Over 30 drivers will hit the track this Sunday for the 50th Governor’s Cup at New Smyrna Speedway, and for the first time ever, three of them will be women. Johanna Long, Natalie Decker and Ali Kern will all take the green flag on Sunday afternoon with eyes on the checkered flag.
While it’s no longer a rarity to see a woman behind the wheel of a race car, having so many in the same race still can be rare.
Having two other woman with her when she takes the green flag has Kern, an ARCA/CRA Super Series winner in 2015, pretty excited.
“I was thrilled to see two other female drivers entered because I’m usually the only female in most races that I run,” Kern told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I think all three of us are pretty accomplished female drivers so it should be a lot of fun.”
While seeing three females in one race can be a rarity, all agree that once they hit the track, none of that matters. Every driver is there to contend for a win, and that’s exactly what these three plan to do.
“It is great to see more diversity out on the track,” said Decker. “I am looking forward to racing all the teams there because once we put our helmet on we are all competing for the same thing.”
“It’s always great to see young female drivers coming up through the rank,” said Long, “But really once you’re on the track you don’t pay any attention to that. I’ve been racing long enough that it doesn’t really matter and you’re just there to try and win.”
Successful seasons in the Midwest gave Kern and Decker the urge to keep their 2015 campaigns alive with a trip down South. Kern, picked up the first Super Late Model win of her career at the Kalamazoo Klash en route to a top-10 finish in ARCA/CRA Super Series Points.
Meanwhile, Decker bounced back and forth between North Carolina and Wisconsin, winning her first Super Late Model race, and a handful of others, in the Cheesehead State.
“We decided we had such a great season with Scott Neal Racing that we wanted to pick up another race down south,” said Kern. “Scott loves New Smryna and he told me I would love it too.”
“When our team was racing Oktoberfest in LaCrosse (WI), we were talking about how we would like to race the Governor’s Cup and the next day a race fan that has been following me since I was 12 years old, wrote a check to our team so we could afford to go,” said Decker. “Jed Bauer is the fan who is making a difference in my life and I am very thankful.”
Another driver who is especially thankful for the opportunity to run the Governor’s Cup is Johanna Long. With only a handful of races under her belt this season, the former Snowball Derby winner is excited to get back behind the wheel.
“I’m just really excited for the opportunity Rick Gabor has given me to drive his car,” said Long. “I just love to race and I haven’t gotten to do a lot of racing this year, so I’m excited and thankful to get to race this weekend.”
This marks Long’s second straight Governor’s Cup appearance. The Pensacola, FL driver qualified 18th last year before a wreck ended her day early.
“I haven’t raced there (New Smyrna Speedway) all that much,” said Long. “You need some luck and obviously to stay out of trouble. Traditionally there are a lot of cautions there.”
While Long may not have logged a lot of laps at the half-mile racetrack in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, fellow competitor Ali Kern has never even laid eyes on the place. However, she is confident she can be a quick study and find success this weekend.
“That track has a lot of history and I’m really excited to run there. I’ve never even seen the track but I’m looking forward to competing in both races there this weekend,” said Kern. “I need to be really fast and to learn the track pretty quickly and I think we’ll be competitive.”
Decker has logged more laps at New Smyrna than her two female counterparts combined. A regular at the World Series of Asphalt Racing the past two seasons, Decker recorded four top-10 finishes there earlier this year.
“My car chief, Tom Ress, and I learned that track together, which is a big advantage because we both will be starting where we left off and will continue to keep improving,” said Decker.
Practice begins Friday for the 50th Governors Cup at New Smyrna Speedway. Qualifying takes place on Saturday with the 200-lap event hitting the track Sunday afternoon. For more information on New Smyrna Speedway or the Governor’s Cup, visit newsmyrnaspeedway.org.
-By Jana Wimmer, Speed51.com Midwest Editor – Twitter: @JWimm22
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Getty Images for NASCAR