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Shannon McIntosh blog: A whole new craft

| Aug 22, 2011

I’m really excited to post my first blog with INDYCAR Nation! To introduce myself briefly, I am Shannon McIntosh, a USF2000 driver pursuing IndyCar with a completely different background than anyone in my series. My path has mirrored the likes of someone like Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne or Tony Stewart in their early careers. I started in Quarter Midgets at age five, moved up to Micro Sprints and Mini Sprints (smaller sprint cars) on dirt. I even raced dirt late models, tested Sprint Cars, and then moved on to Midgets and was heavily headed down an all-oval path.

Last year, I drove for legendary car builder and owner Bob East in the USAC Regional Midget series. But one year later, I find myself trading all that in for right turns, downforce, aero, shifting and data. I have always loved the Indy 500 and want to be there in the next few years. However, in the pursuit of being an IndyCar driver, I didn’t want to just do ovals. I wanted to be competitive at each and every race track in the series. So, this year, I got the opportunity to start paying some dues and learning a whole new craft.  

I have spent the greater part of this year simply figuring out how to get comfortable with the seating position as I am used to sitting straight up and on top of the steering wheel, I’ve been doing a lot of breaking habits, adapting new ones and looking at squiggly lines on the computer. I have also spent the greater part of this year very frustrated, and playing the catch up game. Stepping into this position, I knew it would be a major transition, but being the determined individual that I am, I stepped up to the plate and am here for the long haul. In this blog, I’ll give you a bit of insight on my most recent “trial” at Road America and a bit more about where I come from.

I had a bit of déjà vu moment this afternoon. The summer of 2009 was the summer after I took a year off college to focus solely on racing. I had spent the off-season living at home and working as a nanny while I sought sponsorships and saved money. It was mid-July and I was trying to put something together to race our family car again. It had been three years since I raced in the USAC Ford Focus Midget series, but it was the most economical way to get back in a racecar. I think back and remember – finally finding some local sponsorship right before a race. It was my time…After no races in 2007, a huge deal falling through in 2008 due to the fact that I wouldn’t compromise my morals, so many broken promises, and serious questioning if I was pursuing the right thing – it was time. I had spent the summer driving to IndyCar and NASCAR races all over the country alone…networking and meeting as many people as possible. I knew that if I could get back in a racecar, it would solidify all the talking I was doing and help bring value to everything I was saying.

We did a test and tune the week before to make sure everything was good, but we had some issues with the fuel injector. That week I drove to Indy to pick up some tires and get the fuel injector fixed. We would test again the day before the race just to make sure everything was good to go. As we were trying to get the car loaded up and ready to go, the car wouldn’t fire up. Everything was last minute and rushed because it was just my dad and I. My dad works as a machinist full-time, so he has always had that responsibility to juggle as well. My dad was stressed because we couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and the next day was the race. We’d committed to doing it and had to be there.

At first I was frantic as well, but then, I sat there – and I just sat there kinda lifeless. I was feeling the same as I was today. Wondering…why? SO many things have led me to where I am today and where I was that hot July day in 2008. I had so many letdowns between the end of 2006 and 2009 that it was time for something to go right. I didn’t find myself in that position that day because it wasn’t meant to be. I found myself there because I had worked my butt off. I made sacrifices so that I could put my entire heart into what I was meant to do. To make a long story short – I was at wits end. Tired. I thought it was the eye opener or a ‘sign’ to the fact that maybe this wasn’t what I was meant to be doing… But we figured it out, picked back up and ended up having a great comeback performance. Due to being underweight after qualifying 3rd– I would start from the tail and work my way back up to P3 in my first race back in that car since 2006.

2010 came around and I needed to be where the racing was, so, I went. I made the move to Indy, rented a room from a wonderful lady named Marie Hall, worked part-time at a sports marketing firm and babysat. It was several months after my move and I finally put together a four-race sponsorship deal to drive for the team I had always dreamed about. I would race four USAC Regional Midget races with Bob East. The first time I sat in the car would be the morning before my first race at the Speedrome in Indianapolis due to the fact that it had rained every other time we tried to test. To make another long story short – I finished 7th in my first USAC Regional race. In my next three races I scored 4th, 3rd and 2nd place feature finishes. I also won a heat race against guys who were driving multiple times per week for years.

The message I’ve tried to push all year is that this has been a huge transition for me. With a short track dirt and pavement background – turning right was never in my agenda. Even further from my agenda were the additions of aero and an engine behind me. Going into this year – I believed whole-heartedly that that I would be right there, very quickly. We’re now going into the last race of the season and I’ve had lots of crash damage, I’ve been at the back of the pack ALL year and my confidence has dipped pretty low.

Today – and all of this year, I’ve been brought back to the moments where I was lost. After finally securing sponsorship and earning a HUGE opportunity in a high-profile series that would help me further my career, it was the time for me to come out and show everyone the driver that I am. My first full season since 2006 and I have continued to let myself down, week in and week out. This year was understood to be a ‘learning year’, however – I never in a million years guessed that I would struggle in the way that I have. I was unfortunately extremely naïve to the craft of road racing.

I have spent a lot of time in the car lately. We finally got the opportunity to do some testing and get me up to speed in the last month. I’ve made significant improvements and the team has been really happy with my progress (as have I). We thought that this weekend at Road America was the time for me to make it happen. After being taken out in the only practice session, I had a very good qualifying run and started P12 in the race. I picked up three positions in the first lap and got in over my head into the last corner. I ran out of track, hit the dirt and sent myself flying across other side of track into tire barriers. A racing incident, a mistake, and a terrible one. Just after I picked myself up from that and was ready to go again – I had another terrible day.

Getting ready for the second race of the weekend. It was drizzling. Rain was clearly on its way, but we were sent out on slicks for the start of the race. We did two caution laps and then the start of the race was under caution. (WHAT??! Yea.) It was unbelievably slick. They finally threw the green flag and everyone was everywhere. I managed to pick up four positions in the first lap. I had just passed the fourth guy going into Turn 1 and the rain really started to pick up. I slowed, went for turn one and got sideways. I got the car straightened out but caught the grass on the other side of the track and went off. Unbelievable. I hit the left side of the car on a concrete barrier and bent more suspension. Disbelief. I’ve wrecked more this year than my entire 17 years of racing combined and what’s on paper is not a testament to the driver that I know I am.

It would be really easy to give up. It would be really easy to throw my arms up and say maybe I am not meant to be here doing this, but if easy were what I was after, I would not be where I am right now. It would also be easy to keep showing up at the racetrack and not pushing the limit, remaining slow and going nowhere. If I were not meant to be here and be on this path, I wouldn’t have such amazing people surrounding me, supporting me, believing in me. (I think I’m just telling myself these things to keep myself motivated, not tooting my own horn.

If the easy route were the one I was looking for, I wouldn’t be telling you right now that I’ve got what it takes, and that I believe that with every ounce of my heart.

I hate to throw a “just” in the mix because it’s kind of on the borderline of excuses however, I just need seat time and experience. It’s been a tough pill to swallow this year, but it makes me want it even more, which I didn’t think was possible. It’s been a hell of a roller coaster ride and I’m willing to bet we haven’t even reached the corkscrew yet.

I pray, day in and day out, that some light will shine through, that my time is coming, and that this season of trials will soon have the addition of “triumph”. I will continue to put my head down and do whatever it takes to be the best, and promise you that I will make it happen one way or another.



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    Sounds like things have been tough for you so far Shannon!  But it is really good to see that girls are up for the challange to as well as the lads.  Best of luck in the furure.
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    Keep at it Shannon! Are you able to work out a dirt/USF2000 schedule? Maybe the time in dirt would be refreshing? Thanks for writing.
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    "... being the best is 1% inspiration; 99% perspiration".  You can do it if you keep the faith!!!  Wonderful article!!

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