Geraldine Newman isn’t exactly sure when she started racing, doesn’t know how many races she’s won, and doesn’t care. She just loves driving that stock car of hers - that is, when her three kids don’t have something else going on.
“Basically, they’ve managed to make things difficult,” said Newman, who has two sons, ages 10 and 12, and a 15-year-old daughter. “It was easier when they were little. Two are on the all-star (baseball team). And the other one is the queen of Durhamville.
“You learn that kids just don’t understand that there’s a race somewheres and it pays $700.”
When the kids don’t have anything going on, Newman is usually able to strap herself into her beat-up, 3,200-pound white No. 7N, rev up the 355 cubic-inch Chevy V-8 and give the good ol’ boys a 100-mph run for their money in the Street Stocks class.
Near as the 41-year-old racer known as Gerry can figure, this all started about 20 years ago, after she won the first race she ever entered - a powder-puff derby. Competing in a male-dominated sport hasn’t been easy.
“I can remember going to Fonda, having 75 cars, and I’m the only girl,” she said. “But you just have to get to the point where you realize that you’re as good as them. That’s the only time you’re going to go. It took me a long time.”
Her first real taste of success was in the late ‘70s at Fonda, a dusty old half-mile dirt track about 50 miles northwest of Albany.
“She never had been there before,” said Newman’s fast-talking husband, Doug, who doubles as her pit boss. “I said, ‘Pay attention to the track. Don’t worry about the car.’
“She was supposed to start on the pole, because when she got there it was a big joke. You know, ‘A girl racing Fonda? Hah, hah.”’
Then the car wouldn’t start.
“She got nervous and flooded it, so she had to start last,” Doug said. “I told her to watch the outside, because it gets marbly and you’ll go into the wall.”
On the first lap, she tried to pass a car on the inside, only to get forced into the infield. Then she pulled to the outside and started passing cars. Although she hit the wall five laps in a row, Newman was fighting for the lead heading into the final lap.
“She went by the leader on the inside of turn 3, he hit her in the rear, she hit the wall, came down back across, almost in the infield, went across the finish line, and the car quit,” her husband said. “It was just amazing.”
Meanwhile, a racer named Danny Ody thought he had won and drove up onto Fonda’s version of victory lane. But he was told “the girl” was the winner.
“She got out, she had little pigtails on, and the crowd nearly tore the fence down,” her husband said. “They couldn’t believe it was a woman driving that car.”
Now they believe it. Newman is the first woman to win consistently in New York, from Fulton to Utica-Rome. Heading into the final weeks of the season, she was the points leader at Fulton Speedway and likely will capture her first track title.
“She’s a hell of a runner,” said Paul Carey, who’s raced against Newman for nearly a decade. “She gives it right back. She’s got good equipment and she uses it well. Her temper gets her once in a while. I’ve seen it. A lot of these guys think they can bully her around because she’s a woman, but not her. She’s not afraid.”
And yet Newman is no Dale Earnhardt or Jeff Gordon or Richard Petty in a petticoat, to whom winning is everything.
“Basically, that’s not me at all,” she said. “I don’t really get upset if I’m second or third, and that’s probably my main problem. I make a game out of it. If somebody beats me, I figure they’re cheating, which, basically, they usually are. I don’t make a big deal out of this. Everybody else does.”
Especially the competition. Spell that M-E-N.
The thought of giving up racing has crossed her mind. After one wreck-filled night this summer, the question that she can’t answer came up again.
“One of the guys on (Tommy) Kinsella’s crew said to me the next day, ‘I don’t get it, Gerry. Why do you do it? What in the hell possesses you to even want to?’ None of us has ever figured out what it is,” she said.
Maybe it’s her fans. People like Linda Laven and her 14-year-old son, Todd, who never want to miss one of her races.
“I like her because she shows these guys that she’s got the spunk and that she can drive just as well as they can,” Laven said. “That’s what I like. She’s a man at heart, but she’s a woman.”