been to where November comes and I'm locked into to know exactly what I'm doing the next year.
"And that's the tough part about a female being competitive in this sport. Unless you're grabbed on to by somebody like a Ganassi or (Jack) Roush or (Robert) Yates or somebody that can bring you along like they do other drivers. And, there just hasn't been in that situation. I think in my situation, I've definitely opened doors and made a path.
"There are a lot of things that you can't control. There are things that I can't control, but I'm continuing to fight them. I could say I don't make these decisions, and I don't have control over how these decisions are made and who's going to be in what. But right now, it's all based on money and that's what talks."
Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for ESPN.com.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories