Shannon McQueen in action Wednesday at the Chili Bowl. (Photo by Brendon Bauman)

TULSA, Okla. – Shannon McQueen has been driving midgets for a long time and as she stood in front of her trailer inside the Tulsa Expo Center on Wednesday, just a glance around her reminded her how much everything had changed.

She first came to the Chili Bowl in 2005 and was invited to participate in a special event for runners. Turns out most of the women really weren’t thrilled with the idea.

“We were all kind of like, ‘Hey, we don’t want to be apart,'” McQueen recalled. “We thought we were here, and after all, we all put on our suits the same way.”

McQueen’s parents upgraded him to quarterback midget when he was six years old. They saw the writing on the wall. She weighed 36 pounds and it was already clear that she was not going to be a future volleyball or basketball star.

The goal was simple, the McQueens wanted their daughter to develop a competitive edge. This mission was soon accomplished. As a five-foot-tall dynamo, McQueen became the first woman to win a Bay Cities Racing Ass’n Midget Championship in 2011 and achieved the same feat in the USAC Western States Midget Series a year later.

Yes, she was a trailblazer and when she looks at the number of women participating in this year’s Chili Bowl, it makes her smile.

“Every year there are more women and I’ve had the pleasure of having really good shoes in my car like Harli White. Kaylee Bryson drove for me before I moved to Toyota and did a phenomenal job and, obviously I raced with Michelle Decker for a long time,” McQueen said. “When I finally leave the seat, I really want to develop a female rider and give someone the opportunity.”

For McQueen, it’s all about creating chances, but she realizes that’s the ultimate game.

“Once you put your helmet on, nobody knows if it’s a guy or a girl,” McQueen said. “Look at Kaylee Bryson. You go talk to her, and she’s very sweet and calm, and then she puts on a helmet, and she becomes a driving beast. There has never been a female driver on pole at the Turkish Grand Prix and she was there with Taylor Reimer on the front row. It was just huge.

For McQueen, who is a successful accountant by day, the long-term goal is to give back to the sport.

“I’m blessed with a lot of firsts behind my name,” McQueen said. “If Kara Hendrick hadn’t been killed, I don’t think this would have happened to me because she was phenomenally talented. I’m so grateful to have had people like Kara kicking down doors for me, and I intend to carry on this tradition and help others.