As Natalie Decker, Toni Breidinger and Leilani Munter suited up for the ARCA Series SCOTT 150 event Thursday night at Chicagoland Speedway, history was made.
It was the first time in modern-day racing that a team fielded three women in a national stock-car event.
“This was not planned,” Venturini Motor-sports co-owner and former ARCA champion Bill Venturini said. “To me, we’re just bringing four race cars to the racetrack. I wasn’t thinking that three of them are females and we’re setting a new precedent by doing it.”
Venturini Motorsports might not have set out to make history, but that’s what it did — and it wasn’t the first time.
Venturini started racing in the ARCA Series in 1983, when he finished in second place and was named Rookie of the Year. From 1984 to ’86, he had another second-place finish and two third-place finishes.
Venturini, however, decided in 1987 that he wanted to become a champion, and he was going to do it with an all-female pit crew led by his wife, Cathy.
“The guys that we’re doing pit stops didn’t think we could do it,” Cathy said. “We’d get a lot of people coming and watching us because they didn’t believe we could really do a pit stop, but we did. We did it week after week. We did take a lot of teasing, but we shut a lot of people up when we did our pit stops and beat them.”
When Bill hoisted the championship trophy that year, no one could argue that women didn’t belong.
After 30 years, Venturini Motorsports is breaking down gender barriers again.
Decker, Breidinger and Munter have different stories of how they got into racing, but they share the same mentality: Once the helmet goes on, everyone is just a driver.
Decker is the leader. The 21-year-old ARCA rookie from Eagle River, Wisconsin, grew up on a snowmobile racetrack run by her father. She knew when she was 7 that she wanted to be a NASCAR driver. It took some convincing, but by the time she was 9, Decker was racing go-karts.
Breidinger, who is from Hillsborough, California, idolized Danica Patrick growing up.
“She was the only female driver in the sport that I knew about,” Breidinger said.
Breidinger debuted in ARCA in June and finished 10th at the half-mile Madison International Speedway in Wisconsin. The 18-year-old said she didn’t notice she was racing in a male-dominated sport until people began pointing it out. Even then she viewed herself as just another driver.
Munter, who’s from Rochester, Minnesota, is the veteran of the group. This is the 44-year-old’s first time racing with female teammates in her 17-year career.
“It feels like the tide is changing,” Munter said. “There’s a movement happening right now where women are feeling empowered and women are taking their power back. I feel like it’s spilling onto the racetrack.”
On Thursday, it wasn’t about being a female on the track, it was about competing as a driver. Decker finished 12th, Breidinger 18th and Munter 20th.
“Every time a little girl sees a girl out there trading paint with the boys, it plants a little seed that she can do that, too,” Munter said. “All you can do is plant as many seeds as you can and hope that some of them stick and some of them grow.”
The team’s lone male driver, Michael Self, earned his third ARCA victory. He joked that he has been in the shadow of his female teammates — something that makes him proud.