Ashley Freiberg opens with win

Wes Duenkel Photography

In the first race of the season, Ashley Freiberg and Shelby Blackstock won the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.

Ashley Freiberg has debunked the woman-in-racing hypothesis, the one that asserts that success yields respect, which begets financing and opportunity.

Not that she's happy about that. The theory sounded pretty good in principle.

But two weeks after becoming the first woman to win an event in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge -- and the first to win an overall race at Daytona International Speedway -- the 22-year-old is uncertain if she will even contest the next event of the season on March 14 at Sebring International Raceway.

Sometimes I get confused more than anything else because I wish you could just perform and then that's all you have to do. But there's so much more to it.
Ashley Freiberg

It's an odd time for the most successful female race car driver mainstream sponsors and consumers still have yet to discover.

"Sometimes I get confused more than anything else because I wish you could just perform and then that's all you have to do," Freiberg told espnW in a phone interview. "But there's so much more to it. And a lot of it is luck and who you know and meeting the right person at the right time. It gets interesting sometimes, but at the same time I try really hard to not let it affect me too much because if I ever do get back in the seat, I want to be 100 percent focused."

She seemed fine in the Continental Tire opener on Jan. 24. Co-driving the No. 48 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 with Shelby Blackstock, Freiberg and Blackstock finished second but were scored the winners when the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M3 was "excluded" by the International Motor Sports Association because of a technical violation.

"Ashley might be a little spoiled now," Blackstock -- the son of country music singer Reba McEntire -- quipped on his personal website. "It took me more than two years to finally win one, and she wins in her first start. I hope she doesn't think this series is easy. But she did an awesome job today."

Finding out she had won certainly wasn't easy.

"I was literally in my hotel room posting on my social media that I had finished second and just as I posted it, my phone started going insane and was, like, freezing up because everybody was trying to call me," Freiberg said. "I don't know how I found out, but I figured out I finished first and I was trying to delete everything as fast as I could. It was pretty exciting."

Having just completed her first event with a new team, in her first endurance race, first in a front-engine car, at a track where she made her first competitive start in a World Karting Association event eight years ago, Freiberg had been content with a second-place finish.

Wes Duenkel Photography

Ashley Freiberg became the first woman to win a CTSCC race and the first to win an overall race at Daytona.

"I was really happy with that," she said. "I did not expect to finish where I finished. I was thinking if we could get a top-five, that would be like, so stellar. I would be over-the-moon happy. I was plenty happy with a second place but the first place definitely over-did that."

And it added to a career of firsts. She was the first female to win a Skip Barber National Series race and the first to claim an MX-5 Cup win in the series. She joined Danica Patrick as the only females to earn candidacy for the Team USA Scholarship Award. Freiberg had become the first female to win a Platinum Cup event in GT3 Cup Challenge last season when she led every lap at Watkins Glen International. But after a qualifying crash at Motorsport Park in Canada, EFFORT Racing terminated her contract even though she led the series points after six events.

Freiberg, informed of that decision by text message, said she is still unsure why the relationship dissolved because team officials do not respond to her inquiries. EFFORT Racing did not immediately respond to an inquiry from espnW.

Freiberg finds herself constantly answering questions, she said, about the EFFORT situation when negotiating with sponsors and teams. She met officials from Fall-Line last season at Road America and was put in a car a few weeks before the opener at Daytona after completing just one test.

Fall-Line fully sponsored the event at Daytona, but Freiberg must find funding to continue, meaning she could be an unemployed co-points leader of a series for the second time in a year.

"There's no guarantees of anything," she said. "It's kind of frustrating because Daytona was such a big, big deal. You would think it would be a lot easier, but, unfortunately, motorsports relies so much on funding. It's hard."

Fall-Line also is seeking funding for her, Freiberg said, but will field the car with another driver if necessary. She, meanwhile, has redoubled her efforts with potential sponsors who were originally hesitant. A second approach as a race winner figures to help.

"We'll find out at Sebring, if I go or not," she said. "But it's definitely put the nail in, like 'She's the real deal, we have to figure something out.' It's not like a question mark anymore. We have to do something, we have to find a way."

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