Joyce in a class of her own

KRIS WESTWOOD, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

Surrounded by the kids in her kindergarten class in Chelsea, Erin Joyce seems an unlikely candidate to be roaring around a race track.

But the soft-spoken 25-year-old teacher from Alcove, Que., has wanted to do this since she was a kid and her dad, Mike Joyce, took her to watch the races at the dirt track near the Edelweiss ski hill.

"She said: 'When I get bigger, I want to drive a race car,' " he recalled.

WOMEN REGULARS

Joyce is one of a half-dozen women drivers who are regulars at the Capital City Speedway, showing up every Wednesday night with her dad and her brother, Bill, who form her pit crew.

She was rookie of the year in her first season racing Legends, and she's good enough to be offered a drive on the dirt track in Brockville on Saturdays, too.

Joyce is part of a growing number of women who are embracing motorsport.

Given the wide range of different sanctioning bodies in motor racing, statistics are hard to come by. But the growth is evident at every level of the sport.

Danica Patrick scored a historical first earlier this year by winning the Japanese round of the Indy Racing League -- a series that also sees occasional appearances from two other female drivers, Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno.

NASCAR officials acknowledge this growth, pointing out that 40% of their fan base is female.

"We've seen a tremendous increase in overall interest in the sport among females in recent years," said Marcus Jadotte, who oversees NASCAR's diversity program, which is aimed at giving visible minorities a shot at the big time in motor racing.

What NASCAR understands is that having female, black and latino drivers competing at the highest level is the best way to expand its audience --and its revenues.

NOT TOO STRESSED

But with just 43 spots up for grabs at NASCAR's top level, Joyce isn't too stressed about trying to make a living in the sport. And she doesn't have an agenda to push, either.

"If I could do it for money I'd jump at the chance. But I also realize I need to work to support my hobby," she said. "I do it for fun because I enjoy it. I don't do it to promote women in the sport. I mean, the more the merrier. (But) once the helmet is on, I don't think it matters."


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