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KC native Cobb still ‘thinking big’ in race world

By Joe Lyons
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Jennifer Jo Cobb, a Kansas City area native, waves to the crowd before a race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jennifer Jo Cobb was 7 or 8 when she told anyone who would listen that she wanted to be a race car driver.

But nobody took her seriously.

"My dad, Joe, raced dirt tracks around the Midwest so I grew up around race tracks and race cars," said Cobb, 47, who's scheduled to compete Sunday in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series CarShield 200 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill. "Early on, I learned what to do and what not to do at the track. As a teenager, I was involved in every club and activity you could imagine – cheerleader, dance team, competitive gymnastics – so I'm sure my dad probably figured I'd outgrown those early racing dreams."

Kansas City area native Jennifer Jo Cobb is the lone woman competing full-time in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

But the dream never died. In fact, it was reinforced when, in high school, Cobb inherited a 1975 Trans Am from her mom.

"That car was special to me," she recalled. "I was doing a little drag racing and trying to make it better. My dad – I think he was challenging me – would send me to find parts, parts that were tough to find. One day I found a manifold he was looking for and the guy also had a race car. The guy, a complete stranger, told me that if I got my dad to look it over, he'd let me drive it.

"Racing it the next week, I blew a tire, hit the wall and ended up in the hospital."

That got dad's attention.

"I think my dad realized that I was serious about this and that he needed to be more involved," Cobb said. "He went to a junkyard, got a Mustang for 50 bucks and told me that if I didn't show up to work on it every night, we weren't doing this."

Through college, while studying marketing and sales and performing as a cheerleader on scholarship, Cobb continued to work on her cars. Over 10 years, she worked her way up from a four-cylinder pony start division at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas, and at I-70 Speedway near Odessa to the intermediate sportsman late model division.

"Then, the Kansas Speedway opened and I saw stars," she said.

Around that same time, Cobb read a book – "The Magic of Thinking Big" – that changed her life.

"I started studying and learning about business and marketing and learned why sponsors sponsor," she said. "Eventually, I guess it all fell together."

Cobb, who splits time between Kansas City and North Carolina, has also competed in the ARCA Racing Series, in NASCAR's Xfinity Series and in the Elite 1 and Elite 2 Whelan Euro Series. But her focus is on NASCAR Trucks.

The only woman competing full time in the Truck Series, Cobb currently sits in 32nd place. Her best previous finishes were in 2014 (16th), 2010 (17th) and 2015 (17th).

"The Truck Series is a good place if you're a smaller team, a team under a budget, because of the number of races," Cobb said. "Infinity pays a lot better, but it's such a grind. I'm the kind of person that when I go in, I'm all in. My truck, with me or someone else driving, has been in every single race since we had the No. 10 at Daytona back in 2010."

Cobb isn't just a driver, she's also a team owner.

"I am extremely hands-on and that goes back to my dad," she stressed. "He taught me so many values – taking responsibility, doing things yourself, not being pushed around, keeping your word, earning respect – and I think my competitors see how hard I work in all aspects, not just showing up and driving the truck.

"We're a small team – a team that races on tires that other teams throw away – and because of that, we're not going to be running up front. But we're a team that's going to fight. The idea is to stay in the game and do whatever it takes to try and get better and earn more sponsorships so that one day I have a chance to race up front."

In addition to racing, Cobb enjoys public speaking. Last year, she spent 30 days during three different trips to Russia. The year before, she traveled to the country of Georgia.

"Basically, I tell my story," she said. "About growing up in the Midwest with limited finances and working to become a professional driver. I talk about setting goals and achieving them. I talk about business and teamwork and education. It's something I enjoy very much."

Cobb has never finished better than 20th at World Wide Technology Raceway but said she's always enjoyed competing in St. Louis.

"Part of it, I'm sure, is getting a chance to race so close to home," she said. "But it's a challenging track because of the different turns and it's a track I've always enjoyed racing. I feel good about our truck and I'm really looking forward to the weekend."

Cobb continued: "With COVID, everything's different. We basically show up and race. It requires a lot more preparation and I've noticed that I'm a lot more nervous heading into races. When they throw that green flag for the first lap, you know that everything has to be right and that I'd better prepared from the get-go."