Angela Ruch was just getting the hang of the life of a full-time driver on the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. In two races this year, she finished in 28th and 24th. The driver of the No. 00 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet, she felt she was poised for a breakthrough race. With a motorcoach and nanny in tow, she established a routine on the road with her husband, Mike, and their two young children.
Then everything came to a halt with the global coronavirus pandemic. The season was suspended in March, and Ruch, 36, and her family headed back to their home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to isolate indefinitely. Despite the uncertainty, Ruch enjoyed getting to spending all day with her 15-month-old son, King, and 6-month-old daughter, Lorde, both of whom the couple adopted when they were infants. She loved being part of all of their developmental milestones and little moments so much that the family started the process to adopt a third child.
Still, as much as Ruch has relished being home, she was excited to hear NASCAR announce the resumption of the season this month. The Cup Series is expected to make its return on May 17 at Darlington, South Carolina, with the Xfinity Series starting two days later at the same track. The Truck Series is scheduled to resume May 26 in Charlotte.
Ruch knows it will be a completely different environment than drivers are used to and won't be the same for some time. Fans will not be allowed when racing restarts, and drivers will be restricted regarding how many people they can bring to the track. There will be no practice or qualifying runs, and drivers will fly or drive in on race day and go home immediately afterward.
Ruch still hasn't raced on many of the tracks on the schedule, so she is nervous about the lack of preparation, but she is also excited for the unprecedented challenge.
"I'm not really sure how to feel with all the changes they're putting in place," she said earlier this week. "I'm anxious and nervous in some ways, and also sad that there won't be any fans there because they genuinely make our sport what it is. But I do think NASCAR has done a great job in dealing with this pandemic and finding a way to get us back out there.
"I'm curious about how it's going to play out though, as we're really just unloading at the racetrack -- no practice, no qualifying -- and then going green the second we get off the haulers. I'm still new to some of these places, so I've been trying to train on my simulator as much as possible in hopes of understanding these tracks as much as I can. So that makes me nervous but also excited. All of us love the thrill and speed, so I guess this just gives it another element. We'll see how it goes."
For Ruch, family is all but synonymous with racing. She already knows how much she'll miss having her children with her, as well as her parents, who frequently fly in from Seattle for races, and her twin sister Amber, a former driver who is frequently by her side. Mike will be the only one able to attend races with her in the near future.
A third-generation driver, Ruch has always had the support of her family. She said she feels she was almost destined to go into the business. Her grandfather and father both raced, and her uncle, Derrike Cope, won the Daytona 500 in 1990. Angela and Amber often tagged along with him to races during their childhood, and he has provided invaluable mentorship and guidance in the sport. They started racing go-karts at 9, and they quickly made their way up the ranks. In 2011, both sisters made their debut in what is now the Xfinity Series, and Angela raced sparingly in 14 races over the next eight years, notching four finishes in the top 30.
With a lack of a consistent ride (she had driven for four different teams during that time) and subpar results, it looked as if Angela's time in the sport was likely over. But she was determined to give it one more shot. In her Truck Series debut at Daytona in 2019, Ruch had a career-best eighth-place finish and became the first woman in Truck Series history to lead laps at the storied track and just the second woman to record a top-10 finish. Perhaps even more remarkably, she had been on edge leading into the race as King's due date was fast approaching. He was born a few weeks later.
There are three women currently competing regularly in the Truck Series -- Ruch, Natalie Decker and Jennifer Jo Cobb -- and Ruch is the only mom competing in any of NASCAR's top levels. She hopes to show others, no matter whether they aspire to be a professional driver or something completely different, they can have it all, professionally and personally. She's grateful to have Decker and Cobb racing and knows a good result for one only benefits all women in the sport. But at the end of the day, she wants to beat them, plain and simple.
"We all respect one another, and it's cool to see them out here, all of us with different backgrounds and being different ages. But I want to be better than them if I'm being honest," she said. "I don't know what they would tell you, but I definitely want to be the one on top. That said, we need to win.
"A female driver needs to get that win under their belt to really showcase that we're just as good, and we deserve to be here. I'm definitely hoping it's me. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I had the chance or was capable enough. A win is coming this year for me."
Ruch wanted to document what it was like to be a woman competing in a predominately male sport, as well as her adoption journey. An eight-part docuseries for Facebook Watch called "The Ruch Life" premiered in February. She revealed it was tough to have a camera crew in her home and following her every move for four months, particularly as multiple adoptions fell through, but she said she's happy she did, and she hopes her experiences and honesty can help others. According to Ruch, the show averaged 835,000 views per episode.
Having experienced the highs and lows of a racing career and during her journey to motherhood, Ruch said it makes her appreciate what she has now more than ever. She can't wait to get back on the track and make more memories with her family (eventually) by her side yet again.
"Knowing where I came from, and wanting this as a young girl to where I am now at 36, and conquering so many challenges, I realize, first and foremost, there's no 'I' in team and it truly takes a village to be where I am," she said. "I wouldn't be here without my family; they support me always and keep pushing me. There have been so many times where I wanted to throw in the towel, but they wouldn't let me. You need those type of people around you who help you believe in yourself.
"The last race we got to do [before the season was suspended], I was able to bring King with me for the driver introductions. He's obviously too young to understand what his mom does for a living, but his face lit up when we walked out. And that moment, I just realized I honestly couldn't picture my life any differently -- it's exactly right. My life is perfect."