Since his rookie season in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards back in 1983, Bill Venturini has been used to working around females. His pit crew during those early years was tabbed as "the All-Female Pit Crew", led by his wife Cathy. That pit crew not only carried him to the rookie of the year honors, but also led him to his first ARCA Racing Series championship in 1987.
"It was a way to get some extra attention and some added sponsorship back then," Venturini said. "But I never would have come to the racetrack with a pit crew that couldn't compete. If you look at pictures of our team from back then, those girls were all in tremendous shape. They could compete with anyone on pit road. We won a lot of races with them. And I feel the same way about it now, I wouldn't come to the track with a driver I didn't think could compete."
Since then, Venturini has moved from working with female pit crew members to developing female talent behind the wheel. Venturini Motorsports, led by Big Bill, Cathy, and son Billy Venturini, has worked with nearly a dozen female drivers over the years, including two in 2018 that have both scored top-ten finishes: both Natalie Decker and Leilani Munter finished in the top ten at Daytona, with Decker scoring two more top-tens and Munter racking up another at Michigan.
In addition to Decker and Munter, other female drivers VMS has worked with over the years include Milka Duno, Alli Owens, Johanna Long, Kenzie Ruston, Taylor Ferns, Nicole Behar, Trista Stevenson. Behar's third-place finish at Madison in 2016 is the all-time best for a female driver in a Venturini Motorsports-prepared car.
At Madison, the third female driver of the 2018 season will add her name to the illustrious list of names when Toni Breidinger makes her debut for the team in the Herr's Potato Chips 200. Breidinger is USAC's all-time winningest female driver with 14 career pavement midget wins. She began her career behind the wheel of a go-kart at the age of 9 before she moved into the USAC Midget ranks. In 2014 and 2015 she placed 2nd overall in USAC's Speed 2 Western U.S. Pavement Midget Series driver standings before going on to claim the 2016 series championship.
"The USAC cars I've been racing are completely different from the ARCA cars, but racing them has really developed my racing skills. Everything I've learned throughout my four years racing USAC will be carried over into the next step of my career. The USAC Silver Crown cars have a lot of horsepower and compete on some of the same short tracks as ARCA so that should help make the transition a lot easier. Also, I've competed in a few late model races to prepare me for the jump to ARCA. I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."
For team owner Cathy Venturini, working with young female drivers is an important part of her legacy in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.
"As a car owner and former tire changer for Bill back with the all-female pit crew, I couldn’t be more proud watching the girls coming up through the driving ranks today," Cathy Venturini said. "I love seeing them have the chance to compete and compete competitively against the guys. I’m happy these girls are getting the recognition. But it shouldn’t be a gender thing, it’s racing.
"I’ve always been a big supporter of women in motorsports. I definitely think there’s more room for them in our sport, not just behind the wheel. My passion has always been pit stops. I changed tires for years and I loved it. Today we’re seeing a lot more women competing in all aspects of the sport. We have one of the best up and coming tire changers in the business pitting for our team now, Breanna O’Leary. It gives me so much joy watching Breanna week after week. She’s really smooth and fast on her pit stops. Thirty-five years ago our physical training consisted of pit stop practice and carrying our kids around. Today, these girls are total athletes, working out and training every day. In this day and age anything is possible, driving, changing tires, jacking cars…the sky is the limit."
The Herr's Potato Chips 200 at Madison International Speedway is scheduled for this Friday night, June 15. Practice will start at 2:15 pm ET (1:15 pm local), with General Tire Pole Qualifying to follow at 6 pm ET (5 pm local). The green flag will fly over round nine of the 2018 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards Season shortly after 9 pm ET (8 pm local). ARCARacing.com will have live timing and scoring of all on-track sessions, and the race will be televised live on MAVTV.