DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s called The Great American race, one of the most legendary races in the world, and it happens right here in Central Florida — the Daytona 500.
But if you look around on race day, you’ll notice something is missing.
“There are zero women competing at the highest level of NASCAR,” said Krystyn Stowe, head of marketing for Busch Family Brands.
That’s a number she said really needs to change.
“We would love to see a female driver at the Daytona 500,” Stowe said. “If she wins, I would get goosebumps, that would be the ultimate goal. I would be so excited, jumping with joy.’
That’s why Busch Light recently started a first-of-its kind $10 million dollar sponsorship program for female drivers called “Accelerate Her.” The brand’s goal is to help cultivate women in one of the only sports where they compete head-to-head with men, and to help them succeed at the highest level.
One of the seven drivers sponsored is Amber Balcaen, who recently raced in the ARCA Menards Series in Daytona, placing 16th out of 36.
“It really is a dream come true, there’s nothing like Daytona,” Balcaen said. “I tested here back in 2014 and for the last eight years, I’ve been trying to find sponsorship to come and race this event.”
Stowe said sponsors are key in getting ahead in the sport because everything a driver needs is so expensive.
“These drivers have to pay for tires, they have to pay for fuel, they have to pay for track time,” said Stowe. “And so unlike a lot of sports, where you just need a ball and a pair of cleats, like they constantly need more items to compete at the highest level.”
“I started racing at 10 years old, and my dad essentially said, ‘You know, if you want to race, you have to pay for everything yourself. And you have to work on the cars yourself,’” Balcaen said. “It’s thousands and thousands of dollars just to practice, so there were years where I had barely any sponsorship, and I only got to race a couple times a year. I didn’t get to practice, so for me to be in a car two-to-three times a year when other people are in the car every single weekend practicing during the week, because they have that financial backing, it really makes you doubt yourself and doubt your ability.”
Stowe said that’s where sponsors come in.
“If you don’t have the sponsors, you’re not going to get the tires, the fuel and the track time. And then even if you’re the best driver out there in the world, you’ll never be able to compete,” Stowe said.
Balcaen said racing has taught her to be a successful businesswoman, too.
“I’ve had to learn how to be become a businesswoman in order to be a racecar driver,” Balcaen said. “I always felt like I was behind the eight ball because I never had that money and I had to go raise it myself. I do enjoy the business side of it as well, just because, you know, it’s really about creating partnerships, creating relationships, maintaining those relationships, and making sure everyone involved is happy.”
She said one of the biggest challenges of getting sponsorship as a woman is being taken seriously as a competitor.
“I think it’s a little bit of just not taking you seriously, I think it doesn’t matter what sport or endeavor you’re in as a female, most females know they got to work a little harder to prove themselves, they got to work a lot harder to gain that respect from, you know, their associates,” Balcaen said. “So I think at the end of the day, it’s just business and you can’t take it personal, because taking it personal will just get you in your head. So to me, it’s just part of it, it makes me want to grind harder and work harder and be better.”
That’s why the “Accelerate Her” program aims to give these drivers a little bit of a leg up.
“If we can drive awareness to these women, we’re able to grow their social media following,” Stowe said. “When their social media following grows, then all these other sponsors are going to be interested in them, because then when she posts, when she does whatever, she’s able to command more dollars. So as much as it would sadden me, I hope all seven of these drivers outgrow our sponsorship, because they’ve become so amazing and have huge followings and incredible driving and everything. And then they’re able to, again, command bigger sponsors.”
Balcaen said she’s excited to see more women in the sport doing great things in the future.
“I think a lot of the women in the Busch Light program with me would agree that we realize we have so many other people against us that we need to stick together. And we can’t be against each other too, because that’s just going to make things way too hard. So I think the girls in the ‘Accelerate Her’ program do a really good job of supporting each other, being there for each other, lifting each other up,” Balcaen said. “If you look at someone and are jealous and envious and mad that they’re having success, and they’re winning, then you’re never going to receive that for yourself.”
And there are a lot of goals Balcaen is shooting for.
“My ultimate goal is to be the highest-winning female in NASCAR,” she said. “And I think this year we could achieve that because we’re running a full season in the NASCAR ARCA Menards Series and no female has ever won at this level. So really hoping to be that female.”