After six years as director of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series and over 30 years in the racing industry, Cherie Putnam has decided to step back and retire after the 2022 season.
Putnam has been a familiar face in the series garage for many years, starting her career as a crew member, even winning the 2010 championship with D.J. Kennington’s team.
She later became a series official, working the tech line and standing watch in the spotter’s stand during the race.
In 2017, she took over the position of Series Director, guiding the teams and drivers through six years of new opportunities, change and steering the helm through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under her direction, the series experienced many firsts, including the 2018/19 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the inaugural race on dirt and the series’ first trip to Newfoundland.
We took a moment with Cherie, to reflect on her time as Series Director and her racing career.
Caitlin Patrick – How has it felt now that you have decided that 2022 is your final year, are you feeling any nostalgia?
Cherie Putnam –I guess in the sense of, now that I’ve decided to step aside and retire, that this will be the first time in 32 years that I’m not scheduled to be at a racetrack. Which is very different.
Caitlin Patrick – For those who may not know, how did you start, not just in the series but in racing as a whole?
Cherie Putnam – I was about 18 years old and my husband at the time was into racing. It’s a sport that you love, or you hate. I loved it and have been doing it ever since.
I worked as a series official in 2012 with NASCAR but I’ve been in the series as a competitor since 2007 when NASCAR took over CASCAR.
Caitlin Patrick – Did you work in CASCAR before then?
Cherie – I was just a competitor in the years in CASCAR. Over the years, I won two championships, the first in 1994 (with Mark Dilley) and won in 2010 (with D.J. Kennington).
Caitlin – You have been the Series Director for some of the most prominent events in series history. The COVID-19 pandemic, the series’ first dirt race, the first race in Newfoundland and Labrador and the series’ first race in the United States. Looking back, how does it feel to know you’ve played such a pivotal role in the series’ growth?
Cherie – It’s kind of humbling… You’ve been around racing for so long and it’s nice to see the opportunity and the exposure.
That’s the biggest thing in Canada is the exposure. We have a lot of talent up here, we have a lot of skill, a lot of diversity in tracks we go to.
New Hampshire was special because it gave the opportunity for a lot of our drivers to race on a mile track. We don’t have that in Canada, so it was unique for them and for us. Travelling from coast to coast, as I’ve done for so many years, it’s nice to see new opportunities and new venues throughout Canada, in some of these small towns that you get to see. The small local tracks that you otherwise, would never go to or even know were there outside racing. All the way from British Columbia to Newfoundland.
It’s great to be a part of, but it’s also great to give the opportunity for different fans and markets to see just what talent the series has.
Caitlin – You’ve also been a role model for many young women entering motorsports. Do you have any wisdom that you can share with them?
Cherie – Wisdom, hmmm…
Just believe in yourself… Chase your dreams. Jeez, be as strong as you are and just be determined.
There were probably only five women, when I started, that played prominent roles in racing. And not just working in logistics or cooking for the teams, but women actually going over the wall. I was blessed to have people that didn’t look at me as a female but looked at me as just a team member. I carried tires; I did fuel.
Way back in the day, we use to do pit stop competitions, and we did an all-female team. And we beat some of the guys. We had a female driver and everybody that changed tires and jacked it was female. We weren’t first but we definitely weren’t last, to say the least.
Again, most of the teams you worked on, appreciated what you did. You were just a team member. I think that’s where it all began but it didn’t just start with me. I know a lot of strong-willed women that raced and did it because they wanted to and did it for the love of the sport. Kudos to them too, because they were standing alongside you while you were going through the process.
Whereas now, it’s a little bit more open, it’s more acceptable. It’s nice to see that, not just in our series but industry-wide, there are a lot more women given the opportunity, whether it’s in engineering, crew chiefing or changing tires, just being a part of a pit crew team.
It all stems from, not just people like me but a variety of people that just do it for the love of it and don’t focus on, is it a man’s sport or not. It’s a sport that we all just love.
Caitlin – Now looking at the series and seeing yourself as series director and the, frankly “Girl Boss” team you’ve built around you, how does it feel looking at the series and what does that future look like, for young women in motorsports, to you?
Cherie – It’s good because I can’t say that it’s just me. NASCAR never looked at that as being an exclusion, we were always welcome. There were several female series officials before, probably as high as five or six. It’s nice to see, you need that diversity in a lot of things. It doesn’t just come in strength; it comes in mindset and a number of other abilities.
The women that we have on our team bring something special, I don’t know where I would be without a few of them, just from their experience and their knowledge, and the understanding of what they do. You don’t have to know everything; you don’t have to be a perfectionist at everything.
You need to be able to manage and have a belief in who you have working with you, whether you’re a Series Director or another official.
Caitlin – As of Delaware this weekend, you will have been Series Director for 68 NASCAR Pinty’s Series races. Are there any that stick out in your mind as your favourite or any that have special memories attached?
Cherie – Well you never can pick a favourite. Each year is different. It’d be like talking to a driver about their championship. I’ve had the opportunity to work with and meet a lot of great people, a lot of different tracks and different promoters.
I can’t compare them because they’re all unique and special in their own way and the opportunity of just going there is incredible.
Your first year is always a challenge. When you go through it you think, “Oh hey, I did it, it’s not that bad”. You see the potential of where you can move forward towards. I think by increasing the awareness of what we have in Canada and what we do, I see a lot more. We get a lot of southern interest and we’ve had a lot of southern drivers come up and say this is not that easy. These guys are… I don’t want to quote Noah Gragson, but “are badass”. There is a lot of talent and special things here.
So, I don’t have a favourite. I don’t have a favourite person or track; I appreciate everything that everyone has done for me and how they welcomed me.
You play a different role as the series director. The accomplishment is seeing the excitement out of the fans and the drivers. Crowning a champion solidifies your year. Unfortunately, at times, you have to be the governing body of control but it’s always about them. Being given that opportunity to do what we’ve done in the last six years, with all those accomplishments, it’s great to be a part of it and have done it.
Caitlin – What are you going to miss most about directing the series?
Cherie – Directing… Well, it’s not easy taking on all the responsibility. But it’s the people, it’s always going to be the people. 30-something years, and you’ve met a lot of people.
It would be the people in this series. But I know they’ll grow, there’s a lot of hype and excitement so that’s great. There’s a lot of talk about our series right now which is all you ever want when you leave. You just always hope that you give it on to someone better than you got it and where they can grow and make it even better or have other opportunities.
Caitlin – Your first champion that you crowned as Series Director was Alex Labbe. How does it feel to watch him race in the Xfinity Series each week?
Cherie – He’s a great driver, a great past champion and a great ambassador for the Pinty’s Series. We’ve had a lot of our drivers who have been able to drive in the national series and that’s what you want. To have a series that can get them to that competitive level or help them along the way, to fulfilling their dream.
I hope we see a lot more and I think we will. It’s the young talent that you want to develop from here, give them the opportunity and I think we’ll see a lot more of our drivers succeed.
Caitlin – Is there anything you would like to say to everyone you’ve worked with throughout the years?
Cherie – Haha, what a way to put me on the spot… Just thanking everybody.
A lot of opportunities, people that you meet, the friendships you make.
Thanking everybody for the success. And not me, it’s the team of officials, it’s NASCAR itself, the series sponsors – past and present, the sponsors within the teams. The drivers, the crews.
Some say your family is racing. Most of the people around here, I spend more time with than I see my family. You watch them grow. You deal with the good and the bad. As we get older, some leave us.
So, it’s just saying thanks to all.