Danica Patrick isn’t the only woman trying her luck within NASCAR’s top-three series this year. Jennifer Jo Cobb isn’t just a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series, either; in the offseason, she bought Circle Bar’s former No. 10 operation to become the only woman owner/driver in the sport today.
How is Cobb, a rookie, transitioning to her role behind the scenes as she looks to be more competitive behind the wheel? Our Summer Dreyer asks about her dual role, finds out some plans for the future, and even uncovers a little addictive shopping habit in the latest edition of Beyond The Cockpit.
Summer Dreyer, Frontstretch: You drive the No. 10 Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing Ford in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. How did that deal come about, and do you have funding for the entire season?
Jennifer Jo Cobb: We bought the assets from Circle Bar Racing. James Buescher drove the No. 10 last year and then, when he switched teams they sold everything and I just happened to be the one who bought it. It is under the JJC Racing name, so I’m actually the owner and the driver. We are fully funded through 2010 to run all 25 NCWTS races.
I ran one ARCA race at Daytona, and that’s the only ARCA race that I have scheduled. I plan on running about six Nationwide races if all goes well.
Dreyer: Where do you hope that this gets you in the future? Are you looking towards the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, or are you looking towards moving into the Nationwide Series when you can?
Cobb: What our goals would be is to win Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for 2010, and then a full schedule for Rookie of the Year in the Nationwide Series in 2011. Then, eventually, we’d like to have an entry in the Cup Series.
We are nowhere near saying we are ready to accomplish those goals yet – that’s just what the goal is. That’s not an announcement, that’s not saying it’s going to happen. That’s certainly what we’re looking towards accomplishing. I believe it’ll happen, it’s just a matter of when will it happen.
Dreyer: In a couple weeks here, the Truck Series is actually going to be racing at your home track of Kansas Speedway. You have raced there several times in the past. What’s that like whenever you get to race there in front of a home crowd? Is it more comfortable there racing at a place you know more so than anywhere else?
Cobb: It’s something really special for me. It’s also the first race that we’ve had a primary sponsorship this season. I’m really excited to announce that Mark One Electric is our primary sponsor for the O’Reilly 250 on May 2nd at the Kansas Speedway. Several other smaller sponsorships have also come to fruition: We have a partnership with Metro Ford, as well as Big Bob’s Outlet. We even have done some fun promotions with Rajeunir Medical Spa and Time Warner Cable. It’s definitely different. It’s definitely special.
Our guest list goes from four people to about 48 people, so it’s really cool. They don’t know this yet, but they’re all getting a bonus because we got a sponsor for this race. I’m taking them out for a night on the town in Kansas City because the schedule allows us to kind of have that flexibility. They’ll come in a night early. It’s definitely a special place. I don’t want it just to be special for me, I want the entire crew to feel that. I think we’re going to have a great weekend.
Dreyer: What’s your opinion on female drivers in NASCAR and, more specifically, Danica Patrick? Do you think she brought more attention to female drivers in the sport, or do you think she overshadowed them a little bit?
Cobb: I’ve been asked about Danica a lot this year. I’m pretty neutral about the situation. I’ve been on my path for 18 years, trying to make it into the big leagues of auto racing with the support of some great sponsors along the way but no one big national company.
I took a much different path than she has had. I think the exposure she’s gotten us can be good, but I think what happens when TV focuses on just one driver on a broadcast, that’s not good for anybody. I just hope that we can be impartial for even her own sake in the future. I’m sure when she’s learning and struggling, she doesn’t want all that attention on her. We’re all drivers. We’re not female drivers; we’re just drivers who happen to be female.
Dreyer: So you’re not really the typical female driver that screams “girl power!” and almost hopes that the girls are able to overshadow the guys a little bit. Do you actually just prefer to be seen as a good driver, not just a good female driver?
Cobb: I have no desire to be a female driver or to be one of those drivers that takes the spotlight and overshadows everybody. I want my fair share for my sponsors’ sake, and I want to shut up the naysayers who think that women can’t drive racecars. Other than that, I’m in this sport because I love it, and I have a very high respect and appreciation for it and its history. If that history needs to be changed and there needs to be some female champions, then that will happen.
Otherwise, male or female, the people that are competing at the top of this sport are people who have worked extremely hard for it and deserve it. It’s as hard for men as it is for women. There are just as many challenges.
Dreyer: How did you get started racing?
Cobb: My dad has raced since I was three years old, and I grew up in the sport. I grew up watching him, and at some point I transferred from wanting to be a ballerina to wanting to be a race car driver just by watching my dad and him becoming my hero. [But] nobody really believed that would happen. They just thought it was a phase and, obviously, 18 or 19 years later, it’s not a phase.
Dreyer: Your stomping grounds would have been the Kansas City area, right?
Cobb: I started racing in 1981 at Lakeside Speedway, which is just about four miles up the street from the Kansas Speedway. It was asphalt when I started racing there, but now it’s a great little dirt track that my dad still races at to this day.
For 10-plus years, I raced in the Kansas City area at Lakeside and I-70 Speedway. Those were asphalt, half-mile ovals; one was a flat track that was Lakeside, and one was a very high-banked track which is like I-70. It gave me a very well-rounded experience on asphalt surfaces.
Dreyer: What would it be like to win at the Kansas Speedway, and do you feel like you can do that?
Cobb: There’s an awesome article on the Kansas Speedway website about what it would mean for me to win. The question, ‘Can I do that?’ – absolutely. One day, I will do that. Is next Sunday, May 2nd, the day? I just don’t know about that. We are trained to build and grow our team and we definitely have our sights on victory, but we understand that this is a very competitive sport. It’s extremely tough, there are a lot of veterans. At this point, I’m here to learn, and then prove and grow everything each week. I think being respectful to my competitors, being respectful to my equipment, giving my sponsors a good showing, keeping my head on straight, and proving [myself] each and every time, eventually we will be in the hunt for a win.
Dreyer: You have really taken a hold of and embraced social networking. You have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. What’s it like to be able to interact with fans on that level, and what do you enjoy about being able to integrate social networking into your career and being able to see what fans and other people have to say?
Cobb: It’s been so awesome with social networking. The way I grew up with racing, the fans are everything. The fact that someone would even come up and want my autograph is extremely flattering. To have the strangers basically become friends, and fans have really been fans who become friends. The interaction happens so quick sometimes. It’s really an incredible experience and I love it.
I will say it’s kind of hurting my time productivity because I answer everything myself. It weighs like a weight on my shoulders that right now I have 415 friend requests on Facebook but I’ve maxed out at 5,000 friends and I can’t accept anymore. So instead of just ignoring it, I’m like, “I’ve got to send every one of those people a message and let them know that surely, I’d accept them if I could.”
It’s almost becoming a bit of a curse in that regard, but at the same time I just love it. I want to be an example to not just other local race car drivers, but just to people who are trying to achieve stuff. I kind of want to utilize my experiences with the platform that Facebook and Twitter provide. I’ll offer some advice here and there, and maybe some motivation or encouragement. If I’m having a bad day, I’m pretty transparent about that, and I love everybody equally. The fans’ job is to cheer me up, and they do a great job at it.
Dreyer: What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had from a fan, such as an autograph request?
Cobb: I’ve had many marriage proposals, which is fine! I think the strangest things that have happened are the people who join, and they’re you’re friend and they’re there for a while… and then they are like termites that are infecting your house and they’re negative and you’re like, ‘Why did you bother becoming a friend?’ That’s also great for anyone, especially for young people to know that anytime you’re trying to even achieve the smallest amount of success, people are going to try and tear you down. I think that’s a great lesson, too.
Other than lots of marriage proposals and people who I think don’t understand when I can’t email them back, and I’m like, ‘I’ve emailed you three times now! I have 800 others to get to; I’ll get to you as quickly as I can!’ I think, for the most part, everybody plays nice. Everyone is very encouraging and supportive. Not just of me, but of one another. That’s what makes it so great about social networking. A one-on-one communication is a social network.
Dreyer: You actually have a Driver Boutique that sells different kinds of fashion and things like that. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Cobb: I always appreciate the opportunity to talk about “Driver Boutique” and “Driven Male.” In 2006, I just felt the need to start my own business of some sort. I’m a professional public speaker, and that’s another area of revenue for our team. Then, of course, we try to sell sponsorship so we can make races, but I think it’s when we reach out to the grassroots level it’s really a win-win for fans to be able to contribute. That’s what the Driver Boutique is, a line for female race fans.
Then we had so many men say, ‘Hey, you need to make a line of shirts for us.’ So, last year we launched DrivenMale.com. Both of those websites can be found just by going to my main website, which is JenniferJoCobb.com.
What I’m doing is we’re taking all of the proceeds from both of those and then putting it towards our racing program. Eventually, when we can obtain the status of Dale Jr. or maybe even a Danica, when we’re selling a ton of apparel and raking in some money, I would like to support people who are like me who came from a background of racing and want to race, but don’t have the money to race. I kind of want this to be a seed that is nurtured – growing into something that can be viable to support many racers for many years to come.
Dreyer: We talked about the racing aspect a little bit. What are some things you enjoy doing away from the racetrack and in your free time?
Cobb: I am really bad about shopping! I love exercising, so I guess those two balance each other out. I’m a single girl – and very happily single – and I travel a lot, so on my off weeks I’m rarely at home. I have two wonderful cats who holler for me when I’m not there, but I have people who go take care of them. I enjoy seeing the world and I kind of tend to do the same things when I get to. I enjoy sightseeing, a little shopping, a little bit of going out, a lot of eating and a lot of exercising.
Dreyer: You actually do some public speaking as well sometimes, right?
Cobb: That’s right, I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I think people must think something is wrong with me when I say this, but I really like public speaking! I still get nervous whenever I give speeches because, typically, I’ve been hired and I started to get paid for giving speeches, and that puts a lot more pressure on. I really enjoy it because I can share so many things that happen to me on the racetrack that parallels lessons for business and even in life.
I give motivational speeches on attaining big goals, setting goals, and setting realistic goals that are really big. I also give speeches on teamwork and incorporating pit crew strategies in the office. Then I also have a spiritual speech that I’ve given to my church, but I haven’t been hired to give that one. I have those speeches, and also being a female in a male-dominated industry.
Dreyer: You said you like to shop and that you’re really bad about it. What’s one item that’s always on your grocery list?
Cobb: SpaghettiOs! I love SpaghettiOs! I also get fresh fruit. I guess it’s not a bad thing, but I will have an entire basketful of fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. It breaks my heart that SpaghettiOs have to be processed food. I’m just really into eating healthy.
I think it’s so important to fuel our bodies like we would our cars. If you think about the things you would never put in your fuel tank because it would hurt your engine, and then think about the things that make it into our bodies each and every day… we wonder why we’re run down, and we wonder why we don’t feel like doing this or that or we’ve gained a few pounds! I really try to stock up on the fruits and vegetables. The more you eat them, the more you love them!
Dreyer: Do you feel like that helps you in your racing career, and when you get in the car you might feel more refreshed than others do?
Cobb: Years ago, I just did not know how to take care of myself. In high school and college, I was a cheerleader and I was heavily into gymnastics. You tend to take all that metabolism for granted. In my 20s, I gained 15 pounds. Then, I got into my 30s and that’s when I really started exercising and eating better. I noticed that I’d get out of a 50-mile race, and I’d get out of the car and be ready to run another one. It’s definitely a key component to keeping in shape for racing.