by Bobby Markos
Drivers in the world of NASCAR come from a variety of backgrounds in racing, from go-karts to midgets, to legends cars to late models. Many cut their teeth on short tracks in these divisions, eventually finding their way to a stepping stone into the NASCAR touring ranks, such as the ARCA series. But this week’s guest on the Dale Jr. Download comes from a truly unique corner of the motorsports landscape: big rig truck racing.
Dale Jr. and co-host Mike Davis welcome a pioneer female presence in NASCAR to the Bojangles Studio, Shawna Robinson. Shawna made her way to the Cup scene in the early 2000s after having impressive showings in the Dash Series, ARCA and the Busch Grand National Series. Dale and Shawna actually have some on-track history, and both recall an incident from the April 2002 Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. The story goes that Dale felt Shawna impeded his qualifying effort, so he “gave her the bird”. A few minutes later, Dale found himself being confronted by Shawna in his race hauler, where she gave some stern words of her own.
The conversation dives into Shawna’s upbringing in racing, which started with growing up in the infield of Iowa dirt tracks. Her father, Lefty Robinson was a long time late model veteran and spent time in the IMCA and USAC stock car ranks. He and wife Lois began promoting races themselves, and soon Shawna was getting first hand experience behind the scenes. When diesel big rig truck racing became popular after being depicted in the opening scene of Smokey and the Bandit II, Robinson brought the division to the Midwest short tracks.
While attending one of the family’s promotions at Toledo Speedway, an 18-year-old Shawna, who had been driving since her early teens, learned how to shift gears in the parking lot and found herself entered in her first race that evening, where she would place third. The rest is history, as Shawna would rack up 30 feature victories before moving into the Great American Truck Racing super-speedway division in 1984. She would go on to make history, becoming the first female driver to win in the series by capturing the Milwaukee Bobtail 100 at the Milwaukee Mile in September of that year.
Shawna gives listeners a lot of insight into what it was like to race the big rig trucks as opposed to stock cars, where she would eventually end up. She also speaks on being an early female presence in auto racing and not being intimidated in the garages.
After success in big rig racing, she would move to the NASCAR Dash Series in 1988, where she would continue to make history, becoming the first female to win a top-NASCAR Touring Series race when she took home the checkered flag at New Asheville Speedway on June 10th. Shawna talks about not being afraid to ask for help and advice, and friendships she made with Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan. She is also candid about the adversity she faced being the only female in the garage, and talks about a run-in with Mike Wallace that resulted in a crash at Atlanta in 1994 after she secured her first and only pole in the Busch Grand National Series.
The chat also gets into Shawna’s life outside of racing, where she explains the decision to sit out in 1996 and 97 and start a family. In 2014, Robinson was diagnosed with cancer and battled for over a year, before completing treatments in 2015. They also cover Robinson’s life as an interior decorator, and the work she did on Dale Jr’s Western Town.
Listeners can expect a look into a unique path to stock car racing’s biggest stage. Also on the episode, Dale Jr. talks about Daniel Ricciardo’s laps in Dale Sr’s car at the Circuit of the Americas. Dale also springs some big news on listeners as he reveals he’ll be running the 2022 Martinsville Xfinity race. During the Ask Jr segment, Dale recalls some stories from his mischievous youth and what it's like getting called to the NASCAR hauler. All of this and more on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr Download - available on this website and all major podcast platforms.
Additional reading about our guest:
Hailing from Des Moines, Iowa, Shawna Robinson was born into a racing family, where patriarch Richard “Lefty” Robinson made a career driving stock cars on the Midwest short tracks. Shawna grew up in the infield every weekend at the races, and when her parents began promoting events themselves she got involved behind the scenes.
Capitalizing on the popularity of big rig truck racing from Smokey and the Bandit II and the formation of the Great American Truck Racing series, Lefty brought the division to the Midwest short tracks. Shawna, fresh out of high school, convinced her father to teach her how to shift gears in one of the trucks in the parking lot of Toledo Speedway, and that evening found herself entered in her first race, where she would go on to finish third. The impressive debut led to a successful career in the truck series, and Shawna would rack up over 30 victories and move up to the speedway division for big rigs, where she would make her debut in April of 1984 at Atlanta Speedway.
Robinson would go on to make history in big rig racing when she became the first woman to win on one of the country’s premiere speedways, the Milwaukee Mile in 1984 Milwaukee Bobtail 100. She would also travel overseas to compete, racing in France in the Paul Ricard Grand Prix Truck Race in 1985 and the Grand Prix of Trucks in Mexico City in 1986.
Her success in trucks led to her beginning a career in stock cars, entering the NASCAR Dash Series in 1988, where she would impress in her debut at Daytona finishing 3rd. She would continue her groundbreaking ways, yet again making history by becoming the first woman to win a top NASCAR Touring Series race when she picked up the June event at New Asheville Speedway. She would go on to finish third in the season points standings and take home Rookie of the Year honors, as well as Most Popular Driver. She followed this up in 1989 with two wins and another third place points showing.