Five area drivers competing in Atlanta Motor Speedway's Thursday Thunder Series, are racing past that stereotype and leaving it in a cloud of dust. Senoia's Tina Johnson, Brooks' Leslie Cash, Alpharetta's Paige Monette and Griffin's mother-daughter duo, Melissa Wade and Rasia Nadjkovic are all attempting to become modern day Janet Guthries and show the boys that women have a place in victory lane...holding their own trophies.
When I was 3-years-old, I would go to the races with my father," said Johnson, who races in the Fuddruckers Semi-Pro Division. "But little girls aren't supposed to dream of fast cars, so I kept my dreams to myself until I shared my secret with my husband.
"We bought a Bandolero and I entered 19 races that first summer and won four of them. I was hooked."
Johnson has been the one in victory lane holding her own trophy on multiple occasions. She claimed one victory in her rookie season at AMS and followed that up with four victories in 2004.
For 13-year-old Nadjkovic, it was watching her mother and father race during Thursday Thunder, AMS' weekly summer racing series that sparked her interest in going fast and turning left.
"I know that most girls don't race, but I didn't care," Nadjkovic said. "I saw my parents race and it looked like a blast, so I wanted to try it."
One of the most common sentiments shared by female racers is their poise, control and calmness.
"You won't see me driving through the garage area at 100 mph after I get upset," Wade said. "When I get on the track, I remind myself that I am a mother and a wife and it is hard to not be over-conservative.
"Gender disappears on the track for the most part," Wade continued. "Either you can drive, or you can't. It's pretty simple."
Paige Monette enjoys the camaraderie she experiences with her fellow drivers in the Back Yard Burgers Roadster Division, saying the men she races with don't cut her any slack, but are there to lend a helping hand if she needs it.
"If the guys see me struggling to unload the car or push it through technical inspection, they will jump right in and help out," Monette said. "That kindness pretty-much stops there and I get treated like any other guy on the track when we race. I wouldn't have it any other way though."
Recent high school graduate and second generation driver Leslie Cash opted to follow in her father's footsteps and flip the ignition switch on her own racing career. Like the females she races with, Cash sees very little difference in how her Curry's Collision Center Chargers Division drivers treat her on the track.
"If I pass a guy, some of them don't like it," she said laughing. "I guess it is an ego thing with them thinking ‘I can't let a girl pass me,' but when I do complete that pass, it is just that much sweeter."
While Cash is not shooting for a career driving a race car, she would like a job in the motorsports industry one day. Currently, she works for the Richard Petty Driving Experience when they visit Atlanta Motor Speedway, but would like to see that role expand.
"I am going to go to college," Cash said. "After that I would really like to be a NASCAR team manager. For now though, I am working and racing and just enjoying my summer."
Another aspect all five female drivers agree on is their abilities compared to their male counterparts.
"When I get beat," Monette said, "it is not because I am a female. It is because I am racing with guys that have a whole lot more experience that I do. I'm definitely in a guys' sport and when I lead laps and run up-front in a race, it feels good knowing that I am competing with very skilled drivers."
Last season was Wade's first and she was only able to run half of it. This summer, Wade is fourth in divisional points and is aiming higher.
"This year I want to finish third or higher," she said. "As with any driver, and females aren't any different, you have to prove yourself to be taken seriously."
Although their racing experience ranges from three races to six years, each of these high speed women share a passion and a love for racing and while they may never reach victory lane in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car, a Thursday Thunder victory would rank just as high.
"We are just as capable as guys," Monette said who is still searching for her first Thursday Thunder victory. "It is going to feel really good when I finally break that gender barrier."
For more information about Thursday Thunder, contact the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211 or visit http://www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/