Jennifer Jo Cobb almost let an arbitrary deadline derail her NASCAR racing dreams. Fortunately, she spotted the pitfall before it sent her packing.


I had this overwhelming feeling that something big was about to happen. Two hours later, something did: My phone rang and a rather loud, belliger- ent-sounding man was on the other end of the line telling me about how he was going to change my life. He had a For- tune 500 sponsor that required a female driver, and I was the lucky girl he had chosen to pilot the sponsor’s debut race at none other than the Homestead-Mi- ami track for the 2004 season finale. It would be my debut race in NASCAR’s big leagues. I immediately flew to Kentucky to meet my team, arranged for flights for my family, and, next thing you, know I had a driver services agreement, a photo shoot scheduled in New York City, and had been approved to run my first NASCAR race. As I frequently did at that time, I started to look for the pattern, the “magic formula” that would tell me the recipe for making dreams come true. 13 years I told myself, that is the magic formula. It took 13 years for my dream to come true. I very soon learned that those magic formulas do not exist. I should have known it already, and I’ll tell you why: Not seven months earlier, I was telling a co-worker that I thought it was time for me to quit. I told him I thought I was done and asked for advice on how to get over hanging up the helmet. I had told myself years ago that if I hadn’t made it into the big leagues of NASCAR by the time I was 35 that I needed to find another career. At 33, I felt like my time was running out. That “Big- Leagues-By-35” formula was making me want to quit a full two years before my self-imposed deadline! I sought the advice of a counselor. What in the world was I going to do with my life when I had spent countless years chasing this dream? The counsel- I was literally off to the races.

or was slightly but effectively conde- scending with his words - “So you have given yourself until you are 35 and you are now 33, correct?” I realized that I was taking for granted that I had a job driving race cars, traveling the country, and meeting great people, and I was go- ing to give that dream job up early over a made-up date and arbitrary number on the calendar. That was pretty silly. So that should have been my first clue. Back to the race, though: When this call came you can imagine my excitement and I’m not going to lie, my nervousness! The first hurdle I had to overcome was to qualify for the race. 43 cars would race and for some reason, one of the largest fields in history showed up to qualify. Twelve drivers would be sent home with no income for their team and no spot in the history books. I had to lay down a lap and get in this race to prove myself. Practice was rough. I had a very new team and we struggled a bit. When it came time to qualify it was pretty much go hard or go home. Sometimes they refer to this as “wreckers or checkers.” Also, I had done something that, well, let’s just say it was pretty true to form for me, while we were all getting our cars unloaded. When the transporters that haul our race cars arrived at the track, I excitedly skipped out to watch them park. The NASCAR official in charge of placing the haulers was directing the truck drivers on where to park and I overheard him tell the driver of my hauler to park on the outside of all of the others because “there is no way she is going to qualify for this race so I want you to be able to easily exit the facility.” A rush of anger and some false confi- dence washed over me and I marched up to that official and introduced myself and assured him that I most certainly would be qualifying for this race. I turned around and walked off with my head down murmuring to myself, “What did you just do? How in the world do you

think you are going to drive one of these things for the first time ever and beat enough cars to get in the race?” So, you know, I had that on my mind while I was on the qualifying grid sit- ting in my car, seat belts tight, ear plugs in - I could hear my heart pounding like a solo drummer in a rock band. The official that releases each driver for his or her qualifying lap gave me the signal to fire up the car. It was time. With a wink to God and some good rock music in my head, my adrenaline was up. As I shot off pit road and ripped through the gears the car felt good. I took the green flag and sailed off into turn one and here came “the wiggle.” That horrible feeling you get in the race car right before it loses control because you have pushed it beyond its limit and what comes next is an ugly chain of events ending with you in the wall, an ambu- lance ride to the infield care center and a crunched-up race car. If I let that wiggle win, I would go from hero to zero. There was no way I could let that happen. My confidence kicked in, and this time it was not false. I corrected the trajectory of the car and leaned deeper into the throttle and by the grace of God I pulled through the turn unscathed and without losing any speed. I qualified 28th out of 55 cars. I was not around to see the official trying to maneuver a bunch of haulers out around me, but I could imagine. And it felt good. I wish I could tell you I had a banner race after I qualified, but I ended up wrecking on lap three. At the end of the day, though, just qualifying for that race was the biggest feat I had accomplished in my career to that point and I knew that I was nowhere near giving up on this dream. I also knew that I had to stop looking for formulas when what I needed was willpower. Good thing, too. I didn’t enter NASCAR’s full-time big leagues until four years later, when I was 37. What if I had quit at 35 just because it seemed like a good number?


by Jennifer Jo Cobb

At the end of each day every employ- ee, including the drivers, thoroughly cleaned each race car top, bottom, in- side and out, including getting on your hands and knees scrubbing bugs off the grill of the car you drove that day. It was not overly glamorous. On a rare break, I had my ear phones in my ears and I was sitting alone on the seafoam green wall that borders the Homestead-Miami Speedway when

the Richard Petty Driving Experience. It was tough. We worked 12-hour days, turning countless laps at a fast but “safe” speed (i.e. boring to a race car driv- er - we’re talking 150 mph instead of 180) giving rides to patrons and being chased by customers who thought they were the next Dale Earnhardt Jr. or who drove faster on the highway to get to the race track than they did once they settled behind the wheel of the race car.

t was a hot and steamy south Miami afternoon in 2004, and I was working as a driving instructor for I Jennifer Jo Cobb currently competes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck and select XFINITY Series racing events. She recently partnered with Think Realty parent company, Affinity Worldwide, as part of her mission to reach a broader audience with her message of bold entrepreneurialism. She will be a regular contributor to the magazine and motivator for Think Realty members.

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