"There's a lot of spotlight," she says, [but] I prefer to be the quiet underdog"

By Andrea Billups
February 22, 2013 09:15 AM
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT/Getty

Her name is Christmas and if auto racing legend Michael Waltrip is right, she will become more than merry asset in the NASCAR pits – she’ll become a racing business goddess.

Christmas Abbott, a fierce CrossFit video star and Raleigh, N.C., gym owner who bears a gun tattoo on her hip and who worked for years as a civilian contractor in Bagdad – doing military laundry, no less – was signed this week as a full-time crew member for the Michael Waltrip Racing team and its Sprint Cup operation, making her the first woman to work the pits at NASCAR’s highest level.

While racer Danica Patrick offers star power on the track, Abbott, 31 and a Virginia native, will add her own muscled glamour to crews for this Sunday’s Daytona 500, where she will be in the pits with racer Clint Bowyer and will shadow the pit team there in anticipation of her future gig.

At 5’3″ and 115 lbs., her weight-lifting workouts will no doubt help Abbott endure the sport’s lightening-fast tire changes, heaving 90-pound gas cans and jacking up stock cars in a very manly operation where seconds can mean the difference between winning and going home. She dodged IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq, giving her significant experience in handling pressure.

In a world that values star drivers, some expect the gritty, tough and photogenic fitness queen to expand the NASCAR fan base.

Abbott was discovered by NASCAR executive Ted Bullard who saw her videos and invited her to Charlotte, N.C., for a tryout. He set up a wheel and axel assembly station and she drilled the bolts with lightening speed. She will join NASCAR’s year-long Truck Series and is excited about her debut, even if it comes with plenty of expectations.

“Christmas is going to transcend NASCAR,” Bullard told Yahoo Sports of her appeal.

“I have to get dirty and [travel] overnight,” Abbott told Yahoo Sports of her new job. “NASCAR fans are die-hard and they will call out your B.S. I want to go to the highest level, and I left three jobs to do [this] one.”

Of her newfound fame, she says: “There’s a lot of spotlight. I prefer to be the quiet underdog.”