Fort Mill girl climbing the American car racing ladder, toward NASCAR
Isabella Robusto is probably a better driver than most people traversing American roads, but the Fort Mill teenager won’t be able to legally hit the streets for another two years.
Instead, Robusto is burning up race tracks in Legends cars, and her budding racing career got another boost this week. The 14-year old was one of four drivers between the ages of 12 and 16 picked to compete in the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Youth Development program.
NASCAR wants to shepherd talented prospects from diverse backgrounds into pro racing careers.
“It’s great that they are really focused on it,” said Kerri Robusto, Isabella’s mom.
Robusto’s involvement in motorsports isn’t as novel as it might have been 15 years ago.
Danica Patrick blazed a trail for women drivers, while current standouts Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace came through NASCAR’s Diversity Program.
Robusto participated in the youth development program in 2017 and 2018, as a member of the Rev Racing team, and that undoubtedly helped calm her nerves during the program combine, held in March in Mooresville, N.C. Eight candidates raced go-karts and were tested on general knowledge. Robusto finished her practice lap 2.5 seconds faster than any of the other drivers.
Here’s how she knew she’d aced the combine: “I don’t think I used my front bumper once, so that’s pretty good,” Robusto said, chuckling.
Robusto and the other three drivers selected will race in the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway in June and July, as well as several other events during the summer. Robusto finished third in the Shootout last year, and won the Battle at the Big Top race at Texas Motor Speedway, becoming the first female racer to take a checkered flag in that event.
Robusto is tall and lean and plays basketball and runs track at Pleasant Knoll Middle School. She kicked for the school’s football team, too.
“She’s just a natural athlete,” Kerri Robusto said. “She’s driven and consistent, and she likes to win.”
Robusto and her twin brother, Will, got a go-kart when they were 5 years old, and they were hooked on racing from there, ripping around the empty lots in their unfinished neighborhood. Being a twin stoked a competitive fire within Robusto.
“There is always, like, two races in one,” she said. “You want to win the overall race, but I always want to beat Will, to make it even better.”
The twins progressed from go-karts to bandaleros then Legends cars. They learned passing moves with go-karts, how to handle a bigger vehicle in bandaleros, and shifting and power/weight ratios with Legends, all while competing against adults.
Robusto won’t be able to drive on American streets for two more years, but she was approved as an 11-year-old to race Legends cars, which look like hot rods and are an entry point into stock car racing. Picture semi-professional/professional American car racing as a ladder: Robusto is at the bottom rung, with the NASCAR Cup Series at the top.
Her next step is racing late model cars, in the Whelen All-American and, eventually, K&N Pro Series East circuits. Those are two of the lowest levels of the several NASCAR-sanctioned series and are a long way from the NASCAR Cup Series. But Robusto’s climb up the stock car racing ladder feels like it’s truly begun.
“She is just right on the edge of getting into that NASCAR program,” Kerri Robusto said.