In a time where the top levels of NASCAR struggle to field female drivers, Angela Ruch was a welcome name on July’s XFINITY Series entry list.
Ruch qualified for the Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway, driving for BJ McLeod Motorsports. It was Ruch’s first NASCAR race in nearly five years, and the first for a female in the 2017 XFINITY season.
For the Washington native, the half-decade between starts featured more than one stressful night of sponsor searching, as it took time for the right opportunity come along.
“Those five years my sister [Amber] and I had a break, the funding is so hard to come by to be out here running full-time,” Ruch told Frontstretch. “I haven’t really been given the best opportunities. I’m so proud and thankful to be here after five years.”
Despite being the third generation to enter the racing world — along with uncle Derrike Copecompeting in more than 700 national NASCAR series races since 1982 — the 34-year-old has not found an easy road to the sport.
“I was just away from it, just trying to find the funding,” she said. “I think that’s everybody’s life story: I don’t have daddy’s money, family money. You either have it or you don’t. You’re just trying to get by.”
With seven XFINITY starts along with one Camping World Truck Series event, Ruch had a lot to digest in her comeback race July at Kentucky. Finishing 32nd, Ruch returned to Kentucky in September before her third start came at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where she crashed out early to finish 36th.
It’s been a challenge to drive underfunded equipment while getting back up to speed on oval racing. In these early comeback events, Ruch places comfortability as one of the biggest needs for a series as competitive as XFINITY.
“Just trying to keep up the speeds [is tough] especially since you’ve been out of it for so long,” she said. “But you don’t really lose it, if that makes sense. You just get back into it.
“All of us drivers are here for a reason, we all deserve to be here at some level. If that wasn’t the case, NASCAR wouldn’t let me in. It definitely helps getting back in the seat. Running every few weekends, I think things will slowly come around for us.”
For the remainder of 2017, Ruch will return to the seat at Texas Motor Speedway in November before capping the season off at Homestead-Miami Speedway. For 2018, Ruch has even more racing on tap, planning to run 10-15 XFINITY event for BJ McLeod.
“I know BJ on a personal level, he’s just a very good friend,” she said of her current car owner. “In this business, it’s really hard to find people who believe in you — you’re all working on the same things toward the same goals. For BJ to bring me in after five years and trust me that I can maneuver a car is pretty impressive.
“One foot in front of the other, right? These deals come and go sometimes, we just keep staying positive and hope for the best.”
Indeed, sponsorship struggles see no color, no gender or backgrounds. They affect everyone. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France was open in recent weeks that the sport’s sponsor reps have been involved in helping drivers for 2018. The focus has been on those who showcase diversity, such as Danica Patrick and African-American Darrell Wallace Jr.
Ruch believes it’s a good move, but said every driver is fighting the same problems.
“Good for them, right? We’re all fighting our own battles,” she said. “Let me put it this way: I haven’t had that luxury. My sister and I have never had [the money]… But if I do get it, Danica better watch out. She’ll have her hands full.”
With diversity still a taboo subject for NASCAR in 2017, Ruch believes stock car racing needs to have a strong woman presence in its lineup.
“Danica has definitely made a name for herself and the sport,” she said. “I definitely think they need her here. Any females in racing is definitely a plus. She’s definitely an icon for the sport. NASCAR needs her, we all need her here.”
“We’re all fighting the same thing in the end. We just need a lot of money to do what we’re passionate about.”
As if reaching the driver’s seat of an XFINITY car isn’t reason enough to celebrate, Ruch’s got another reason to smile. The logos on the side of her No. 78 Chevrolet come from the Give A Child A Voice charity.
Based out of Springfield, Mo., the campaign has a close connection with Ruch’s family. Her 17-year-old nephew is in a fight for his life battling stage 3 brain cancer.
“He’s basically trying to come out with this foundation to give kids a voice,” she said. “Kids who have been chasing issues, something personal like abuse, or battling depression. He is 17 years old and such a strong individual. For him to come out and speak to tell his story is so empowering.
“It’s awesome when you can relate it to family. That’s what NASCAR is all about. To be able to race with the Give A Child A Voice charity and to have him here telling his story, doing it together, says a lot.
“In the end, I’m racing for a great cause and I’m proud to be here.”
(Below is a video capture of our conversation with Angela Ruch)