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Do Women Belong in Racing?

Danica Patrick has been given the title of “most successful female in American open-wheel racing.” I am currently rolling my eyes.

by
Becky Graebner

Bio

March 7, 2013 - 1:00 pm

There is an age-old question that will probably plague human curiosity (and laboratories) until our race perishes: when it comes to X, are men or women more capable? There have been multitudes of studies on perception, reaction times, pain-thresholds, physical, mental, emotional capabilities, etc. on both sexes to determine who is better equipped to do certain activities. Research conclusions that sought to divide the sexes by suitability have been refuted as both men and women have defied science and stereotypes. Worlds that have been traditionally “male-dominated” or “female-dominated” have collided and our stereotypical thinking has been challenged and overturned.  Dangerous sports, such as racing, still seem to be firmly rooted in the “male-dominated” category, but women have slowly begun to infiltrate the paddock walls.

We oooh and ahh over females on the racetrack, but women in fast cars are not new. In fact, in the past few decades, several female racers have set records and taken top honors:

1.      Shirley Muldowney was a pioneer in drag racing and the first woman to obtain a license from the National Hot Rod Association.  She has a resume of accomplishments and awards that reads like a menu from Bubba Gump Shrimp. She was a real oil-burning lioness.

2.      Janet Guthrie was the first female to qualify and compete in both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 and to drive in a NASCAR Winston Cup superspeedway race. In 2006, she was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.

3.      Lyn St. James started in the Indianapolis 500 seven times (Danica Patrick is currently tied with her record). She has two wins at the 24 Hours of Daytona and one at the 12 Hours of Sebring.  She also competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice.


The racing world is all abuzz because something seemingly amazing happened. Two weeks ago Danica Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500. Now, I do not mean to beat down Patrick’s accomplishment — she has had a tough road trying to pave her way through the racing world — but a woman taking the pole isn’t an event we need to chalk up to the racing gods as a miracle or something the media needs put on the front page. Why? First, reread the ground-breaking women listed above! Second, she’s done it before. Why then all the hullabaloo? This is exactly the problem and the point. Let’s pretend Danica Patrick was a male.

If Mr. Patrick won the pole for the Daytona 500, would mainstream newspapers publish several articles exploring the “meaning” behind his qualifying time? No, probably not. The public wouldn’t care for more than 10 minutes, and subsequent articles would probably be a short blog on the top three qualifiers and the weather for race day. Nothing over-spectacular or exciting; after all, this is qualifying, not the actual race.

However, since we are talking about Patrick, a femaleracecar driver, qualifying times and other seemingly innocuous actions have taken on a new meaning. Patrick has gone down in the record books as being the first for X, Y, and Z, but it’s because she was the first female to do so — not necessarily because she was the first. Patrick entered racing like any other car enthusiast addicted to speed: she loved the thrill and she wanted to make driving her craft. She has just as much heart, talent, and courage to drive a four-wheeled missile at 200 mph as her male counterparts and I think she should be treated like the rest of the drivers. She is currently measured within the context of her gender, not wholly by her skills and her ability to win races.


Patrick has been given the title of “most successful female in American open-wheel racing.” I am currently rolling my eyes—not because I think Patrick is not successful, but because this title belongs to someone who has won one race: the 2008 Japan Indy 300.  One race.  I think she, and other female drivers, can do better than one win in order to have the title of “most successful female.”  Male drivers who win one race are not given titles — they don’t receive a ribbon for participation. Of course Patrick can win a race. She has two hands, two feet, and the will to do so—just like her male competitors.  Congratulations on your race, Danica Patrick.  Now go out, go give ‘em hell, and do it again!

In addition to “most successful woman in American open-wheel,” Patrick also holds the record for “most consecutive finishes in IndyCar.” Again, I don’t mean to diminish this accomplishment, because she is currently beating the boys, but let’s break this down. She holds this title because out of the 115 races she started, she finished 50 of them in a row. This statistic means that she started in a race and managed to budget her tires, not crash, not get disqualified, and survive the g-forces in order to cross the finish line after a certain amount of laps, 50 times in a row. Honestly, my gut reaction is so say, “So what?” Yes, it takes both mental and physical strength, as well as sheer talent, to operate a racecar; but the fact that Patrick finished 50 races in a row, and won one, doesn’t mean she’s the epitome of success. If her statistics for “race wins” were compared with a male driver with similar figures, the male driver would be considered mediocre. One of the greatest F1 drivers of all time, Michael Schumacher, had 307 starts in his career–with 221 finishes in the points, 24 consecutive finishes in the points, and 68 poles. Oh, he also had 91 wins.

Are hard stats like “number of wins” only important when applied to male drivers? I thought racing was about winning? I don’t mean to sound like a shallow jerk who thinks winning is everything, but the POINT of racing is to finish first. We have made Patrick into a media darling even though she has only had three poles and one win. She has most frequently graced the top of a statistical racing chart if it measured “most buzz” or “driver popularity.”  Unfortunately, she gets a lot of her attention because she is female. Patrick is more famous for being famous than for being a successful (aka “winning”) racecar driver. I think Patrick considers herself capable of taking the checkered flag; therefore, we don’t need to pretend that she’s a capable driver — she can prove that herself.

Patrick’s checkered flag in Japan in 2008 is proof that women can win and that they belong in racing — they’ve proven they can do everything a male driver can. They can qualify, drive, and win; that’s the point, right? Danica Patrick belongs on the pole — because she had the fastest qualifying lap. She also belongs on that track because she has demonstrated that she has talent, and nerve, by merely showing up to races with the intention of driving and trying her hardest to beat the competition — just like everyone else.

If the media and racing world really want to be fair and supportive of female racers, they need to stop coddling them and handing out points for effort. Female drivers should be held accountable for their failures, in addition to being celebrated for their wins. They shouldn’t become heroes because they are a minority on the racetrack. They should become heroes in the racing world because they are legends in the cockpit.

Becky Graebner moved to the east coast from Wisconsin in 2011. She is still a rabid Badger and Packer fan, although she does support the Caps in hockey. She enjoys Formula 1 and Indycar. She likes the eastern seaboard but does miss track days with friends and family at Elkhart Lake and the Milwaukee Mile. Her favorite drivers are Kenny Brack and Robby Gordon.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Patrick has been in competing since 1995. Despite having top crews and cars to compete in her record is mediocre at best. Reminds me of Anna Kornikova, the sexy Russian tennis player who made major money from commercials and endorsements w/out winning a singles tournament.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
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I am personally acquianted with a former Indy Car champion, NASCAR driver and Nationwide series driver who has competed against Ms. Patrick for over 10 years in all 3 series. In his opinion, and reputedly that of many other drivers, her skill level is mediocre at best when compared to the best in the sport. As the author pointed out Danica has exactly one win in those 3 series racing against other drivers. A man with her record would most certainly be relegated to one of the minor league series.

There are a good many top notch drivers who have multiple Sprint Cup and Nationwide wins to their credit who don't have a ride in the big show. Danica is a marketing ploy by NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing to boost flagging sponsorhip money and attendance. IMHO it is a move that sucks as drivers with better records who have paid their dues go w/o a ride while she gets all the attention and the best equipment and crews money can buy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
.Imagine the hype if Ms. Patrick ever actually WINS a NASCAR event
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Didn't the pole sitter and almost all of the others lose?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Patrick has been in competing since 1995. Despite having top crews and cars to compete in her record is mediocre at best. Reminds me of Anna Kornikova, the sexy Russian tennis player who made major money from commercials and endorsements w/out winning a singles tournament.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Because she is so much lighter (100 pounds) than the lightest men, she has been given a 50 pound minimum vehiclce + driver weight advantge, just like she was a filly in the Kentucky Derby.

Like Roger Maris, if she wins she'll always have an asterisk.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Roger Maris had no control over the length of the season.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have an older brother who spent his entire adult life in motor sports as a driver, team owner, promoter and excecutive board member of two major sanctioning organizations. One sanctioning organization, the NHRA, has long promoted racing programs to kids of both genders. Their non waivering philosophy has been that their sport was family centric and blind to any gender discrimination. I think experience will validate that when a woman becomes interestd in driving or becoming a crew member and pays the price of becoming qualified, she is fully accepted by the sanctioning body and 'most' of the teams owners, drivers, crews and sponsors. Of course there will always be a few who go to their graves with quite a different philoosophy. I for one, have watched a few women become very competitive and have fun at many 'local' sanctioned tracks across the country for many years. I think its been their (the womens) own individual interest in being a 'driver' that has influenced their low numbers -- most are more than happy being the ultimate wife and mom supporter or general fan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As an Indycar fan, was really happy when Danica decided to leave for Nascar. Trust me, in a little while you will be hearing complaints about "all Danica, all the time" from fans getting fed up, I sure was at Indy. Afterall, they've already had some complaints about the "Danica 500" Daytona. Racing comes in second.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If being bad at a sport qualifies me to opine on who else would be bad I think I am qualified.

I attempted to drive once. Not real race cars show room stock. It was fun. I was terrible. To me racing a car is a wonderful blend of knowledge and instinct.

So without ever having been in a real nascar i have to suspect Danica is like the other 'real' drivers I raced against. only multiplied by 1000.

So, just the fact that she is there, and able to finish says something.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If Danica wasn't attractive we would never hear about her. Sex sells.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
She's attractive.. come on!

I saw the white bikini pic of her supposed 'sexiness' a few years back. Pock-marked face. Floppy chest, thunder thighs and snaggle-tooth toes.

Not to mention she throws temper tantrums which seems like ALL THE TIME when she doesn't finish a race..

The woman's grotesque.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
*yawn* ho-hum...

Any such discussion only prolongs the agony. Every person should be estimated by his abilities, period. I don't ever want to hear this dreary dialogue again.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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