A piercing, plaguing, stabbing, grabbing pain that will never go away.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say, it [was like] there's a knife in my stomach," says Robinson, a woman who tried her best to navigate the biased, bumpy roads of NASCAR when Patrick was still in diapers. "It's nothing against Danica, it's me beating myself up with all the what-ifs. I wanted to be that girl; I wanted to be the girl on the pole at the Daytona 500."
Danica is getting the opportunity that women racers before her – pioneers like Robinson, Janet Guthrie and Patty Moise – never received. Danica has the resources, the equipment, the team and the financial backing to actually be a factor in the highest level of NASCAR. And most of all, she has the acceptance of other drivers, a huge fan following and the freedom to be herself.
Patrick is not only a talented driver; she's a beautiful woman – and allowed to be. She is the "Go Daddy" girl who has done provocative photo spreads and sexy TV commercials that have undoubtedly made her more popular and attracted more exposure and sponsorship money to her cause. She's gobbled up even more headlines by dating one of her fellow drivers and bringing NASCAR into the TMZ media generation.
"It's a different time and place," says Robinson, who became the first woman to earn the pole position in any NASCAR circuit – the Goody's Dash Series – back in 1989.
That same season, Robinson was voted the Dash Series "Rookie of the Year" and "Most Popular Driver." Like Danica, she wanted to take advantage of her sex appeal, but was discouraged from being a girl by the good ol' boys of NASCAR.
Once, there was talk of Victoria's Secret offering Robinson a lucrative endorsement deal, but she was told by her main sponsor at the time – Tropicana – such an ad campaign would be unacceptable. Another time, she was simply wearing a V-neck T-shirt in the pits and was told that even the slightest sign of cleavage was unladylike.
"Back then, when we would do a photo shoot, I would be like, 'Why can't we put me in something that shows a little bit more of my femininity in a tasteful way?' " Robinson remembers. "And the answer was always, 'No, you have to stand by the car and hold your helmet just like everybody else.' When I would do sit-down interviews on TV, I would be like, 'Why do I have to wear a golf shirt? Why can't I wear something more fitted?' "
In her early days, Robinson remembers sexist comments from fans, some of whom would tell her she should be wearing "an apron" instead of a fire suit. After she made NASCAR history by qualifying first in the 1989 NASCAR Dash Series, Robinson recalls a male fan approaching her and making a crude, suggestive comment about "being on the pole" for the upcoming race in Atlanta.
But even Robinson acknowledges that Janet Guthrie had it much worse back in the 1970s when she was once welcomed to Charlotte Motor Speedway with the repulsive, rhythmical chant, "Get the [breasts] out of the pits!" Some Neanderthals even branded the heterosexual Guthrie as a "lesbian libber" simply because she had the need for speed in a male-dominated sport.
"I thought I was going to get frostbite the first time I went to shake hands with Richard Petty," Guthrie once recalled during a 1988 panel discussion about women in NASCAR. "… Cup racing is the only sport in the country that meets the standards of the Aryan nations. It's exclusively white and male. If you think the reason for this is a lack of talented women and blacks, you need to re-examine your thinking."
These days, NASCAR has a "Drive for Diversity" program initiated in 2004 with the sole purpose of attracting minorities and women into the sport. If only such acceptance had been around all those years ago. If only those historic, hair-on-fire women like Guthrie and Robinson would have had the vast resources and fast cars Danica has access to today.
Thankfully, this is no longer your daddy's NASCAR but GoDaddy's NASCAR.
"I'm rooting for Danica because she's carrying my dreams with her," Shawna Robinson says.
Dreams of being able to inject some estrogen into this testosterone-charged sport.
Dreams of showing the good ol' boys that NASCAR could use a woman's touch.
Dreams of putting some great American lace into the Great American Race.
And dreams of being in victory lane with the crowd cheering as a racin' remake of Helen Reddy's famous feminist anthem blares throughout the grandstands.
"I am woman, my engine roars,
I'm pushin' the pedal through the floor,
And I know too much to go back and pretend!
I am woman, my engine roars,
And I'm kickin' in some doors,
No one's ever gonna keep me down again!"
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