Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Weekly Women's Sports Pitch: Women in Motorsports
This week, we turn to the world of motorsports. Danica Patrick earned the pole at Daytona last Sunday afternoon (ok, Monday night), and it’s added to the already long list of firsts for the young driver. She was the first woman to win a major open-wheel race at the Motegi Twin Oval in Japan in 2008. She captured 3 poles in Indycar and 7 podium finishes. In 2009, she finished 5th in the Indycar standings, higher than any other woman before or since. More importantly than the modest success, she became a well-known name in the boy’s only club of auto racing. In a realm that is dominated by names passed down from generation to generation, names like Unser, Rahal, Andretti, and Foyt, this is particularly impressive.
Despite all this, Danica leaves us wanting more. Some complain, and rightly so, that the reason her name is well-known is that she flaunts her sexuality more than her racing prowess. Most people have seen, and more than a few have drooled at, her ludicrously over-exposed GoDaddy.com commercials. She’s been featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. To many, these things seem like attributes of a fast woman, rather than a fast woman.
Perhaps the most telling thing about Danica is the fact that, within the auto racing community, she is not well liked. She has a fiery temper. In a sport which has done much to foster a sense of fan community, she is difficult to deal with. A brief personal story will illustrate the point. At an Indycar race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, you can often see drivers running around the pit and paddock area. They move from practice to trailers to meetings and back, always with small crowds forming around the most popular. Almost all drivers will stop and sign a few autographs for these crowds, many will stop and take pictures, and some will even stop and talk if you catch them in the right mood. This occurs even in bizarre circumstances, such as drivers signing autographs immediately after leaving the Port-a-John. (The driver in question was Dario Franchitti, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and husband of Ashley Judd.) Danica, despite having some of the largest crowds, will blow by and ignore them, usually including small children wearing her number. This is not something to encourage the sport, it is painful.
So I’ve written Danica off. But I’m here to tell you that all is not lost. Despite the fact that most of what you find for female racers on the 'Net is which one looks hottest, there are a number of extremely talented women who are competing at the highest levels. In NASCAR, Danica’s current home, five women are on the rosters for the Nationwide Cup part-time, one of whom, Jennifer Jo Cobb, is running in the NASCAR truck series. In Indycar, two women will be racing in the top tier in 2012, including the first woman to win an open-wheel race in North America, Katherine Legge. In NHRA drag racing, ten women are running at the highest levels. It is interesting to note that in drag racing, women have fared best of all, with six major NHRA championships being won by women, and innumerable races being captured. In the North American minor leagues, more and more women are entering and winning.
It won’t be long until we see a woman at the top of the podium of racing’s biggest spectacles. I hope it won’t be Danica, but it will happen. And then the good old boys will really have to take notice.
Author’s note: It took me a while to put this together, just because I couldn’t figure out where to focus. Danica is the most recent story, so I thought I’d start there. If you’re interested in some good women out there in auto racing, I suggest you google the names Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney, or Sarah Fisher. Or go here: Women in racing directory. Or here: Female Racing News. There are a lot of good racers out there.
P.S. – Sorry about the fast woman line, I just couldn’t help myself.