By Brian Paglia
Amber Colvin walks around the garages in jeans and a gray tank top, stopping by to visit the drivers she knows, the ones she wants to keep racing against. Besides the inside of a racecar, this is where she's most comfortable: rubbing elbows with fellow drivers, holding a baby some mother thrust at her to pose for a picture, barely catching her breath in between signing autographs.
But Colvin and her father aren't sure if they'll be back to Atlanta Motor Speedway next week. The sponsorships aren't there, so neither is the money. The girl who won the 2010 NASCAR Diversity Young Racer Award, and finished fourth in the Semi-Pro feature race Thursday, could have her summer plans to race out of anonymity and into stardom squashed.
"If she doesn't have (sponsorships) by next week, she'll be done," said Wayne Colvin, Amber's father.
Racing began for Colvin when Wayne bought a go-kart. Her first time in it was at a grocery store parking lot. Accidentally, she tilted it on two wheels. Colvin came down laughing and was hooked on driving.
First came racing on dirt tracks. Then Bandoleros, where she won four races and had two top-5 finishes within her first two months. Then Legends, wins, sponsorships and time at the Lyn St. James Driver Development Program, which works to help women who aspire to be race car drivers.
Then came 2009, a bad economy, sponsorships fleeing and a quiet summer. Wayne used to work in construction, but Florida's residential housing market crashed. Now, he installs cable television. Colvin raced just seven times, yet finished in the top-5 in all but one.
Some days, the frustration is real, Colvin said. She is from Tallahassee, Fla., where there is no Legends competition. Florida sponsors don't want to exert their resources on a driver that competes in Georgia. Unfortunately, Colvin has found Georgia sponsors don't want to exert their resources on a driver from Florida.
Everyday, Colvin and her father stretch their minds to think of where the next sponsor could come from.
"Sometimes, we'll be sitting and watching television," Colvin said, "and my dad will just start asking questions: 'What about this company? Have you thought about this company?' We're always thinking about it."
Colvin's plans for this summer are ambitious. She's been offered one of 30 spots at the NASCAR Drive for Diversity combine in October to earn one of the 10 spots with Revolution Racing. To do that, Colvin needs to get experience racing Late Models. A weekend racing Late Models can cost $15,000. Colvin calculated that three weekends would be sufficient to get ready for the combine.
And when all the seemingly insurmountable obstacles begin to pile up on Colvin, she knows how to let go of her anxiety.
When asked how she deals with it all, Colvin points at her Legends car, the only working one she has.
"That's my release," Colvin said.