Book Review - NASCAR Women, At The Heart of Racing
by Doug Belliveau
December 20, 2003

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NASCAR fans have the natural tendency to focus on all of the men involved with the sport. After all, they are the ones driving the racecars, selling products in the commercials, and being interviewed on the television. What everyone tends to overlook are the contributions that women have made to the sport of stock car racing. Denise Wood has produced a book entitled NASCAR Women at the Heart of Racing that will be sure to enlighten you in this regard.

Denise Wood has been involved with racing since 1989, first as a journalist in Richmond and Norfolk. She then took a position in 1995 with Sports Marketing Enterprises and has done public relations work with RCA and Roush Racing. Denise has done a wonderful and thorough job of researching and interviewing 13 of NASCARís most notable women.

Although I have seen many of these women at the racetracks from time to time, I had little knowledge of the paths they took to get where they are. Each of these women went through a unique journey in life, sometimes suffering heartaches along the way. And although the stories of racecar drivers are more well known, the lives of these 13 women are just as compelling.

The book is full of interesting facts about not only these particular women, but also their families and the others around them that they have supported and inspired. Here are some of the bookís tidbits to whet your appetite:

  • A few of these women, including Matt Kensethís wife Katie, surprisingly knew nothing about racing when they met up with racecar drivers for the first time.

  • Pattie Petty, a former Winston girl, changed the spelling of her first name when she married Kyle, who was eight years her senior!

  • Most of the driverís families went through very lean financial situations up until the late 1990ís, prior to the common use of private airplanes and motorhomes.

  • Stevie Waltrip, Darrellís wife, was key in obtaining access to the garage area for all the driverís wives. Up until the mid 1980ís, access had always been denied and frowned upon.

  • Driverís girlfriends had difficulty being accepted by the racing community until they became their wives.

I think the overwhelming theme of this book is the total life change these women had to make in order to become supporters of the men they loved. Many gave up their careers or their college studies, and moved half way across the country to be with their men. The strains of the racing industry are not restricted to just the drivers, teams and owners. The wives and families also pay the price of sacrifice for the ultimate goal of competing and winning.

And this book is not just about driverís wives. The author also discusses women like Gail Davis, Lesa France Kennedy, Danielle Frye, Jackie Pegram and Deb Williams, who have been integral to the success of NASCAR in such roles as car owners, presidents, journalists and contributors to the Motor Racing Outreach program.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in racing. As a fellow racing journalist, I learned a great deal about these individuals and the racing business in general. Even a person who knows nothing about racing would find this a compelling story of the lives of very special people. And one more thing Ė it is worth the price of admission just to browse through the plentiful and never before published pictures supplied by the women themselves. After all, who wouldnít want to see pictures of Pattie and Kyle Petty on their wedding day?

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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