Shawna Robinson is a former NASCAR driver who has competed in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series and is one of only three women to compete in the Daytona 500. Robinson currently works as a designer for her company Shawna Robinson Design and started her business, Happy Chair, which sells vintage inspired furniture.
When asked about her start in NASCAR, Shawna Robinson credits her father for her involvement and interest. She said, “My dad was a racecar driver when I was young and my brother also raced. I grew up with a car being in the garage and they would be changing the motor, etc. This was in the Midwest where they would be racing on dirt tracks and pretty much every weekend we would be at a race. When I graduated high school, my dad was promoting [race car events] and he was always willing to try new things to get people on the stand. Later, he started doing diesel truck racing, which was how I started racing a big truck. At 18, I moved from Iowa to Pennsylvania because of an oil company’s sponsorship in which they hired me to drive for them and from there I got to the point in my career where there wasn’t really anywhere else for me to go in the truck racing world because it was a very small world. That is when I started NASCAR and I had the opportunity to move to the Carolinas and start a NASCAR career.”
Shawna Robinson started racing when she was 18 and described her life as drastically different from that of her friends. She said, “I really thought that the first year, that it was just for fun. I was only 18 and I didn’t really know what I wanted from life at that age. Basically, I did [truck shows] for a year. In ‘83 and ‘84, I got a better, faster truck where I was running on bigger tracks (i.e. Poconos, Michigan). I was going 200 miles an hour in 800 pound truck! Then, I started to take [racing] seriously. I had to treat my life, if I was going to take this seriously, like an athlete in training. That was something that I chose to do and it was definitely going to be hard work. I knew my life wasn’t going to be ‘normal.’”
Life as a female NASCAR driver did have its fair share of “road bumps” in sense that it wasn’t the easiest of paths for a woman in a male-dominated sport. Robinson described her journey as follows, “Even if you are male (or female!) it is really hard to become one of the top drivers in NASCAR. I started racing when I was 18 and I’ve only raced a few women. It wasn’t so much competing with the other [male] drivers that was hard, but it was competing with the owners, getting good equipment, opportunities, and getting people to believe that I had talent, so I could show it.”
Shawna Robinson believes that one of the greatest adversities female NASCAR drivers may face would be within themselves. Robinson shared a story that illustrates her mental grit and perseverance: “I was racing in Michigan and was leading, but blew a tire and hit the wall. From which I broke my shoulder and wrist. The next race was next weekend at the Poconos and my car owner, who worked for the Panthers at the time, called me in rehab and said, ‘You’re gonna come here and we’re going to put a steering wheel in your hand and you are going to be able to turn it by next week.’ I said ‘What?!’ and he told me to just come. So, I was in the Panthers stadium and in their wade pool moving my arm back and forth. By the time I left there, I was able to hold a steering wheel and I rode in Poconos next weekend with broken bones! I think that if anything can hold you back it would be yourself. You have to find positivity and ignore all negativity to move forward.”
When asked about what tips she would give to girls who may face adversity in a male-dominated field, Shawna gave the following advice:
1) It takes a team. In anything that you go out to do, it takes more than one person.
2) Setting goals is very important. Where do you want to see yourself in 1 year? 3 years? 5 years?
3) Be in touch with your intuitive self. I think it’s so important to have confidence in yourself and I think all women have an incredible sense of intuition, but a lot of us don’t listen to or recognize it. Your intuition is telling you something for a reason!
4) There are always going to hurdles, but you have to learn to jump over them. If everything was easy, then wouldn’t everyone do it? I think any athlete has to have that mentality to perform their best.
Finally, when discussing her past and present careers, Shawna Robinson concluded our conversation by saying, “I am grateful to have been in a position where I was able to do what I love. I have had two careers that have allowed me to pursue my passions.”
Contributor: Keerthi Jayaraman