The Only Mom Racing NASCAR Also Wants to Be the First Woman to Win Big
What do women need to earn respect as drivers? "We need a W."
On the surface, NASCAR seems like a pretty progressive sport.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing started all the way back in 1948, and it took just a year for the first female driver to make an appearance on the track. In 1949, when the first edition of what is today the Cup Series came around, a driver named Sara Christian duked it out against 32 men. While pro basketball, soccer, tennis and golf are separated by gender (and the NFL and MLB don’t even have female equivalents), in theory, women have an equal shot at taking home the Sprint Cup Trophy.
“In theory” being the operative phrase there. At the moment, there are no women in the top two levels of NASCAR, and in the third-tier Truck Series there are only two, one of whom is Angela Ruch. As of one year ago, she’s also the only mom to be competing in NASCAR. The lack of female representation has led some sports writers to wonder, where have all the women gone?
If asked publicly, any top dog in the auto-racing world will tell you the same thing: I don’t care if they’re a man or a woman, boy or a girl, I just care if they can race. And that may be part of the equation. But when we asked Ruch if it’s still an alpha-male world, she was quick to respond: “It absolutely is.”
During Ruch’s career, she’s had to navigate that culture both on and off the track, in the form of chest-thumping male drivers and fans who are quick to criticize her where they may lay off the guys. But in recent years, as Ruch attempts a comeback after a racing hiatus, she’s notched some impressive stats and hopes to be the first woman to win big.
On the occasion of Mother’s Day, we dialed up Ruch to talk about NASCAR’s lack of diversity, how she’s been training while the sport has been paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what she sees as the future of auto racing.
InsideHook: Have you been driving or training during the lockdown? I know there were a couple races in the season before the coronavirus shut everything down.
Angela Ruch: I will say, having two races under our belts then getting quarantined for the last two months has definitely been tough for all of us drivers. But in the meantime to stay sharp, we all have been driving on the sim racing. It’s pretty legit. I have a pretty big setup at my house that does all the motion. I’ve been running two races a week on it. I’m still learning how to get it done, though. It is tricky. I’m not a big gamer, but I’ve been definitely having some fun and learning along the way.
IH: We wrote about that recently. Had you done sim racing at all before this happened?
AR: I have had the setup in my house, but usually what I do is I’ll jump on before and log laps by myself and kind of try to get in a rhythm of the line that I’m running. The tracks are pretty legit. If we’re going to Charlotte, every bump is the same, which is pretty cool to gauge where you are speed-wise on the racetrack on the simulator.
IH: What else have you been up to? What’s been taking up your time?
AR: I’m a new mom, so I have two babies that my husband Mike and I adopted, both under 13 months. That’s definitely been fun for me just being at home with them, but also we started a podcast. Everyone was kind of wondering, what’s going on with The Ruch Life, so we decided to start a podcast, my husband and I, just filling people in on our daily activities.
IH: You’ve been asked a lot about being the only mom in NASCAR right now, and being one of only a few women. How do you feel your experience is either different or the same from your stereotypical male driver, who might be a father but doesn’t get asked about it that often?
AR: I love that question because it’s opposite for us, as I’m the one that’s driving the car, and my husband is the one in the pit box or back at the motor home with the kids. The kids are under age, so they can’t really come to pit road. Once qualifying starts, the pits are hot. But it’s definitely been challenging. But it’s cool, we’re very blessed. [My kids will] hopefully grow up knowing the goals and dreams that I’ve chased since I was a young girl and that I’m accomplishing them. I hope they can see that as they get older.
IH: NASCAR has this interesting dynamic because men and women compete together, so on one hand there’s a kind of fairness. On the other, people still think of auto racing as this very male-dominated, alpha-male culture.
AR: It absolutely is.
IH: Can you talk about your experience navigating that?
AR: I think for any female being in a male-dominated sport, it’s very challenging for all of us. We’re faced with different things every single day we’re at the racetrack or whatever sport where you see the men competing with women, which is very few. But I’ve been doing it since I was a little girl, and I will say it’s been a struggle, it’s been really tough to be respected in the sport. Just having the eighth place finish at Daytona was huge for us last year, being the first female to lead laps at Daytona, almost having a shot at winning. It definitely raised some eyebrows. I think we’re getting closer and closer every single year to a female finally winning. I think when a female can take home a W will probably be the time that women are more respected today, if I’m just being honest. Not that we aren’t now, we absolutely are, but we need a W in the end to prove to everybody.
To see these different girls coming up the ranks, it’s cool to see, but I still want my shot. I feel like I’m better than all these women out there right now, so it better be me.Angela Ruch, NASCAR Driver
IH: Are there other barriers to entry in NASCAR in general that you would like to see taken down for women?
AR: I’m just speaking for myself, not the few other female drivers — it takes a lot of money to be where we are, and sponsorship is hard. We’re not looking for just a couple hundred grand, we’re looking for millions and millions just to compete with the Kyle Busch’s of the world, right? So hopefully, I feel like in the next year, I think that one of us will be in a position to really see what we can do as a female.
IH: That’s great.
AR: And I’m definitely hoping it’s me. I mean, because I’ve been chasing this dream since I was a little girl, to see these different girls coming up the ranks, it’s cool to see, but I still want my shot. I feel like I’m better than all these women out there right now, so it better be me, let me just put it that way.
IH: You took a break from racing and then came back to it. To what do you attribute that renewed drive to compete?
AR: This is something I’ve always wanted my whole entire life, I just never had the right opportunity or the timing was a little off. But getting back into it last year, I will say it’s been the most rewarding and I’m super pumped for what this year entails. Super, super pumped. Even though there are a lot of changes in NASCAR going on right now, and it stresses me out a little bit as far as sponsorship goes, as I’m sure every driver’s worried about as they should be, but just getting another shot at it, having people actually believe in me and doing well last year, I feel like the best is yet to come.
IH: Are there any points in your career that you feel were harder for you because you’re a woman in this male-dominated sport, or moments that you feel you wouldn’t have had to experience if you were a guy?
AR: I feel like I’m always under a microscope as a female, if that’s answering your question. And I always will be until a female is out there winning. So the Parker Kligermans of the world that want to make little comments — I spun out of pit road. A comment like that, he should know better because he’s been in my position before and I’ve seen him wreck. But again, I have things to see if I missed a shift, like where he said I missed a shift, which was not true, I did not over-rev the motor — we had picked up something pushing down pit road. With things like that, you do battle with yourself, absolutely, and know that you could be better, but it’s both knowing that wasn’t my fault and how to learn from that moment.
IH: You’ve done all different types of racing throughout your career, so what’s the biggest difference between the Truck Series and other series you’ve raced?
AR: I came from the Xfinity Series, so stepping down from the Trucks to the Xfinity cars are night and day. You obviously have a truck that has a flatbed where it does feel like it’s dancing on you all the time, so being able to drive that car freely has been new to me. But I love the trucks. The trucks are sexy.
IH: Auto racing is in this weird time where you have a lot of new series taking off with Formula E and other electric vehicles, and then NASCAR viewership over the last decade has been kind of all over the place. Where do you see racing going from here? In your ideal future, what does it look like?
AR: If we could go back to the way racing was in the early ’90s when my uncle [Derrike Cope] won Daytona, I think that’s the time to go back to. When racing was racing. It’s kind of like these iRaces that we’re all doing — the cars are all stocked, we all have the same thing, and money isn’t an issue like what it is today. [If that happened] I think we would see a big change. You’ve seen the same drivers winning every single weekend, that’s boring. No offense. The bounty that Kevin Harvick had to put a Cup driver into the Truck Series to see if he can run as fast as Kyle Busch — I mean, it’s silly. It’s silly to me. NASCAR doesn’t want to see the same drivers winning every single weekend. We need new drivers. We need up-and-coming drivers. We need female drivers. You need to support every driver that’s in it.
I don’t know if you ever watched them. Remember when they had the IROC [International Race of Champions] series back in the ’90s, 2000s? It’s amazing, and that’s how it should be. It comes down to true, hard racing, and that’s what I love about it. It’s time for a change, though, and that’s where I hope we’ll get on that ship.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.