This Group Turns All-Star Race into "Ladies' Night"
In her debut single that became a feminist anthem during 1984, Cyndi Lauper sang, "When the working day is done, girls-they want to have fun."
Shelby Taylor, of Spartanburg, S.C., and several of her friends will bring those words to life Saturday, May 19, when they turn the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge into "Ladies' Night" at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Taylor and her friends use the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge as an annual escape from 40-hour work weeks and family-related stress. It's also an opportunity for them to leave the men in their lives behind in favor of NASCAR's top drivers and high-octane excitement.
"It started as our 'girl's day out,'" Taylor said. "It was a time to get away from the men and we decided that going to a race would be something different to do as opposed to going to the spa."
In 1999, Taylor and five of her friends piled into a mini-van for the roughly 90-mile drive to Lowe's Motor Speedway. The mini-van has since morphed into a three-car caravan and three-to-four new women make guest appearances with the group each year. However, the race-day routine has remained the same.
"We usually leave Spartanburg about 9 a.m. the morning of the race. We stop at the Cracker Barrel in Gaffney, S.C., for breakfast," Taylor explained. "Once we get to the speedway, we tailgate and hang out until race time."
Then, armed with bags of Combos snacks and peanut M&Ms, Taylor and company take their seats in the Chrysler Grandstand on the track's frontstretch.
Taylor, the ticket manager at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., describes the NEXTEL All-Star Challenge as a family reunion of sorts, bringing together friends who only get together once a year.
"We have a lawyer, a banker and another in sales for the Marriott.
One woman works for her church and another is in sales. We are so diverse and that is what makes this so much fun," she said. "For some of the women, this is the only time of year we get to see each other. They're friends of friends, but we pick up right where we left off."
Taylor, 46, is married and has two teenage children. However, some members of the group are single and that has resulted in several interesting scenarios over the years.
"Every year we bring brownies as a way to attract men. We call it our bait," Taylor said with a big laugh. "One year when our group had seven members, we met seven guys from Ohio that had the seats behind us. We had a great time sharing our food."
Even though Taylor and her friends are among the women who comprise roughly 40 percent of NASCAR's fan base, it's unusual to see an all-female party at the track.
"We were in the parking lot tailgating one year when this man walked by and shouted, 'What have we got here? The PTA?'" Taylor said. "We're just not what people are used to seeing. We've never run into another group that is all women."
Taylor and another member of the group recently lost their fathers and debated whether or not to attend this year's race. But collectively, the group decided to make the trip, knowing it would be a welcomed getaway.
"We're going to need some girl fun after everything that has happened," Taylor noted. "I see us carrying on this tradition indefinitely."
The action-packed racing program on Saturday night, May 19, starts with the inaugural Kobalt Tools Crew Chiefs Race and is followed by the NEXTEL Open, which will send three drivers to the evening's big finale. The nightcap is the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, NASCAR's annual all-star race, and the winner is guaranteed to take home at least $1 million.
Tickets start at $29 and can be purchased by calling the Lowe's Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or online.