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Talladega Nights

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In my recent auto-racing piece featuring NASCAR racer Terri O'Connell, I wrote about women drivers battling their way into stock-car racing...one of the most machismo-drenched sports still left on Earth. Well, today 26-year-old Erin Crocker held her own in the ARCA RE/MAX 250 at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. She was driving the 98 car, a Dodge Charger.

Erin comes to stock cars from a background of open wheel and sprint cars, and is the only woman ever to win a World of Outlaws race. Today she was the only female on the track. The SPEED commentators hardly mentioned her, though she started in 20th, worked her way up as high as 11th, and finished 18th. Before the race, Crocker had the fastest practice lap of 189.025. In the ARCA series points standing, she is 21st among 183 drivers right now.

The series is dedicated to development, so drivers and teams can learn as much as possible before moving up to more challenging levels -- the NASCAR truck series, the Busch series and finally the national championship Nextel Cup series. With its steep-banked turns and narrow track, and the wild and crazy air turbulence that builds up around 40 cars running at extreme speed and so closely packed, Talladega is approached with respect by drivers...and today the respectful included another migrant from open wheel, namely Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti. He is now a stock-car rookie and said he was there "to learn." He finished 17th, just ahead of Crocker.

We'll be hearing more about Crocker, I'm sure, as she works her way up on the wider career track. -- Patricia Nell Warren