At 21, she's on fast track to contend

On Motor Sports

March 26, 2000|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Tom and Rick Rothe have been around motor racing most of their lives. For years they owned cars competing in Sprint racing and then took a decade off to try some other things.

They took their kids go-carting. Tom won the 1994 World Karting Association Championship. Then, in 1998, they hired Baltimore driver Larry Kopp to compete in the then-new Winston World Truck Drag Racing series. They won the title.

Then, late last season, they decided to return to their roots. Sprint cars. The Rothes bought out a team in Indianapolis and hit the local tracks -- Lincoln Speedway and Williams Grove in Pennsylvania -- and discovered that while it has changed, it is still as much fun as they remember.

"It's controlled mayhem," said Tom, 44, who with brother, Rick, 49, owns Accurate Binding Co. "It's unbelievable to me. I don't have the guts to drive one. If I was driving, it would be a Late Model stock car on asphalt because I think they're safer. But if I'm going to be an owner, I'd rather spend my money on something I love to watch."

The Rothes spent the end of last season and the off-season looking for a driver and the one they signed may surprise some. But not all. The Rothes hired Becca Anderson, 21, of Houston, Del. She has been driving since age 12. She won eight times in her rookie year and hasn't looked back.

"But this is going to be somewhat of a challenge," Anderson said. "The competition will be a lot tougher. The guys racing at this level are making a living at it. But racing is the biggest adrenalin rush I've ever come across and I'm very determined to race as hard as the next one. I'm not a girl, I'm just a racer."

In Charlotte, N.C., Lowes Motor Speedway president Humphy Wheeler prides himself as being a talent scout, having identified Jeff Gordon, for example, when he was on the Sprint circuit. He was not caught unaware when asked if he had heard of Anderson.

"I think it's a little early to say she's the one," Wheeler said from his car phone last week. "But from what I gather, she is doing a pretty good job."

Wheeler, like many racing promoters, is constantly looking for "the one" woman who will break through and win at a high level. Janet Guthrie was the first to have an opportunity in the modern era. But as Wheeler points out, Guthrie and Lyn St. James, who followed her, didn't start until they were in their 30s. Guthrie, in fact, was 39 when in 1976 she ran her first major race, the World 600 at Charlotte.

The next year, she became the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. But though she was able to race in both Winston Cup stock cars and IndyCars on a regular basis for several years, she was never a threat to win. St. James, though more competitive, hasn't been a threat either.

And Shawna Robinson, who has a full-time ride in the ARCA series this season, lost some ground by taking five years off to have two children.

"I'd say Becca is exactly where she should be at age 21," said Wheeler, noting Anderson's plans for the World of Outlaws and perhaps the ARCA stock car series next year. "Of all the macho things you can do in racing, driving in the World of Outlaws, on dirt with high horsepower, that's the top. I'm real high on that series as a place to find out if you have it or not.

"She has Sprint car experience. She's won in [the smaller powered] sprints. Seven Outlaw races probably aren't enough to give her a chance to get real competitive, but it will give her a chance to find out if the ability is there. And if she tries ARCA next year, that will allow her to find out if she can transfer her short track skills to super speedways."

Asked if there was any advice he would give Anderson, Wheeler chuckled.

"I would say start doing neck bridges," he said, referring to the traditional exercise used by football players. "They say women's necks are their weakness. I don't believe that. I believe with work they can be as strong as a man's proportionately. If she's going to try to be competitive in the bigger cars, she'll need to build those muscles."

Andretti in the Hall

Mario Andretti, 60, is scheduled to return from five years of retirement to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June. But before he goes to France, he'll make a side trip to Talladega, Ala., April 13 to be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

He'll be keeping good company there, as his longtime rival, A. J. Foyt, goes in with him. The late Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, drag racing pioneer Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, former world land speed record-holder Craig Breedlove and another Andretti nemesis on the F-1 circuit, Nelson Piquet, also will be inducted.

Among that group are 300 wins in Formula One, IndyCars, stock cars, Can-Am, sports cars, Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters and half a dozen world land speed records.

The induction will be carried live by Speedvision at 8 p.m.

CART takes the green

The 2000 CART FedEx Championship series begins today with the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami at Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex with driver Juan Montoya looking to defend his 1999 championship and his car owner, Chip Ganassi, looking for his team to win an unprecedented fifth straight CART title.

"I don't think I've ever been as excited for race No. 1 as I am this year," said Ganassi.

He has reason. He has switched chassis from Reynard to Lola and engines from Honda to Toyota for this season and, on top of that, has lost longtime engineer Morris Nunn, who left to form his own CART team.

"Seeing the results during testing, I'm confident our move to Toyota and Lola can help keep us ahead of the game," he said.

Which isn't exactly the news the rest of the CART teams want to hear.

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