For those unfamiliar with the sport, racecar driving appears to require a blend of courage to go fast with an ability to keep hold of the steering wheel and mash the gas pedal. Professional racecar driver Jennifer Jo Cobb notes that there’s more to it than meets the eye.
“You’re chasing tenths of seconds,” Cobb says. “So the leader could be running a 29.0 second lap, which is one time around the circuit. You’re running a 29.5 second lap, and you’re in 25th place. You’re trying to find one or two tenths more to improve. The driver has to guide the crew to find clues for what the car wants in order to go faster. You’re trying to push the car to its limits without going over the limit and wreck it. It’s actually very stressful.”
She adds, “It takes a lot of focus, but it takes a lot of calculating—what you’re feeling in your hands, in the steering wheel, what you’re feeling in the seat that the car is doing—is there a slight vibration? Is there a wiggle? You’re trying to diagnose so many different things while maintaining focus, while maintaining courage and praying for that wisdom that you’re conveying the right message back to your team.”
Cobb’s father was a racecar driver, so she was exposed to the racing world at 3 years old. She described it as a lifestyle—working on the racecar, friends coming over and volunteering to help her dad and going to the race track on the weekends.
When she started competing herself, the experience was like her dad said—you can’t describe the feeling.
“It’s like being on a rollercoaster that you control,” she says. “It’s this really amazing relationship with the racecar, with the speed, with the potential danger, with the focus, with constantly trying to improve.”
Cobb grew up racing weekly at Lakeside Speedway and I-70 Speedway, which were sanctioned as NASCAR grassroots tracks. She had been racing for 10 years when the Kansas Speedway was built, and she felt ready to race in the big leagues. When she had the opportunity to race in the ARCA series (the next level from local racing to NASCAR, according to Cobb), it became clear racing was more than just a hobby.
“That’s when it really turned into a business for me because I was able to find sponsors and then take the money to existing teams because I was now no longer racing as a hobby, for my dad, just working on racecars in the garage,” she says. “I was meeting teams and becoming involved in the national scene and ultimately realized that if I had money, I could do this both on the business side and on the driver side.”
In addition to racing, she shares her story as a motivational speaker. She also created Driven 2 Honor in 2011, a charity that honors women in the military. She hopes to show young girls who might not have the means for college or career education that the military is a viable option.
The most rewarding part of the sport is the people she has met throughout her career.
“Being on the race track and experiencing the thrill and the adrenaline is a little bit selfish,” she says. “So when I get to do things like what I do with the motivational speaking, it just feels like such a purpose.”
This year marks Cobb’s 10th season as a full-time NASCAR driver and team owner. Her career has had its ups and downs, but she finds motivation to persevere in her faith and the power of other people around her.
“I’ve been knocked on my butt more than a few times, to the point where it would’ve made total sense just to give in and to give up,” she says. “But every time I made the concrete decision not to give up and to forge forward—no matter how tough the circumstances were, whether it be financially or from a defeated standpoint of not quite being where you want to be—every time I decided to forge forward, some sort of a breakthrough happened.”