So many, April 2008 can be looked upon as a historic month for women in motorsports. On April 20, Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a race in the IndyCar Series. Seven days later, Ashley Force beat her famous father John to become the first female driver to win a national Funny Car event. But just a few days out from the month that's known for bringing spring showers, something of significance was happening with another fine lady who likes to live life in the fast lane and it may very well be the beginning of a career that we'll also see among the pages of motorsports history.
On March 29, a 19-year-old Chrissy Wallace made her driving debut in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va. Sure, there have been other women to drive in the CTS before her, but consider this: presently there are no women competing full time in any of NASCAR's top three series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck. Add to this that only 14 women total have ever competed in a Cup race (a series established in 1949) and, well, some might consider this a pretty big deal.
Wallace comes from a racing family. Her dad Mike is a veteran driver in the Nationwide Series and has won races on almost every kind of track you can drive on. Her uncle Rusty is a past Sprint Cup champ and her uncle Kenny drives in the Nationwide and Cup series. So, it's easy to see how Chrissy caught the racing bug early.
According to Wallace, a St. Louis native who sounds politely Southern since being raised in Concord, she started racing for fun around age 10, and just a few years later is when she decided to take it more seriously.
"I didn't really get serious about it until I was 16, when I was driving home from a track after a win," she says. Wallace's earlier days included Legend Cars, Bandolero and Thunder Roadster racing.
"I was really active in other sports up until that point, especially AAU Softball," she says, explaining how she even turned down a full college scholarship to pursue racing.
"I decided I wanted to follow in Dad's footsteps. Some people probably think racing was something forced on me," she confides, "but it wasn't.
"My parents are the most encouraging people. They let me decide on what I wanted to do and told me they would support me whether it was racing or not."
And it's racing she's been doing ever since ... and winning. Wallace's career highlights are filled with plenty of wins and first-time accomplishments: first female to win in a Legend's Car at Friendship Speedway, Elkin, N.C.; first female to finish in the top five in a Thunder Roadster at Lowe's Motor Speedway; first female to win in a Bandalero at Atlanta Motor Speedway; and most recently, first female to win a Late Model Race at Hickory Motor Speedway.
"It was amazing. I had tears in my eyes. My mom had tears in her eyes. It was very overwhelming," Wallace says of the win at Hickory's famed track.
"Some people thought it was a fluke that I won, but I proved it wasn't. I went out and won more races and won Rookie of the Year [that same year]."
Wallace, who just turned 20, is planning to run six more truck races this season with a possibility of competing in three to four ARCA races too. In 2009 and 2010 she plans to drive full time in the CTS. In 2011 she hopes to move up to the Nationwide Series then eventually move up to the Cup level.
But running on NASCAR's Sprint Cup level doesn't come without securing sponsors and big money ones at that; Victoria's Secret and Mary Kay are just a couple of names. But will there really come a day when a woman can succeed in such a male-dominated sport and is she the one to do it?
"It's what comes next ... a female to win in the Cup series and that does put pressure on me because I have people tell me that they think I can be the one to do it," she says.
"In the next four to five years I think we'll definitely see more diversity in the sport," she adds. "And I think if more females become involved in racing then more sponsors like Mary Kay or Victoria's Secret would become interested."
As Wallace talks of Patrick and (Ashley) Force and the high regard she has for their accomplishments, she admits there is a certain amount of extra pressure one can experience when you're practically representing an entire gender in a particular sport. Plus, take to mind the dreaded old race adage and that doesn't help either: You're only as good as your last race.
She says, "I do feel extra pressure because I've had other female drivers tell me that you only have one chance. That if you wreck you might not get another chance to go out and prove yourself again. It's not the same for the guys. They can wreck ,and they know they'll most likely still have a ride."
Wallace's 18th place finish at Martinsville (on the lead lap mind you) has helped subside some of the pressure for now.
She says, "I think once Martinsville happened, a lot of people realized how serious I am about this being my career. And it helped prove that I could really drive."
How she plans to handle the pressure down the road is certainly different from most of her male counterparts: she'll go shopping!
"I really like to go shopping if I have any time away from the track or race shop," she laughs.