American race car driver
Patty Moise's racing career spanned fifteen years. The daughter of a stock car racer, Moise later married fellow racer Elton Sawyer in 1990. During her career she faced three major challenges. First, Moise had to prove that a woman could succeed in a sport dominated by men. Second, she had to prove herself on the track, not as a woman, but as a driver. Third, Moise had to convince sponsors to fund her racing career. On the first two counts, Moise came through with flying colors, but securing adequate and ongoing sponsorship was her nemesis that ultimately forced her into early retirement.
Patty Moise was born in 1961 in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father, Milton, was a veteran stock car driver and avid racing fan. Moise followed in his footsteps. Although she was never big on sports, she loved speed and accumulated so many tickets and accidents as a teenager that the family's automobile insurance was revoked. Moise attended Jacksonville University, earning a degree
in business, but her heart was always in racing. "I'm an adrenaline junkie," she explained to Cosmopolitan. "I like to do things that involve danger."
Moise began racing in 1981, under the guidance of her father. She started out driving road races the first five years of her career. In 1986 Moise switched to oval tracks. Because she was unable to secure adequate sponsorship, during her first three NASCAR seasons she was only able to race part-time. In 1987 she became the first woman to ever lead a Busch event (Road Atlanta), and in 1988 she became the first woman to win a Busch qualifying race (Talladega).
Moise got a break in 1990 when Mike Laughlin, a Simpsonville car builder and team owner, took her on as a full-time driver for the entire season. In the same year she married fellow driver, Elton Sawyer, whom she had met at an auto show. Also in 1990 Moise turned in a NASCAR record fastest lap on Talladega's 2.66-mile track. She shattered the old record by nearly five miles per hour, making the trip around clocked at 217.498 miles per hour. Because Moise completed the lap on a closed course, the previous record of 212.809 miles per hour set by Bill Elliott in 1987 during a qualifying lap remains the official NASCAR record.
Sponsorship Ups and Downs
NASCAR racing is a fickle business in which finding and retaining sponsorship is the key to success. When Moise failed to make enough good starts in 1990, the following year she returned to part-time racing. From 1991 to 1993 she lined up for a total of only twenty races. In 1994 both Moise and Sawyers secured sponsorship on the Busch Grand National level, a step below the Winston Cup. During the year they often raced against one another, drawing attention from the press. "I think it's great for us to be able to work together," Moise admitted to a NASCAR representative. "As for racing on the track with Elton, this sport takes such a high level of concentration that you really don't have time to think of other drivers, including my husband. But deep down inside I can tell you that passing Elton for a win would make for some interesting conversations during the ride home from the race." In 1995 Moise completed the best finish by a woman to date, running seventh at Talladega.
In 1996 Sawyer made it briefly into the Winston Cup circuit, driving the David Blair Motorsports Ford, and Moise was racing in the Busch Grand National with a Dial-Purex Ford that she and Sawyer had purchased together. On the racing circuit the pressure to perform, to provide value to sponsors' funding venture, is constant. "You can't compete at this level without the sponsors," Moise told USA Today. "And once you get a sponsor, you are an advertising mechanism—you are working for someone else, and you feel the pressure to do well." Again losing sponsoring after the 1996 season, Moise only started one race in 1997, working with limited sponsorship from Pure Silk, whose parent company also sponsored Sawyer under its Barbasol label. On May 31, 1997, Moise completed five laps at Busch Grand National Series race at Dover Downs International Speedway in Dover, Delaware, before crashing and subsequently finished last. She tried but failed to make the field for the Watkins Glen road race.
|1961||Born in Jacksonville, Florida|
|1981||Begins racing road races|
|1986||Begins racing on lapped tracks|
|1990||Marries fellow racer Elton Sawyer; drives fulltime for the season|
|1991-93||Makes just twenty starts|
|1994||Races fulltime on the Busch Grand National circuit|
|1996||Drives Ford, which she co-owns with Sawyer|
|1997||Makes just one start|
|1998||Races fulltime for Michael and Buffy Waltrip, sponsored by Rhodes Furniture|
|1999||Loses sponsorship; retires|
Moise's future brightened at the end of her dismal 1997 season when she secured a commitment to drive for Michael Waltrip and his wife Buffy. Her car was sponsored by Rhodes Furniture, with associate sponsorships coming from the companies that provide Rhodes' product lines, including Simmons, Kroehler Company, Berkline, La-Z-Boy, Kincaid Furniture, and Sealy. Moise sold herself to Rhodes by pointing out that forty percent of racing fans are women, who in turn make most household decisions. "We all felt that giving a woman the opportunity to compete on a level playing field with adequate funding to support a first-rate team was the right thing to do," George A. Buck, executive vice president of Rhodes told the Associated Press. "Of course," he added, "we also believe it would be good for business."
Moise raced on the Busch Grand National circuit full-time during 1998, but once again funding dried up at the season's end. This led the forty-year-old to decide to retire and focus on her husband's racing future. "Moise should still be racing," Jerry Bonkowski of ESPN noted. "She wasn't just a good female racer, she was a good racer first and foremost, regardless of gender." Following her retirement, Moise declined interviews, preferring that reporters talk to Sawyer whose career was also on hold due to a lack of sponsorship.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1987||First woman to ever lead a Busch event (Road Atlanta)|
|1988||First woman to win a Busch qualifying race (Talladega)|
|1990||Recorded unofficial fastest lap at Talladega (217.498 miles per hour)|
|1995||Records best finish by a woman to date, running seventh at Talladega|
During her on-again, off-again racing career, Moise made 133 starts. She was, at the time, only one of six women to ever race on the Busch Grand National circuit. Moise became comfortable with being a woman in a sport dominated by men, but acknowledged that on the track she saw herself as a race car driver, not a female race car driver. She was asked so often how it felt to race as a woman, she began tossing back in response a humorous rebuttal, "You mean, as opposed to when I used to be a man?"
Christensen, Karen, Allen Guttmann and Gertrud Pfister, eds. International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports. New York: Macmillan Reference Group, 2001.
Great Women in Sports. Visible Ink Press, 1996.
Arneson, Erik. "Married Team Races for Future Sawyer, Moises Share, Compete." USA Today, (May 24, 1996): 10.
Mehegan, Sean. "Pfizer Inks Moise as Pure Silk Companion to Barbasol Nas-car." Brandweek, (April 28, 1997): 4.
O'Malley, Anne. "Breaking Gender Barriers (and Records), These High-Speed Pioneers Have Rocketed to the Top of Their Professions!" Cosmopolitan, (October 1996): 238-239.
"Out of Sponsors, Out of Racing." ESPN.com, May 14, 2002. www.espn.com (January 8, 2003).
"Patty Moise." NASCAR.com, December 22, 2002. http://www.nascar.com/2002/kyn/women/02/02/Moise/ (January 8, 2003).
"Patty Moise." A Woman a Week. www.awomanaweek.org (January 8, 2003).
"Patty Moise announces return to full-time NASCAR BGN Series Racing for 1998." The Auto Channel, October 5, 1997. http://www.theautochannel.com (January 8, 2003).
Sketch by Kari Bethel