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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strange but true … A hermaphrodite raced in NASCAR, and wants to race again

Just when I was thinking I couldn’t find anything interesting on which to comment, I came upon this: Back in 1990, a young driver named J.T. Hayes started a race at Rockingham in the Cup series, driving for Junie Donleavy. He started 38th and finished 38th, and that was Hayes’ only career Cup start.

Four years later, Hayes – a hermaphrodite born with the reproductive organs of both a man and woman – had surgery and became a woman, with the new name of Terri O’Connell. This is news now, two decades later, because O’Connell has released a book of her life, and wants to get back into racing … and hopes to come back as a female driver this fall when the ARCA series goes to Rockingham. Also in the plans is an attempt to make the Daytona ARCA race.

The thing that first came to my mind is how a person of this background would be received in the testosterone-filled garage of a top NASCAR series. I’ve occasionally wondered how an openly gay racecar driver would be received by colleagues and fans in NASCAR – the likely answer being not that well. Now switch out gay for hermaphrodite-turned-woman, and we are in a whole new ballpark.

In the family-friendly world of NASCAR, that kind of stuff just doesn’t fly. When you consider that Hayes was racing back in the old days with tough guys like Dale Earnhardt, it’s not too hard too imagine what they would have thought if they knew Hayes’ secret. In a way it’s even humorous to imagine they were on the same track together.

It will be interesting to see if this second career attempt for O’Connell, who was a force to be reckoned while racing as a man, works out. Between Sprint cars, midgets, late models, karting and modifieds, J.T. Hayes racked up more than 500 victories, including some that were achieved while racing against 4-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon when he was just a youngster in Sprint cars.

Now, in her 40s, the female version of Hayes wants to try to recapture some of that glory. Independent of her unique situation, that will be difficult strictly from a racing perspective. It’s hard to make a comeback in racing at that age when you haven’t driven in many years.

Between the age issue and the likely bigotry she would face, it’s going to be pretty hard to make any serious comeback, but you can bet a few extra cameras might show up at the ARCA race if she can get a ride together.

One odd aspect to the whole story: Former Cup driver Lake Speed was the person who urged Hayes to make a decision about what sex he wanted to be.

If you’re interested in reading the whole strange-but-true story , here’s a link:

I’ll file this one under my “Just when you thought you’d heard it all” category.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no understanding how you lump gay in with hermaphrodite. This person was born that way not a plan to change sex.
Come on now this is not the 50's. I personally know a person born this way and it is hard for them and family. So, I would think that the NASCAR family would understand. If not they all can act like you!!!

September 11, 2009 at 11:00 AM 

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