As the ARCA and other fendered racing at Daytona approaches, we're talking to a woman who wants to one day dominate the Daytona 500 and be the next big Danica in NASCAR.
Alison Macleod, the pride of Mississauga, Ontario Canada, was recently hailed as "The Winningest Female Driver in USAC History." The 20-year-old Alison has been racing since age 7.
Alison: This is actually a pretty funny story, my family has no history in racing (other than my dad being a racing fan), when I was 6 years old my dad went to an open house at a company he did business with.
There was a go-kart sitting there surrounded by trophies (I think he was more attracted to the trophies than anything). He was told that kart racing was for drivers aged 7-70 and that it was the easiest way to get kids from the age of 12-18. Since I have 2 older sisters that were not the easiest teens in the world that caught my dads attention.
He bought me a go-kart to start the next year, at first I HATED it, my first time on the track I was in an accident and just wanted to go home. He would always just say NO I spent too much money on this you are not quitting. A couple weeks later I won my first trophy and started to make some friends at the track, it became more fun and I was easily hooked after that.
I ran 4 stroke karts for about 6 years before getting into 2 cycles and shifter karts. I won a total of 5 championships in karting and was contacted by Ford Racing to participate in their diversity program.
pressdog: Take us through your progression toward USAC. How did you decided to go to USAC?
Alison: The decision to go to USAC was not mine, in fact, when it happened we didn't even know what USAC was. When I was 14 Ford began their diversity program, they tested almost 100 girls and narrowed it down to 4 girls for the final test. The girls were Erin Crocker, Michelle Theriault, Lindsey Tilton and myself. We had a 3 day test, one day on track with Bob East in a midget, one day doing fitness and psychological testing and the last day doing media training/testing.
We were all graded and there was supposed to be one winner. Because of my age I was not supposed to be a candidate, they just wanted me to get introduced to the program with the plan of me coming back to compete the next year. However, I ended up with the tied high score with Erin and they decided to make it a 2 girl program.
pressdog: You've said you're looking for an ARCA or NASCAR Canada ride this year? Why there and how is it going? Did you consider IndyCar even briefly?
Alison: I am under contract with Ford Racing, their entire program has been created around a NASCAR career. I personally enjoy stockcars, I have tested a NASCAR Canada and ARCA car and loved it. I haven't really considered open-wheel at all for a couple of reasons. The first being that I go where Ford wants me to go and I enjoy racing stockcars. Also IndyCar has Danica Patrick but NASCAR has yet to have a really successful female driver and I would love to be their first one!
pressdog: What are some of the roadblocks to drivers from USAC heading toward IndyCar? Anything that makes it more difficult than going in another direction, say into the NASCAR feeder leagues?
Alison: I'm not sure, IndyCar has never been on the radar for me so I haven't been actively pursuing that direction. I think there is just more attention on NASCAR, more fans more money and I like the stockcar world so it was always a better fit for me.
pressdog: You were scheduled to test in an ARCA car at Daytona and said you tested in one earlier. Was that freaky? Did you like or dislike? Give us a flavah of your reaction to the fendermobile.
Alison: Actually I never made it out to the Daytona test, our program fell through about 2 weeks before the test. That really sucked but I did test it at Lowe's Motor Speedway and LOVED it. It was a blast. I am naturally a smoother driver coming from go karts so I find that the stock cars really use that to my advantage where as the midgets are much more twitchy and more of an aggressive driving style.
pressdog: Have you found anything useful in studying the experiences of other female racers?
Alison: Yes and no, each person is different and what works for one may not work for another, Danica can use sex appeal, she's got it and there's no doubt she uses it, while other drivers have different approaches, some fail some succeed, I think that if I stick to being myself and using the things I believe in I can create my own way. I don't think any driver should try to copy another successful driver just because it worked for them or avoid something because it didn't work. Stick to who you are and you will go far!
pressdog: Who are some racers you look up to or who have been role models for you?
Alison: I never really had one racer that I looked up to, maybe im weird, but all the drivers I know whether its Jimmie Johnson or someone I race against locally, I just want to beat them! They are my competition. Having said that I think what Jimmie has done is amazing and you have to acknowledge that! I also think Tony Stewart is awesome, he races anything anytime anywhere and I think that is awesome.
pressdog: Have you ever done any road/street racing? Is that something you'd like to try or do you have zero interest?
Alison: Well I started in go-karts which is the road course style and I LOVE that style of racing as well, the NASCAR schedule has 3 road course races and so does the ARCA schedule so hopefully I will be able to do some road courses in the near future! I would also love to run the Daytona 24hr race!
pressdog: All drivers and/or teams have to search for sponsorship. Is that something you like to do? feel challenged by? dread? Is it something you're involved with or do you have people?
Alison: Haha, I hate it and I love it! Sponsors are what makes this whole world of racing happen, they can bring some amazing things and the feeling you get when you finally sign with a sponsor is irreplaceable, I am taking marketing at school so I try to be as involved as possible, having said that I do have both a Canadian and American manager that does the bulk of the work
pressdog: pressdog.com appreciates the humor. How would you rate your sense of humor on a scale of 1-10?
Alison: Definitely a 10!!!! haha I am always doing stupid/funny random things, it can get pretty humorous around here!
pressdog: You're a student at the University of Guelph (in Ontario) and it appears you're a photographer too. What do you like about design/art/photography?
Alison: Yes, I opened Macleod Designs and Photography in January of last year. I am extremely lazy when it comes to waking up and having a real job (oops). This allows me to incorporate racing and photography together and I control when i work so I am always available for racing. I don't have an employer telling me I can't have the week off, and the best part is with Photography I can work anywhere, in any country. I'm also taking marketing in University and the photography mixes well with the advertising side of marketing, so everything meshes together really well.
pressdog: Is it hard to be a college student and race car driver at the same time?
Alison: Yes and No, because of my exposure to racing and sponsorships my knowledge about marketing is much higher than the average student, which makes school a bit easier, also my school runs from September to April and (for the most part) racing is from April to August so it fits together fairly well.
pressdog: Be honest (because I can take it) -- if you the chance to do just one -- with equal quality teams -- would you race in the Daytona 500 or Indy 500, and why?
Alison: Daytona 500, I just love stock cars! thats my goal!
pressdog: According to Facebook, which never lies, you are "in a relationship" with James Gray, who appears to also be a race car driver. Have you ever raced each other? Did you kick ass? Do you guys talk about torque and gears and motorhead stuff all the time?
Alison: Yes of course Facebook never lies! and I am dating James, we raced against each other in 2007. It was my rookie year in the TQ midgets, and his 6th year, we ran really close, but he usually beat me by one spot! (Believe me it was a lose lose situation for me. I will never live that down.) I did really well for my rookie season and received the rookie of the year award! I was happy with the season and did beat him a few times.
As for our lives its RACING RACING RACING, I don't think it is possible to have a conversation for longer than about 60 seconds without racing coming into it. We talk about everything, watch racing, talk racing, go racing. I was the official Photographer for the Can Am TQ midgets this year since they raced on a different night than I did, they had 11 races and we won 8 of them and finished 2nd in the other 3 races, I got really mad at him because he was bad for business (go figure he thinks he deserves to get photos for free and won't pay for his victory lane photos). But that part is great,
I have tried dating non racecar drivers and they get annoyed and usually tell me to shut up or just look at me with this stupid look on their faces because they have no idea what I'm talking about. It is pretty crazy when you realize how racecar drivers have their own language, when your on the outside of the racing world it really is like listening to some other language and most people are completely lost! So its great that I can talk "code" and still be understood.
The downside is we are both EXTREMELY competitive we compete for EVERYTHING, whether its first person to the door, first person to get out of the car, first person to lose weight, first person to finish eating, etc etc etc, so things can get pretty tense when we have a real competition of any sort!
pressdog: Pretend you're the commissioner/CEO of USAC. What would be your top three initiatives/decrees?
Alison: 1) I would work to try and create a better stepping stone, right now in the Midwest they had Kenyon midgets (12-any age) Focus Midgets (16-any age) and Midgets(16-any age). I think they should create an appropriate stepping stone that is easy to make (ie same chassis and restrictors for speed so that the transition is not so costly) most people skip right over the Focus class because the age of starting is the same as full midgets (they have began to change this last year).
2. I would work on getting some television time... end of story the USAC drivers need exposure, there is some amazing talent and unless you are watching for it there isn't much promotion
3. Im not really sure...its a pretty good sanctioning body, they have lost a bit of force since they are not sanctioning the Indy stuff anymore so maybe work on getting that back!
pressdog: IndyCar is struggling to find an audience, etc. Any thoughts on what keeps more fans from getting into the open-wheel deal?
Alison: Branding, I think NASCAR has a much better branding deal, with sponsors/drivers numbers etc, in Indy car the cars numbers are small and un recognizable, therefore you go based on colors, its a lot harder to be a fan of IndyCar because they don't have a strong branding for the driver (unless your name is Danica Patrick) and even then I don't think I could pick out her car at high speed. But i can already pick out her NASCAR/ARCA ride...
I also think fans like accidents, and although the Indy Cars have much larger wrecks they don't happen as often, in NASCAR races you are almost guaranteed to have at least one big wreck every race, and the races that have a high chance of accident have a higher amount of fans, its kind of sad but its their entertainment as long as no one gets hurt if the fans see a huge wreck they are talking about it forever! (Not so fun as a driver.)
In Indy Car with open wheels the drivers know they have to keep room or else it could be catastrophic, in NASCAR you can bang and bump without getting into too much trouble.