Former NASCAR driver starts interior design company
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MATTHEWS, N.C. -- There is something very familiar about the artist behind Happy Chair, a shop in Matthews that turns regular chairs into items that are definitely out of the ordinary.
She is Shawna Robinson, and in the late 80’s and early 90’s, she became a NASCAR driver.
Shawna was the Danica Patrick of her day, becoming the first woman to win a NASCAR touring event and the first woman ever to win the pole in a Busch series race. She drove in the Daytona 500 and raced as recently as 2005.
When her days on the track were over, she went into interior design and created Happy Chair.
“You know, at one point I thought, well nobody remembers, really, who I am,” said Robinson.
That was when Facebook was getting started. Shawna was proven wrong when she began her own page.
“It was amazing. All the race fans that were like, 'where have you been, no one's been able to really find you,'” she said.
It can be difficult for a person who was famous and then stepped out of the spotlight.
Happy Chair has helped Shawna in that regard.
“It was very hard to transform from being in a sport where I was recognized for doing something for so long, and then I kind of lost that identity," she said. "So I felt like, you know, there's a part of me missing, and I think that this has definitely brought that part back.”
In return, her racing history has provided a boost for Happy Chair.
“I do have a story to kind of catch or have that hook, to show that, well, I used to be a NASCAR driver,” said Robinson.
The chairs that Shawna sells are generally items picked up at auctions or in thrift shops.
"I've always had a flair for finding unique pieces and now giving them a new life,” she said.
There are some similarities between Shawna’s racing career and her design career.
“The drivers who didn't think I should be out there, made me want to be out there even more,” she said.
The response is much the same when people say they don’t like her chairs.
“It just builds you to do more, to convince that person wrong,” said Robinson.
Shawna considers herself to be fortunate in finding something satisfying to do in her life after NASCAR.
“[It's] actually given me a second passion in my life, which is a pretty good thing to have. A lot of people don't get the chance to have one passion fulfilled,” said Robinson.
Happy Chair sells in shops around Charlotte, online and at design shows.