The women behind NASCAR’s Monster Energy Girls shrug off the insults, dispel stereotypes – For The Win
Dressed in scrubs with her hair pulled back, Morgan Abel is on the first flight out nearly every Monday morning – leaving whichever city NASCAR spent its weekend in. She is practically unrecognizable compared with only a few hours earlier in Victory Lane.
She trades her loosely curled hair and wedge-heeled boots for a ponytail and comfortable shoes, completing her weekly transition from a Monster Energy Girl to a nurse working in the mental health unit of Columbus Regional Hospital in Indiana. Starting at 3 p.m., Abel begins her week of helping patients suffering with personality disorders and drug-induced psychosis or withdrawal before jetting off again the next weekend.
“That can be, sometimes, very emotionally demanding,” she said, which is why she loves her second job with Monster Energy. She started working for the company in 2008 while studying at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus.
“It’s been nice being able to have my mental relaxation on the weekends and hanging out with my girlfriends and doing the things that I love.”
But years of working for Monster Energy still didn’t prepare Abel for the online attacks, hate and criticism that bombarded her and the other models when they first debuted with NASCAR’s new title sponsor at the beginning of the season in February. Abel said she was shocked, and, like the others at first, didn’t know how to respond to such targeted antagonism.
A post shared by Morgan Abel (@mmorganabel) on Jul 31, 2017 at 4:30pm PDT
Fans blasted their black, leather uniforms on social media, and whether or not they individually tagged the women, the derogatory comments were still seen. Brand manager Kelly Louch said “that was a tough week” after they first appeared at Daytona International Speedway.
They’ve been called inappropriate, disrespectful, cheap, dumb, brainless, skanky, trampy, strippers and hookers. They were demonized for doing their jobs.
With between six and 20 of them at each race, the majority of their responsibilities involves interacting with NASCAR fans and talking about racing – which they genuinely love doing – so they were heartbroken to realize how much some people hated them once they put on their uniforms.
“We see your comments,” Monster Energy Girl Mariel Lane said.
“They make it very clear on the internet. Everyone has their opinion, but what I have come to see is that people think we are just ornaments, and there’s no person inside. It’s almost as if we’re only here for show, but we’re human beings.”
Abel compared the derogatory insults to what some of the patients she works with experience through cyberbullying. Every day she hears stories from young adults who are contemplating suicide or who struggle with drug abuse, stemming from the pain caused by online bullies. It’s easy to hide behind a keyboard, she said, because “people don’t understand the power of their words.”
Despite their job title, they’re not girls – they’re strong women. When they can’t ignore the hate targeted at them anymore, they fire back.
“I’m a very confident woman, I’m a Christian woman, I was raised with great morals, so I know that I can sleep well at night knowing I’m a good human being whether or not I’m wearing a crop top or a muumuu,” Monster Energy Girl Amanda Mertz told NASCAR on FOX’s Kaitlyn Vincie in April.
Addressing the absurdity of fans’ outrage, Mertz compared her uniform to that of cheerleaders for the NFL and NBA and pointed out how the Monster Energy Girls at NASCAR are usually wearing far less revealing clothes.
But rather than blindly criticizing the faces they see in pictures and on TV, all of the women FTW spoke with challenged fans to visit them at a track and get to know the people behind the uniforms. They’re charming and intelligent, and they know far more about NASCAR than many people expect.
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“We’re all guilty of judging people,” Rae Wawrzyniak admitted. “I know my value and my worth and who I am, and sometimes, that’s got to be enough. All these girls are wonderful and smart, and we all know that.
“We’ve all judged, but I’m not going to judge someone for judging me. I know who I am and what I’ve accomplished.”
Not just a pretty face
In the time it takes to get a picture with the Monster Energy Girls or briefly chat about which driver they think will win on any given weekend, fans will quickly realize they’re not stereotypical L.A.-type models – despite many of them being beauty pageant winners – Louch said. That’s exactly how she likes them: smart, genuine and longtime fans of motor sports.
And when it comes to NASCAR, they know what they’re talking about. Abel said her father used to race sprint cars with Tony Stewart – she called the racing community her “second home” – while Wawrzyniak remembers watching races on TV and cheering for Jimmie Johnson on with her dad as a kid.
“People are going to stereotype them,” said Louch, who also designs all their outfits. “They’re going to look at them and think they’re shallow just because they’re beautiful, so don’t give them a reason to think that.”
Despite the misguided perception that the Monster Energy Girls are superficial decorations, Abel is one of several of the models with an undergraduate degree, and she’s certainly not the only one who wants racing fans to realize they’re more than just their appearance.
Mertz was also a registered nurse before she began modeling with Monster Energy. Mariel Lane said her last job – along with being a Tennessee Titans cheerleader – was working in IT sales as an account manager after studying business communications and public relations at Middle Tennessee State.
“Corporate is fun – it’s great – but when you have this opportunity (with Monster Energy), why wouldn’t you go for it?” said Lane, who also runs a beauty and style blog, The BFF Blog, with her best friend. “You make more money at this than you do at your corporate job. It’s fun, it’s exciting.”
The women said they are not allowed to disclose how much money they make as Monster Energy Girls.
Lane’s point of view is one many of them share, including Wawrzyniak, who has a psychology degree from Siena Heights University in Michigan and will “absolutely” return to her field when she’s no longer modeling. She, as well as Abel, plans to get her master’s degree.
“My fiancé is in the Army, so seeing all these Army personnel and how they come back, I actually want to get into working with PTSD so I can really help them,” Wawrzyniak said. “It really breaks your heart – what these men and women go through. They give so much for our country, and I want to give back.”
Friendships beyond the race track
After promotions and stunts in the fan zones and when the line for photos has ended – or the Victory Lane celebration is over if it’s Sunday – they return to their trailer, change out of their uniforms and transform back into regular women.
With so many of them viewing traveling as a big perk of the job, they often go exploring around whatever city or state they happen to be visiting. They hiked Camelback Mountain while in Phoenix for the Camping World 500. They hit the pool and rode off-road four-wheelers in Las Vegas for the Kobalt 400. They enjoyed wine country while in Sonoma, California for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 and explored Watkins Glen State Park in New York for the I LOVE NEW YORK 355.
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Abel’s favorite was the “escape room” challenge they did while in Richmond for the Toyota Owners 400. Set in an actual room, as a group they had a 60-minute time limit to complete treasure hunt-like tasks – ranging from solving complex riddles to actual activities like virtually shooting bears – to free themselves from the challenge. Abel and Lane praised it as a valuable bonding experience early in the NASCAR season.
“We try to find niche things that are only in certain cities for us to go and experience,” Lane said.
Bouncing around the country to a different track every few days can get taxing, but most of the time, they said they view each weekend as an escape, an adventure or simply a chance to hang out with their friends. Abel even joked it’s like they’re little girls again having sleepovers with their best friends.
And whether they’re struggling with the mountain of criticism on social media or dealing with a problem outside of the NASCAR world, they lean on each other for support.
Even after a long weekend, there are times when Abel can’t wait to go back to wearing scrubs and ditching her makeup for a few days. She may be tired on her flight back to Indiana, but she said the excitement of being a Monster Energy Girl actually helps her stay refreshed and ready to care for her patients. It’s like hitting the reset button.
Her Mondays are long, but when her eight-hour shift is over, she’s finally able to return home to her fiance, dog, four cats and rabbit. She loves nursing and helping people, but she’s not done being a Monster Energy Girl yet.
When Monster Energy took over for Sprint as the Cup Series’ title sponsor, the Monster Energy Girls similarly replaced Miss Sprint Cup. With a multi-year contract, the energy drink manufacturer is only the third company to serve as the title sponsor for NASCAR’s top level, and the Monster Energy Girls will be around the track for a while.
While much of the controversy surrounding the women stems from their uniforms, part of it is also because of how much their outfits contrast with the fire suit Miss Sprint Cup – and when it still existed, Miss Coors Light – usually wore.
NASCAR would not comment on the Monster Energy Girls.
However, when the title sponsorship deal was announced back in December – it’s a two-year deal with an additional two-year option attached and worth $20 million annually – NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said:
“Monster Energy is a brand built on excitement and enthusiasm, qualities that align with NASCAR. This sponsorship position is the most unique in all of sports and entertainment, and we are thrilled to have a partner that will help us further elevate the series. Today’s announcement is the culmination of a thorough search, one that resulted in the right partner at this important time in our sport’s history.”
Despite the controversy over their uniforms and general presences at NASCAR events, the women said their friendship keep them strong through the season.
“We are just one big ol’ family,” Wawrzyniak said. “If one of us suffers, we all suffer. If one of us succeeds, we all succeed.”
And when they’re not together, there’s always a reliable group text.
“If something happens during the week or something in my life and I just need somebody to talk to, they’re the first ones I text, (but) sometimes it’s hard for all of us to shut up,” Abel joked.