July 25, 2012  |   By Jan Shaffer

Brickyard Pioneers: Where are They Now? Shawna Robinson

Note: This is the seventh of a series about drivers who competed in the early years of the Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com who no longer compete regularly in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Danica Patrick will likely make a routine return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to drive a stock car for the first time at the legendary Brickyard, and she could be joined by Johanna Long in the Indiana 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday, July 28.

But Patrick and Long won’t be the first for a woman driver.

That honor belongs to Shawna Robinson, a Daytona 500 veteran from Des Moines, Iowa, who qualified at 11:33 a.m. on Aug. 4, 2001 at 171.966 mph, becoming the first woman ever to qualify a stock car at the historic 2 ½-mile oval.

Unfortunately, it was not fast enough to make the field for the eighth annual Brickyard 400.

“Tropicana gave us this chance,” Robinson said at the time. “We’ll focus on a full season next year. To try and compete at this level, it’s hard when you’re not running in anything else. A rookie driver and a rookie car, we did our best to get it done.”

The next year, she made the field at Daytona and drove a limited schedule until taking time off to start a family. She got back in the mix after that, but again was on a limited basis until retiring.

The Brickyard “first” was one of an array of firsts in her career, from ARCA to the Goody’s Dash Series to Busch/Nationwide to Cup. Robinson, now 47, got her start at a young age in the truck racing series spawned by her father, “Lefty,” who was also part of the Iowa group of drivers that included Don White, former Daytona 500 polesitter Ramo Stott and Terry Ryan.

“My dad was my mentor,” Shawna said this week. “There wasn’t a weekend growing up that I wasn’t at a racetrack. I had a chance to drive a sprint car once, but my mom was absolutely against it. We couldn’t get that one past her.

“For me, Indianapolis was all about A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, but I was never big on open-wheel racing. I always had a dream to go to NASCAR, so the Brickyard was a huge thing for me. Any aspect of being at the Brickyard is a notch on my list. But when you go anywhere and don’t qualify, you beat yourself up for it.”

Today, Robinson is in a business she started while still driving and has a studio in Matthews, N.C. There is Shawna Robinson Designs, Shawna Robinson Happy Chair, Shawna Robinson Special Events and, essentially, a complete layout of interior-decorating services.

She has done special custom work for a number of well-known NASCAR people.

“I don’t regret walking away from my (last) team,” she said. “Of course, Danica coming in and so forth, I was a little ahead of my time. In 1999, I came back to racing. I knew I would come back to racing after I had kids, and I did what I wanted to do.

“I’ll go to the races every once in a while. I’d like to be a little more involved. I always thought I’d be involved in on-air broadcasting. It’s real funny. I’ve been on the other side of the camera as a driver. It’d be interesting to be on the opposite side.”

But with racing at the back door of her life, her first at the Brickyard is something that will stand forever.

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Super Weekend tickets: Tickets are on sale now for the Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard on July 26-29 at IMS.

All ticket orders can be made at www.imstix.com and through the IMS Ticket Office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday. For more information, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700, or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area.

Children 12 and under will receive free general admission when accompanied by an adult with a Kroger Super Weekend ticket or general admission ticket.

Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.