Dreaming on: Shannon McIntosh breaking molds in auto racing
FEB 12, 2014 3:15p ET
As Shannon McIntosh advances in her motorsports career, there will be a temptation to focus on her gender within a male-dominated lifestyle.
But that's only part of her appeal. In fact, it may be the least interesting.
The lessons of McIntosh's rise go beyond her looks and marketability, both strong in an age when survival within racing requires business savvy along with driving skill. Yes, she's more complex. She has her past to thank for it.
McIntosh, now based in St. Petersburg, Fla., was raised in a middle-class household in Miamisburg, Ohio. Everything that followed is a result of her influences: Her drive and dreams as well as desire and will power to chase an interest she has pursued since winning her first quarter-midgets race at age 5.
Unlike others born into wealthy families with a long racing lineage, this has been no smooth path. This is what has shaped her.
"There's a very fine line between too racy and too sexual, like Danica Patrick can kind of be, and then also proving yourself to be a professional driver," McIntosh told FOX Sports Florida. "So for me, it has really been about a balance of being a feminine and who I really am but also making sure that everybody knows I am a race-car driver because I am a race-car driver -- not for any other gimmick."
McIntosh, 24, is serious about making a racing career work, even if it takes creativity. On Sept. 24, 2013, she launched her "Driving 4 Dreamers" campaign, a crowd-sourced online initiative to help raise funds for testing. She started with a goal of $8,000. The project produced more than $13,000.
From there, one sequence led to another. In December, she signed with the Mooresville, N.C.-based Cunningham Motorsports to race six or seven events in the ARCA Racing Series, starting with an April 27 appearance at Salem Speedway for the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200.
The developments are proof that self-made people can survive in the sometimes-unforgiving world of auto racing. McIntosh began behind a wheel at age 5. Her father, Tim, is a machinist, and her mother, Shellie, was a hairdresser when McIntosh first raced. Neither had a connection to the sport outside their fandom.
"She has always been extremely independent and extremely competitive and really smart," Tim McIntosh said. "It is almost like she was born to drive racecars."
That interest has carried McIntosh through most of the past two decades.
Funding was hard along the way. From the Quarter Midget Series to the Micro Sprint Series to the USAC Ford Focus Series to USAC Midgets to the USF2000 National Championship Series, she's mostly a creation of her own making.
Early on, McIntosh's family supported her as much as possible. But by the time she reached age 15, the costs were large enough that she began legwork throughout her hometown to find sponsorships: knocking on doors, passing out fliers, hoping for a break.
The journey has led her here, to the cusp of reaching a dream.
"My goals have always been NASCAR," McIntosh said.
She sees herself moving from the ARCA Series to the NASCAR Nationwide Series then, eventually, to the Cup Series. She estimates her climb will take about three to five years until she reaches NASCAR.
Nothing is a given, of course. But she has a goal and a timetable in mind. Given her progress to this point, it would be hard to bet against her.
Much about McIntosh's advances is already an achievement. Her dad describes her ascent as "like a movie," and that's not far off.
Her family learned talent only goes so far in racing. Most of the drivers who make it have built-in funding avenues -- either through family or family ties -- to keep the dream alive.
"There's nothing she wants more," Tim said. "It's the most relentless pursuit of anything I've ever seen."
Others see that relentless hunger as well. That's why the "Driving 4 Dreamers" campaign struck a chord.
"Shannon has a lot of the complete package to do well, I think -- the driving abilities and her drive," said Kyle Kelly, a resident of Floyds Knobs, Ind., who donated about $100 and helped contribute T-shirts to the campaign. "The marketability -- you have to have that, I think, and she's well-spoken. I think you have to have that in today's racing if you want to succeed."
Success, McIntosh has. But she wants more. That's little surprise for someone who has made a career out of breaking molds.
Where will her chase lead?
The question remains unanswered. Still, it might not even matter. McIntosh has come this far. It's a distance some may have doubted she would ever reach.
"It's definitely harder the higher and higher I get in the industry, because there is so much more attention," she said. "You're really one of so few (females) that the microscope is on you and any move you make and anything you do is really intensified.
"So it has definitely gotten harder, but it's also a benefit because every driver has to utilize whatever marketing aspect they have these days. And I think being a woman who can win at the top levels of NASCAR is really what's kind of my strength."
That's only part of her story. The best part: More remains to be written.