Connie Cobb did not encourage her daughter, Jennifer Jo, to become a race-car driver. Far from it.
“I had Jennifer in the girly things … dance, gymnastics,” said Connie, whose husband, Joe, was a successful Midwest short-track racer out of Kansas City, Kan.
“Jen chose this career path. Her dad raced every Friday night. We went to the races with him. That was his thing, racing. But she was 8 years old when she announced to her dad and I — sitting in a pink beanbag watching her dad work on his race car — that she was going to be a race-car driver one day.
“I didn’t take her seriously at 8 years old, but that was stuck in her mind, and she never let go of it.”
Not even a crash into the wall at Lakeside Speedway in a Pony stock that put Jennifer Jo in the hospital when she was 19 could dash those dreams.
“When that was over, she still wanted to race,” Connie said. “Her dad said, ‘If that didn’t scare her, and she wants to race, I’m going to build her a race car.’ ”
That gave Connie Cobb two drivers in the family but put her in the rare position of being the mother of a female driver.
Jennifer Jo, as owner of her No. 10 Chevrolet team, has become one of NASCAR’s most successful female drivers. Cobb’s 75 career starts are the most by a female in the Camping World Truck Series. Sprint Cup driver Danica Patrick is the only other woman competing regularly in one of NASCAR’s national series.
Cobb’s 17th-place finish in the points standings in 2010 is the best by a female in the truck series. She’s the only woman ever to post a top 10 in the series when she finished sixth at Daytona in 2011, the best finish by a woman in any of NASCAR’s national series.
“A lot of people look at her and don’t believe she drives a race car,” Connie said of her daughter. “When you put on your racing suit and strap into a race car and put on your helmet, there’s no gender difference whose hands are on that steering wheel.”
Jennifer Jo has appreciated her mother’s support.
“My dad really gets all the credit for my being a race-car driver, but I told my mom recently that she is just as deserving for the things that she taught me and how she encouraged me,” said Cobb, 39. “I have a wonderful father, but his time was mostly spent working a 9-to-5 job and then working on his race car.
“Mom and I were inseparable as a child, and I still have such fond memories of her playing with my hair before the races started at the old Riverside Speedway. My mom shaped the woman/race-car driver/business person that I have become more than she will ever realize.”
As Jennifer Jo moved up divisions in NASCAR’s grassroots levels, Connie reached into the family till and bought her daughter a race car with money that had been saved to build a new back deck on their home
“For years the back door was off-limits because there was no deck,” Jennifer Jo said. “Now, there is a roof to an add-on garage where there was supposed to be a deck. Without her sacrifice, for both my dad and my racing, we would not be where we are today.”