Crocker in slow lane, for now
- To say Erin Crocker's eager to get on the track at Michigan International Speedway next week would be a bit of an understatement.
"It's testing my patience a little bit," Crocker says of moving into her stock car career with Evernham Motorsports. "Part of that is because I ran 102 races last year [with the World of Outlaws]. So I'm coming off of a schedule where you run three or four nights a week, so that's been a bit of an adjustment.
"At the same time, it's an awesome experience even if I'm not racing every day. Just to be [at the track], hanging out with Ray Evernham and watching [races] from a pitbox and just learning so much.
"It's just kind of been a whirlwind, and I'm really excited [because] the second half of the season is coming and my schedule will be a lot busier."
It actually has started already, as Crocker, 24, tested at Michigan earlier this week. While there, she was showed the best way around the track by Bill Elliott, who will be running the Nextel Cup race in Evernham Motorsports' third Dodge.
Crocker admits the experience was almost surreal.
"I never thought in a million years I would be hanging out with Bill Elliott and having him show me laps around Michigan International Speedway," Crocker says. "It is an amazing opportunity. I've heard about Bill giving people rides around racetracks in his passenger car. I'm a little nervous to ride around the track with him. [But] there is no one better to show me the line around here than Bill Elliott."
Elliott first raced at the track in 1976, five years before Crocker was born. A seven-time winner at the track, he knows Crocker has a long way to go to find success in stock cars. Crocker, though, has the luxury of time at her disposal.
"Erin's got her work cut out for her. She's got a great background, but it's just a matter of getting experience and being in the right equipment," Elliott says. "Evernham Motorsports is a great place for her to be. I am really looking forward to seeing how she competes this year."
Back in April, Crocker won the pole at Nashville in her ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) debut. She finished 12th, but hasn't been in a stock car race since.
The waiting truly has been the hardest part.
"She's not patient. She blasts me," Evernham jokes. "We always kid around that she's the daughter I never had because everybody tells her that she's a lot like me. She'll rip you in a heartbeat.
"The other day, somebody asked her what it's like to drive for Ray Evernham, and she said, 'I don't know. I've only driven for him once.' We've had her in the Busch car testing and in the ARCA car testing. She understands that if we're going to perform on the track, she's got some more learning to do."
Evernham, though, knows Crocker has plenty of talent, something he says was evident the first time he saw her behind the wheel.
"Have you ever seen her drive a Sprint Car? The first time I watched her drive that Sprint Car, I knew she was the real deal," Evernham says. "When I met her and spent time with her and we talked, she had the commitment and the desire, and watching her drive, she has talent."
That talent was on display at Nashville, as she ran well and made a great save after having the air taken off her rear spoiler. It was a rookie mistake, one she hopes to have learned from.
"I knew I had the fastest car that day. I made a mistake on something Ray had warned me about, but I had never felt the rear of the car move in all of the testing we had done," Crocker says. "I just got next to that guy and it took the air off my spoiler. But when I look back, I was happy that we sat on the pole.
"Even though I had to go to the back during the race, I think I learned a lot more having to come through traffic. All in all, for the first time, I was pretty happy."
Crocker first heard from Evernham this past fall and spent an afternoon with him. That was all it took for her to realize she wanted to put her future in Evernham's hands. She had other offers, but felt comfortable with his program.
Others might have offered a faster time line toward a Nextel Cup career, but Crocker knows a plan that includes five Busch Series races this year and even more Busch races next year makes the most sense.
"Sometimes I might drive him crazy because I seem like I'm impatient, but when I sit back and think about it, it's definitely right," Crocker says. "You only get one big break, one big opportunity, and if you fail, it's hard to regain that. It's just like when you lose someone's trust; it's not easy to gain it back.
"If you go out and make a fool of yourself for five races, it's hard to redeem yourself. I'm glad I'm taking it slow, and I know I have a lot to learn."
Crocker's Busch Series debut isn't until September, and Evernham's goal is for her to split the Busch schedule with Kasey Kahne next year in Evernham's car. And the owner isn't about to alter his long-term plan just because of the wave of Danica Mania sweeping motorsports after Danica Patrick's impressive month of May at Indianapolis.
"If it were about business and about getting press, it would be tempting [to rush her], but it's about helping somebody I believe in," Evernham says. "I believe I have somewhat of a process, and I've seen too many people get thrown into a high-pressure situation too soon and it ruins their career.
"I care about the people that work for me and the people that drive for me. It's not about making money. I want to help her. I want her to succeed, and in order to do that, the worst thing in the world we could do is create a bunch of press and a bunch of stuff and then not have her have the experience. She has the talent, but this is a tough, tough business and it takes time to learn it. We want to make sure she gets a proper shot at doing it."
Which is why Crocker bides her time, while counting the hours until she climbs back into Evernham's Dodge next week in Michigan.
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.
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