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|Daytona Journal article
|Thursday, March 01, 2012 8:12:51 AM
|Getting to the race takes a walk in the woods for young driver
By LACEY McLAUGHLIN, Staff writer send an email to email@example.com
February 16, 2012 12:25 AM
Posted in: ARCA
ARCA driver Sloan Henderson in the garage with her No. 29 Dodge Charger at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday. (N-J | Jim Tiller)
Driver Sloan Henderson has been able to raise money to get to this year's ARCA qualifying by selling timber from her family's property. (Photo | Sloan Henderson)
Just a few weeks before Sloan Henderson was set to qualify for last year's Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 ARCA race at Daytona International Speedway, she received news the financial backing from her sponsorships had fallen through.
Unable to come up with several thousand dollars on her own, she returned to her home in Dayton, Ohio, wondering if she would ever race again.
"It was a huge downer," said the 19-year-old, who will practice today and attempt to qualify Friday for the 2012 Slick Mist 200. "We have constantly heard 'no' from companies and last year when it seemed like my dreams were coming true, it was taken away from me a few weeks before the race was suppose to happen."
But this year, Henderson discovered money does grow on trees.
After hunting on her grandparent's property in Ohio, Sloan's sponsor Terry Wells suggested cutting down 55 walnut trees and selling them to a local lumber mill. For days Sloan, her father Steve Henderson and Wells cut down the 100-foot trees with a 30-pound chainsaw and moved them despite freezing temperatures and snow.
"The trees are 150 years old, so we aren't going to have a chance like this in another 150 years," Steve said.
The timber brought in $23,500 toward Sloan's fundraising goal of $65,000. But if she was going to make it to the first ACRA race of the season and gain the attention of the media and potential sponsors, timber alone wouldn't cut it.
To raise additional funds, Sloan called on the help of her fans with Sloan's Crusaders. Through her website, sloanhenderson.com, fans can become sponsors for as little as $1 and have their name placed on her No. 29 Dodge Charger. So far, Sloan's Crusaders has helped raised more than $30,000. "We are looking for grass-roots sponsors instead of corporations," Steve said. "It's a fan-funded sports car."
Steve Henderson also sold six acres of his family's 30-acre farm to pay for the car and crew for Saturday's race -- the engine alone costs $20,000, he said.
Sloan Henderson started racing at the age of 12 after an accident on her horse, Rocky, left her with a broken jaw. Her father said he was looking for a hobby for his daughter that didn't involve an animal with a "mind of its own."
A former tractor-trailer driver, he remembered how his daughter liked to spend hours turning doughnuts on a four-wheeler when she was a child, and thought racing would be a sport she could excel at. Sloan would eventually go on to break track records at the Columbus Motor Speedway in Columbus, Ohio, and win the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Rookie of the Year Award for Ohio in 2009.
Despite her love for racing, the financial setback in 2011 had Sloan beginning to picture her life without the sport.
"We were literally done racing until three months ago," said Steve. "We were starting to plan our lives outside racing, when she spent a semester in college and then came back and we decided to give it another shot."
About that time, Sloan reached out to Sprint Cup Series driver Brian Keselowski, who was billed as an underdog when he qualified for the Daytona 500 in 2011. He also owns the newly formed Brian Keselowski Motorsports team and was looking for a driver for this year's ARCA series. In December, Sloan tested with Keselowski's team at Daytona International Speedway and finished eighth out of 53 drivers, with an average speed of 181mph. Her results showed promise, as Sloan has never competed in a race with speeds more than 90 mph.
"She jumped in and drove like she had been doing it for 100 years," Keselowski said.
Sloan's fundraising efforts have brought her to Daytona, but without additional sponsorships it's unlikely that she will compete in other ARCA-series races this year.
Like many other drivers before, her performance in the Slick Mist 200 could make or break her career.
"It's Cinderella's shot at the ball," Steve said.
Sloan is one of three female drivers who will attempt to qualify and compete in Saturday's race. And though her long blonde hair will likely help her marketability, Sloan said she hopes her Christian faith and racing talent will set her apart from other drivers.
"I don't want to push Christianity on anyone, I just want to stand up for the things that I believe in," she said. "I believe that this is where God wants me to be and he wants me to be an example for others," she said.
Steve Henderson acknowledged that it will be tough for his daughter to beat seven-time Slick Mist 200 winner Bobby Gerhart, but he has faith that Sloan will succeed. He pointed to NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, who placed sixth in the same race in 2010 and has become one of the most high-profile women in auto racing.
"Sloan doesn't have to win," he said. "If she can do one spot better than what Danica did, I think that's going to be press worthy."