Christmas Abbott breaks new ground for women in NASCAR

jutter@charlotteobserver.comFebruary 20, 2013 

  • Today’s races

    Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon will occupy the Daytona 500’s front row based on qualifying times from Sunday. The rest of the field will be determined with duel races today.

    First race: 2 p.m. (second race follows)

    TV: SPEED

    Daytona 500

    When: 1 p.m., Sunday  TV: Fox

— For one aspiring NASCAR pit crew member, Wednesday was Christmas.

And it was earlier than anticipated.

Christmas Abbott, an elite-level fitness athlete whose journey to become a full-time pit crew member has been well-chronicled, saw her dream come true.

Three days after Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a pole in a Sprint Cup Series race, Michael Waltrip Racing announced it had hired Abbott for its Cup operation. That makes her the only woman employed in NASCAR as a full-time pit crew member.

Abbott, 31, will be a “weekend warrior” with MWR, traveling to all Cup events in a pit support role. Her long-term goal is to be a tire changer.

“This is just the first step for me,” she said. “I’ve been training for several months. This is the most challenging thing I have ever done.

“I’m here to do whatever my coaches ask of me, and I don’t want any handouts. I’m ready to work three races a weekend if that’s what it takes to get me where I want to be.

“I’m in this for the long haul.”

At 5-foot-3 and 115 pounds, Abbott doesn’t look much like any of the other over-the-wall crew members.

There have been women pit crew members in some lower level NASCAR series, including an all-woman crew that was put together to help generate a sponsor for some Truck series races for a woman driver, Shawna Robinson, during 2003.

But in NASCAR’s premier series, strength issues have tended to curtail the involvement of women on over-the-wall pit crews.

MWR’s pit coaches said they had seen enough development from Abbott to name her to the travel squad.

Abbott will be at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday for the two 150-mile qualifying races, and she likely will work with Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota team.

MWR team co-owner Michael Waltrip called Abbott “an incredible, elite athlete.”

“She has worked with our crews by bringing some cross-fit elements to their workouts. She is a competitor and when she decided to start working towards an over-the-wall position, we said we are the perfect place to make it happen,” he said.

“As Danica has seen, it takes a lot of work and dedication to get to the top level of her trade. With her Daytona 500 pole, it seems so much of that work has been worth it.

“I believe the same can hold true for Christmas. We expect her to excel or we wouldn’t commit the position to her.”

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