College-educated, talented and attractive. Deborah Renshaw is all three, and the combination has put her a season away from a full ride in the NASCAR Busch Series. But being a woman in a male-dominated sport has its down side, and the 26-year-old experienced it fully July 13.
A regular on the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series Late Model Division at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, in Nashville, Tenn., Renshaw was atop the standings at one point this season thanks to nine top-5 and 11 top-10 finishes.
Her ability didn’t go unnoticed – especially by her fellow competitors. On July 13 many of the Nashville Late Model pilots dipped into their own pockets to pay for the cost of filing a protest against her car.
When her machine was broken down there was a minor violation discovered, but the point was made – Renshaw wasn’t welcome by several of her peers.
“All that is really unfortunate,” says Renshaw, who hopes to win Rookie of the Year honors in the Busch Series in 2003. “This is a roller coaster sport, and you have to accept the highs along with the lows. But to be honest, it’s really rewarding overall. There’s a lot of dedication from my team and I’ve been getting a lot of support, so I try not to worry so much about the other stuff.”
If all goes as planned, racing Late Models will soon be a distant memory for the Kentucky native. In four Automobile Racing Club of America runs in 2002, she has finished in the top 10 three times and has one 11th-place spot.
Renshaw raced in two more ARCA events this year for Bob Schacht Motorsports and secured a spot in the No. 54 Team Bristol Busch car for 2003.
“Bob Schacht Motorsports gave me a great opportunity, then suddenly I had a chance to move up to Busch full-time next year,” she says. “So at Talladega we’re doing a little bit of testing for ARCA and a little to get prepared for Busch.
“I feel good about the way my ARCA runs went. Maybe we can get a little bit of momentum going into next year.”
Renshaw, who began her competitive racing career in go-karts, has been a Late Model driver for the past six seasons. During the 1999-2000 campaign at Highland Rim Speedway, she finished fifth in the points chase and was runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors.
She has also found time to further her education, getting a bachelor’s degree in business from Northwood University in 1997, and also earning an associate’s degree in automotive marketing.
Now she turns her attention to Busch – one step below Winston Cup competition.
“I’m really looking forward to that,” she says. “This is a great opportunity for me and I want to make the most of it. For me, it’s not about being a woman driver, it’s about being the best driver I can be. To be able to move up to Busch next year is a chance I’ve always dreamed of.”
Renshaw also hints she might gain more acceptance away from the Late Model circuit.
“I hope so,” she says. “To me it’s all about the racing, and I think at this level you earn respect by being a good driver, and that’s what I hope to be. My team gives 110 percent and so do I, and I think that’s what helps you gain acceptance.
“I’m not going to focus on the negative.”
Can Matt Kenseth win the 2003 Winston Cup championship? He believes he can.
Kenseth Shines Again
Matt Kenseth won NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors in 2000, and picked up his first win in the series that season. With the 2003 season at hand, the driver is setting his sights higher.
“In 2001 we went through some tough times and things weren’t going our way,” says Kenseth, who drives the DeWalt Tools Ford for Roush Racing. “We’d have a good run going then get caught up in a wreck or something like that. As we went through that, I think it made our team stronger and made us learn what racing is all about.
“Not everything is going to go your way and you’ve got to work at this sport to be successful.”
The work has apparently paid off.
“We did a lot of work over the winter,” Kenseth says. “But we really did a lot of work during the 2001 season and actually improved a lot by the end of the year. If you look at how we ran the last seven or eight races, that’s kind of how we ran in 2002.
“It did take us a while to really sort through our cars and our bodies and try to figure out what we needed to be doing.”
Crew chief Robbie Reiser said earlier in the season that 2002 could be a breakout year for Kenseth.
“I truly believe this is a championship level team and Matt is definitely a driver that’s capable of winning a championship,” Reiser said. “We’re happy with our performance and the consistency we’ve shown, and our main goal is just to continue racing our best each week.”
Although Kenseth didn’t claim the points crown, his multiple wins made him an early favorite this season. The 30-year-old Wisconsin native cut his teeth in the American Speed Association (ASA) series, and became one of the top short track pilots in the nation. In fact, Kenseth’s rise in Winston Cup came almost by accident. In his first-ever Winston Cup start in 1998, he served as a substitute driver for Bill Elliott at Dover and finished sixth. Last year he got his feet wet with the Roush team, making five starts in W.C. And because of his success in 2000, Kenseth adjusted his goals in his sophomore campaign.
“At the first of the year my main goals were to make every race and finish in the top-15,” Kenseth says. “But then at the tracks I was familiar with and have run well on, I wanted to have a top-10 finish. At the ones I haven’t been that good on, I still shot for a top-15.”
When the 2001 season was in the books, Kenseth had finished 13th in the points standings with nine top-10 showings and four top-5s. Kenseth credits Jeff Gordon with paving the way for young drivers to break into Winston Cup.
“Jeff made people realize if you had a good team you could take a chance on a young driver,” Kenseth says. “And it’s all about the team and equipment. I heard an interview with Ricky Rudd once and he said when he was a rookie he had to drive junk and work his way up. That’s not the case anymore.
“Jack Roush has won a lot of races in Winston Cup and all the equipment he has given us helped us get a head start.”
Looking back, Kenseth is glad he made the decision to leave ASA behind and make a name for himself in NASCAR.
“It was a risk to drive for Robbie in Busch,” he says. “I’m sure if things hadn’t worked out I could’ve gone back to my short track program or the ASA, but the opportunity came along and I took it. I certainly don’t regret it.”
Meet the Drivers
Hometown: Owensboro, Ky.
Green, a standout in the NASCAR Busch Series, became a full-time Winston Cup pilot in 2002, driving America Online-sponsored Chevrolets for Richard Childress.
Green’s 2000 Busch championship year was a record-breaking one, with a 616-point margin of
victory in the final standings.
Green’s hobbies include hunting and radio-controlled cars.