The Hot Pass: Danica impacts other female racing pioneers

While the rain has deterred most drivers in the ARCA Series garage, Alli Owens observes the final changes her crew makes to the metallic pink No. 15 Chevrolet.

The Daytona Beach native is more than just a bystander. Owens has worked on cars since she was 12. She’s been extremely conscious of every detail and every adjustment that has been made to the car over the last 24 hours.

“I want to know what they’re doing,” Owens said. “That’s been my focus since we unloaded. I had to know how to work on cars so I could race.”

For Owens, her focus has paid off. In last year’s ARCA race, Owens qualified second and was running sixth on Lap 30 when Eddie Mercer took Owens out of the race. Her 40th-place finish in the Eddie D’Hondt-prepared car was not indicative of her potential.

Owens hopes to change that in Saturday’s Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200. Last fall she received a call from Bill Venturini – a fixture in the ARCA garage for the last 25 years. Owens describes the experience as “just an amazing opportunity” to work with the team.

But the economy has been tough on budgets, Owens’ included. And although her deal isn’t fully sponsored, she’s hoping the Danica Factor will change that.

“If everybody had a budget like Danica,” Owens said, “we’d be all set. But when she puts on her helmet tomorrow, she’ll be just another driver on the race track.”

While other females have come and gone in ARCA, six women – triple the total of the last two Daytona races — attempted to make the field for Saturday’s race – including Patrick and Owens, who qualified 12th and 19th, respectively. But this year is different. The exposure that the ARCA series has received since Patrick decided to test in December has rocketed.

Owens doesn’t have to look far from her garage bay to see the posse that follows Patrick through the garage or the media that camp outside the newcomer’s transporter. But Patrick’s arrival has residual rewards for Owens and the other women in the garage. Owens admits more people approach her to say “how much they respect what (she’s) doing in the car.”

And Owens has tried to put herself "in Danica’s shoes." She realizes the pressure that is on the 27-year-old Patrick to succeed. But there’s also a lot hanging in the balance for the other female hopefuls that don’t have Patrick’s marketing machine behind them who are desperately looking for that one female that can finally break down the barriers and open more doors.

“Danica needs to understand the responsibility she has when she comes over here because there’s a lot more weight she is carrying that the outside people don’t know about,” Owens said. “For people like myself and other girls who run stock cars who are trying to come up the stock car level it’s a tough world out there – stock car (racing) is based out of running moonshine, it’s not like you are going to have people accept the fact that there are females. At the local level, they are still struggling with that.

“This is my dream come true. This is what I’ve lived for my entire life and worked for. With Danica coming over here, I hope she doesn’t see it just as an opportunity cause she can and then try to make it work because there’s a lot of girls out there that are running late models, are trying to put something together for ARCA that need her to succeed and want this because there hasn’t been anybody that’s done it.”