Women in Grassroots Racing: Careers in every aspect of the sport
Kingsport, TN It’s an intriguing contradiction: Grassroots racing is known as a family sport and Motorsports racing events around the country see audiences that are almost equally split between men and women; yet fewer and fewer women are making their careers in the industry.
So if women are enthusiastic enough to attend races in such large numbers, why do such a low number choose to make motorsports their life’s work?
Contingency Connection recently interviewed three women who work in different aspects of the motorsports industry: manufacturing, driving, and track operations, as part of their continued initiative to create conversations and promote the grassroots racing industry.
Lori Bollas-Sports Marketing Director at Lincoln Welders; Leigh Hubbard-Super Pro Dragster Driver and sister of NHRA Top Fuel champ Clay Millican and Pam Kendrick-President of the IHRA sanctioned Memphis International Raceway each weigh-in on their individual experiences in grassroots racing, their genuine love of the sport, in the trenches, from the bottom-up!
Lori Bollas, Sports Marketing Director – Lincoln Welders
CC: First things first: How did you get into the motorsports/aftermarket industry? How many years have you been involved?
LB: I was working for Lincoln Welders at the time and bid on a position in their Motorsports Marketing Department. I had a degree in marketing, but knew nothing about racing. After my first racing event I was hooked. That was 18 years ago, time flies when you love your job!
CC: What makes being a woman in the motorsports marketing industry a unique experience?
LB: I think women are held to a higher standard entering this field because it has traditionally been a male-dominated sport/aftermarket. When you attend events, you see that there are just as many female fans as male fans. Yet, women are not represented as much as men in motorsports positions. As more women become interested in cars and motorsports, it should open more opportunities for females in this industry.
CC: So, what do you think it will take for more women to become interested in cars and motorsports as a whole?
LB: Teach young women early about working on cars, get them interested in racing by taking them to the track and showing them the women who are doing it now, teach them that they belong under the hood, not on it. Automotive aftermarket companies, automotive training centers and racing series can help break down the stereotypes and market more towards females. If you show confidence in females tackling major things like car repairs and racing, it will encourage them to go for it.
CC: What would you say to young women who are thinking about pursuing a career in motorsports/aftermarket?
LB: I would encourage these women to attend a variety of racing events to get a feel for the industry. I think it also helps to attend automotive aftermarket trade shows like SEMA and PRI show, as these shows feature the latest and greatest products on the market.
Leigh Hubbard, Super Pro Dragster Driver, sister of NHRA Top Fuel champ Clay Millican
CC: Tell us how you first got in to racing and a little about your journey in grassroots racing.
LH: I was born into racing. My dad, mom and brother all raced. I was raised at a racetrack every weekend. That’s where I met my husband Cliff. He is a multi-time track, big money bracket racer champion. I knew I was meant to be there every chance I got.
For years I was just the pit help. I did the fuel, air pressure, kept up with all the data every round. Anything that I could do to be of help to Cliff to win in the Super Pro class… I did. I had raced my daily driver (Honda Civic) in the D.O.T. class a little bit & did pretty well. I made a few passes in the dragster just for fun, but still never thought about driving full time. Then about 3 years ago I raced my husbands souped up Plymouth Duster and went to the finals the first night I drove it. He decided to let me take a shot at driving the dragster and I’ve been in it ever since.
CC: What was it like growing up with a mom who loved racing as much as the men in your family? Did that shape your enthusiasm for the sport now in any particular way?
LH: When my mom raced she ran my dad’s ‘55 Chevy on a air strip that they all used as a drag strip as well. This is when they were first married back in the 1960s. Of course I wasn't even a thought at that time, but she was always right there when we would all load up and go to the track with my brother… being as supportive as she could be. I always saw old black and white pictures of her and my dad with his racecar at the drag strip. I just thought how cool it was that my mom liked the thrill of the fast cars too. Now she has two kids who race. One just goes a little faster than the other. Ok ALOT faster but you get the point.
CC: Well both you and your brother Clay have found success with racing in your own rights! Fill us in on how this season is going for you?
LH: I’m happy to report I have finally found the winner circle again. I won the Friday night “IHRA Division 2” Gamblers Race at Memphis International Raceway, with $2500 prize and a 100 cars to beat. Biggest win of my career! It was some tough competition but I got it done. I have struggled some this year with getting used to a faster motor and I have not made the winner’s circle until recently . I got down to three cars in the $10k to win and turned it .001 red. I get down to the finals in weekly races, just haven’t executed all the way to the end.
CC: Congratulations on the win, Leigh! How has being a woman in racing been a unique experience?
LH: Its been a little different. The men tend to look a little funny when they see they have to run a woman. But I think once the helmets go on, we are just competitors. Although I know they hate being beat by a girl more than they hate being beat by a man. For the most part though all the men I have raced have been really good sports to me. I have been treated no differently.
CC: So based off your experiences, what would you say to young women who are interested in getting involved with grassroots racing?
LH: I would say to get involved in the sport any way you can. If you know someone that races go hang out and help as much as you can. Most importantly LEARN as much as you can. Women can race just as good as men if not better, if we really set our minds to it. Women have come a long way in racing over the years and will continue to grow bigger as time goes on.
Pam Kendrick, President - Memphis International Raceway
CC: Tell me how you got started with grassroots racing and ended up with Memphis International Raceway?
PK: My career in racing started at Dover Motorsports in Dover, DE. Dover owned the Memphis facility. My initial interest was NASCAR and when I transferred to Memphis it gave me an opportunity to work in multiple sanctions of racing which I have absolutely loved. The drag racing side of the business was one I had to learn, as in Dover we only had NASCAR and Indy Car a few times. It was a challenge in the beginning, but being open to the culture and difference
was the biggest key to doing it. The racers and the fans have made the experience once I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to take part in.
CC: How has being a women made your experience working in motorsports unique?
PK: It has been interesting to say the least, many initially think I’m joking when we discuss my background and what I’ve done and then quickly learn the knowledge and history is there to get their attention. Being a listener and not a reactor has also been a benefit.
CC: What would you say to young women thinking about a career in motorsports, especially at the track level?
PK: My number one advice would be - learn the sports, learn as many different variations of the sports as you can. The knowledge we gain in the classroom allows us to make sound business decision as we gain experience, but the knowledge of the sports gains the respect and loyalty of those you are working with.
The fact of the matter is that grassroots racing has always been the ONE true family sport; with husbands, wives, grandparents, sons and daughters partnering on race teams, wrenching, tailgating, and grilling in the pits together.
So although women decide to pursue careers in motorsports less frequently than men, their appetite for performance is no less passionate than their male counterparts. A career in the aftermarket industry may be the road less traveled for women, but a few female pioneers are hoping to change that mantra and open the door for future generations of women to influence and effect the growth of the performance market.
Contingency Connection -- new sponsors join daily as manufacturers think locally, grow nationally and invest in grassroots racing
Kingsport, TN: Contingency Connection continues to announce new sponsors for their popular Racer Rewards and Engine Professional Rewards programs: SCAT Enterprises, PROCAR Seats by Scat, UCoat It Garage, Straub Technologies, ProCote Floor Coating, and Design Engineering, Inc (DEI) have all signed on for 2017 joining the largest grassroots, weekly motorsports event-marketing platform in the country!
Contingency Connection’s Racer Rewards program is a weekly, grassroots-level contingency program which rewards local racers with money-saving discounts from TOP performance manufacturers. Racers at participating tracks and series simply run sponsor decals for products they use (or would like to use) in order to earn the manufacturer rewards coupons.
In turn, the AERA sponsored Engine Professional Rewards links manufacturers directly to 2,500 plus performance shops, engine builders, installers and machine shops in the United States and Canada. This all-encompassing “shop oriented” marketing plan is comprised of a direct-mail Engine Professional coupon book, season-long full color ad, videos, sweepstakes, website links and e-blasts; promoting participating manufacturer products, technical information, and advertisements directly to shops.
“We are thrilled to welcome new manufacturers to the Contingency Connection family,” Jackie Ressa from Contingency Connection said. “Their commitment to our program is a true testament of their support for grassroots, weekend warrior racing. Watch for many more announcements over the coming weeks as manufacturers are shifting to bottom-up marketing. Think locally, grow nationally.”
SCAT Enterprises has been manufacturing high-performance parts for more than 50 years, and is the authority on aftermarket crankshafts and connecting rods.
PROCAR Seats by Scat has been a top choice for aftermarket automotive seating since 1982. PROCAR style, comfort, and quality compliments the interior of any automobile, street rod, cruiser, pony car, muscle car, jeep, off-road buggy, truck or sport compact at an affordable price.
UCoat It Garage manufactures true, commercial-grade epoxy floor coating systems for DIY-ers, a must-have for shops and home garages to protect the floor from chemicals and abrasions.
ProCote Floor Coating Systems provides high-quality, custom floor coating solutions for shops and manufacturers; commercial and industrial customers applied by the professionals from ProCote.
Straub Technologies believes that every camshaft is “a true custom design, built specifically for each individual customer and combination.” They look at factors like car weight, engine size, heads, compression, transmission, converter, gear, tires and, most of all, intended use. This attention to detail is what separates Straub Technologies’ products from the one-size-fits-all, off-the-shelf cam.
DEI is one of the foremost suppliers of thermal tuning products, featuring products for racers, street performance enthusiasts and hobbyists alike. In addition to supplying the performance aftermarket with thermal tuning products, Design Engineering, Inc. serves the needs of the powersports, marine, industrial and commercial industry markets the world over.
For more information on the Racer Rewards program, Engine Professional Rewards program, or any of their sponsors, visit www.contingencyconnection.com
Creating Connections: Partnership with Quality Tracks & Series Boosts Contingency Connection’s ability to Bring National Sponsorship to Grassroots Racers
Continuing its mission of introducing the best performance parts manufacturers to local racing communities, Contingency Connection has added more than two-dozen highly respected racetracks and series to its 2017 grassroots Racer Rewards support program.
The largest grassroots motorsports marketing platform in the U.S.A., Contingency Connection brings product suppliers and track owners together to benefit local racers through its national Racer Rewards program. Manufacturers provide support for tracks and traveling series; sponsors receive exposure to local racers, fans, shops, and businesses; and racers can earn thousands in additional contingency awards to help them pay racing expenses.
This year will mark record highs for Contingency Connection’s Racer Rewards program with a record number of manufacturers posting over 200 products; and a record 58 tracks and series hosting nearly 2,000 events nationally. This expansion provides sponsors an immeasurable opportunity to get their brands, products, and services in front of over 18,000 competitors and 50,000 spectators per week.
Each year, Contingency Connection continues to evolve offering new categories of racing and new venues and this year is no exception. Competition includes dirt, paved, drag, sand drags, road course, import, motorcycle, tractor pull, and diesel events. And it’s not just the additional number of racetracks and series for 2017 that has officials excited about the upcoming season—it’s the fact that the tracks and series are some of the top racing venues in the country.
“While it is true that we have signed the most tracks and series in our 23-year history,” notes Jackie Ressa of Contingency Connection. “It is also the best-quality compilation of tracks and series in our history.”
New partnerships include high-profile Macon, Jacksonville, Quincy, Highland, and Lincoln Speedways in Illinois, and their well-known owners:
Now in its 72nd season of racing, Mighty Macon is a tight, high-banked, 1/5-mile track that hosts top series such as the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, Summer Nationals Late Models, Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All-Star Sprint Cars, USAC National Midgets, MOWA Sprints, POWRi Midgets and more. The track is co-owned by Tony Stewart, Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, and Bob Sargent.
Central Illinois’ Jacksonville Speedway and Quincy Raceways feature thrilling dirt track racing every Friday and Sunday night of the season and are operated by 2015 DIRTcar UMP Promoter of the Year Kenny Dobson and his group CILTRAK, which also operates the Neal Tire MOWA Sprint Car Series. During their time promoting Jacksonville and Quincy each venue has hosted two World of Outlaw Events for the first time: Late Models at Quincy Raceways in 2015 and 2016 and Sprint Cars at Jacksonville in 2014 and 2016.
“The Contingency Connection Racer Rewards program is the best,” said Kenny Wallace former NASCAR driver. “It reminds me of when my dad (Rusty Wallace) raced. One of the biggest thrills for our racing family was when we were given free product at our local racetrack.”
Newly enrolled tracks like Kenny Wallace’s’ Macon Speedway join a loyal family of Contingency Connection track partners--many of which have been with the Racer Rewards program for 10-20 years! Tracks such as Memphis International, National Trail Raceway, Richmond Dragway, Mobile Dragway, New Smyrna Speedway, Valley Speedway, and the Corn Belt Clash Dirt Late Model Series recognize the value that the program brings to their competitors, fans, local shops, and supporting businesses, as they continue to promote the program locally, in support of grassroots racing nationally.
For more information about joining Contingency Connection’s fast-growing partner network of racers, shops, sponsors, tracks, and series--visit contingencyconnection.com
A family affair: Father and son racers find success with the help of the Racer Rewards program
Father John Sherrick, two-time champion at National Trail Raceway with “The Gambler” (S-10 Chevy Truck) and “White Lightening” (1980 Mercury Zepher), and his son Nathan Sherrick, two-time Sport Compact Champion at National Trail Raceway (2015 and 2016 stock Colbalt) talk about how Contingency Connection’s Racer Rewards program helps get them to the winner’s circle all season long.
“My name is Nathan Sherrick, son of John Sherrick, and I wanted to share a little about our family’s racing history and what programs like Contingency Connection have meant for our success.”
“I am the back-to-back Sport Compact Track Champion at National Trail Raceway. Out of 12 races this year I won 9 times, 1 no show, and 2 runner ups, which is almost a clean sweep. I also placed in a few weekend races as well and was within hundreds of a second for King of the Track”
“I also race nationwide in the Import Facebook tour, where I am a two-time bracket champion, as well as at Milan, MI and Pittsburgh, PA. I am also the runner-up in Indy and Semi’s twice at National Trails.”
“I start my 2017 season on April 2nd in Rockingham, N.C. before returning to National Trail Raceway. I will also race in Joliet, Ill and Lebanon, NY before returning home again to compete in the 2017 Import Faceoff.”
“I hope to win 3 championships in a row this year at National Trail Raceway. Not bad for only racing four full years, but having my dad as a mentor (who has been racing for 50+ years) has been a huge asset.”
“In fact, my dad is the reason I made Drag Racing my number one hobby. He has been racing since 1959 at Hyde Park and evolved to National Trail Raceway himself. Growing up watching The Gambler win so many races and he soon became a two-time champion in his S-10 Chevy Truck. After racing a fast back Mustang, he went to his new build, a 1980 Mercury Zepher, With the help of Contingency Connection, and the many sponsors who support the Racer Rewards program, the new motor is about to be finished. “White Lightening” should be in the high 9's and hopefully consistent.”
“I also want to give a special thanks to all the Contingency Connection Racer Rewards Sponsors! Without them I could not afford to go racing as often this coming summer. Thank you for supporting grassroots racers. We need all the help we can get!”
Thanks to WILWOOD BRAKES for sponsoring Racer Rewards program. I collected coupons at National Trail and MCIR in Ohio and could get a new brake system.
CLOYES & OLIVER- love their parts, glad they are in the program-- and so does my engine builder and his shop foreman!
Competition Products & Howards- JUST THE BEST products and best offers. I redeem every year with both companies. I also take these coupons to my engine builder.
MOROSO-I am using coupons we have won from three cars to buy a new oil pan!
PAINLESS Performance- Will be calling in the next 30 days. Great stuff, Nathan only uses Painless period.
Edelbrock & Russell- I used Racer Rewards coupons and spent $1000+ at Lane Automotive/Motorstate. Plus I got shirts and hats.
Lincoln Electric- AMAZING stuff—got two welding shirts and other stuff. GREAT COMPANY to work with
JET-HOT great offer with 25% off…we are using Jet Hot on allof our cars
Quick Fuel- Bought a carburetor with coupons
MSD- I redeem every year. Always the best products and best service
FST and Holley- I redeemed coupons with both. Great folks to work with.
RACEQUIP- BEST OF ALL! I got belts, jacket, shoes, and they threw in so much extra stuff. I recommend Racequip to every racer out there!
Grassroots Gurus: Top performance manufacturers depend on Contingency Connection to reach weekend warriors
Kingsport, TN: Performance industry mainstay Hedman Hedders understands how important grassroots racing has been to the success of the company. After all, owner Bob Vandergriff has described himself a racer first, business man second, who understands “the sportsman side is where the numbers are – and obviously we are in a numbers business.”
And with Vandergriff’s passion and focus on grassroots racing, it makes sense that Hedman Hedders was the first company to sign up as a sponsor for Contingency Connection’s grassroots race-marketing program back in 1994. Hedman Hedders and Contingency Connection have always had the same goal... to bring the best products in the performance aftermarket to the best weekend warriors across the country. Twenty-two years later, Hedman Hedders, along with sister companies Trans-Dapt Performance and Hamburger’s Performance, are still Contingency Connection sponsors and still seeing the benefit to their bottom line.
“We have seen the program expand tremendously over the years from a handful of drag racing tracks exclusively, to dozens of drag racing and oval tracks across the country,” Ron Funfar, President of the Hedman Performance Group said. “We feel the program offers us a great return on our relatively small investment, and comments of appreciation we get from weekend racers when we attend races are outstanding.”
Since 1994, Contingency Connection has coordinated a “make sense” marketing approach to reaching the masses of do-it-yourself, grassroots, racing enthusiasts that represent the largest market segment in the sport of racing. The program has grown to include nearly 100 sponsors and 100 tracks and series making it the largest, most effective way to promote products and services at the grassroots racing level. Its reach is extensive, yet its concept so simple you might wonder “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Their flagship Racer Rewards program directly connects manufacturers with race tracks, traveling series, racers, and fans through a simple product couponing program and an aggressive on-site track presence with signage, announcements and decals on the race cars. Collectively manufacturers post an impressive $100,000 in Racer Rewards at each track, racers display manufacturer stickers and weekly winners earn certificates towards the purchase of performance products, which drives business back to the manufacturer.
Jackie Ressa of Contingency Connection stated that “Both the Racer Rewards and AERA Engine Professional Rewards are aimed at connecting top manufacturers with weekend warriors and local shops that are the heart and soul of the racing industry,” Jackie Ressa of Contingency Connection said. “Our main goal is to put sponsor brands at the track, in the stands, and in the shop with end-user customers.”
The bottom-up marketing concept quickly attracted other top manufacturers such as ELGIN, Richmond Gear, Mahle, AutoMeter, Edelbrock, Wilwood, MSD, Quick Fuel, Painless, K&N, Moroso, Wiseco, Competition Products and the list goes on as manufacturers recognize grassroots racing as the backbone of the sport.
“All of our companies have a long history of involvement in racing and although there was a steady increase in the number of racers at the dragstrip, it was still very difficult to get the Hedman Hedders, Trans-Dapt and Hamburger’s Performance names in front of the small town, back road, Saturday night racers,” Marc Lewis of Hedman Hedders said. “In the early 90’s, when Jackie Ressa and Ronnie Ball approached us about getting involved in a race program that focused on the very same racers we were wanting to reach, we had to try it out.”
And while performance manufacturers were easily finding avenues to reach top-level pro racers, weekend warriors were a much more elusive (albeit just as important) demographic to market to.
Just ask Bobby Writesman of Holley, a company that posts 18 total brands in the grassroots Racer Rewards and/or Engine Professional Rewards programs.
“Today the bulk of racing programs and sponsorships seemingly focus on the high level touring series or professional ranks of racing,” Writesman said. “While every driver aspires to reach these heights it is at the local Saturday night circle track or drag-strip that many hone their skills and begin learning the value of quality performance parts such as Holley, MSD, Earls, NOS, Mr. Gasket etc. The Contingency Connection is focused and fully committed to the grass roots level of racing.”
And according to Writesman, reaching the weekend warriors is paramount to successfully marketing Holley’s extensive line of performance products.
“Grassroots tracks across the nation are made up of thousands of Saturday night racers and teams. Introducing a new brand or quality product to a team or engine builder is the ultimate goal in marketing and sales,” Writesman said. “Racers become committed for life on certain brands such as Holley or MSD… and they likely first encounter these brands at a local track.”
Mark Gearhart of JE Pistons couldn’t agree more.
“Although professional racing is a significant portion of our business, the majority is still weekend warriors,” Gearhart said. “Without them our business wouldn’t be successful, so we continue to focus on supporting them whenever possible. The Contingency Connection program allows us to support racers at local tracks that we normally couldn’t reach directly.” In addition to weekly awards, JE has sponsored the JE Sportsman of the Year bonus for nearly 15 years making it one of the highest paying, longest running sponsors at the grassroots level.
And most recently, manufacturers wanted a direct link to machine shops, engine builders, and performance shops—so Contingency Connection went back to the drawing board launching the “first of its kind” Engine Professional Rewards program. Yet another simple coupon- based marketing program, the Engine Professional Rewards program sends money-saving manufacturer coupons directly to enrolled shops; increasing shop profitably. And in just 3 short years, what started with 300 enrolled shops has grown to 2,500 shops thanks to Contingency Connection’s AERA Engine Builder Association partnership. Shops enroll free and can learn more here.
Bottom line…Contingency Connection unites racers, tracks, shops, and manufacturers in a unique and powerful way.
For more information on the Contingency Connection’s Racer Rewards Program or Engine Professional Rewards Program, go to http://www.contingencyconnection.com/ or contact Jackie Ressa at 423-288-0285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.