Saturday, February 23, 2013

She’ll Sit On the Poll


Danica Patrick at the track

She is not the first woman to race in NASCAR but Danica Patrick is the first woman who experts say has a chance to win the Daytona 500.  She is also the first woman to win the pole position for that legendary race.

The Daytona 500 kicks off the 2013 NASCAR auto racing season Sunday and there is much more mainstream coverage of the event this year because of Ms. Patrick’s involvement.  There are assumptions that she is a role model for young girls who are interested in auto racing.  Many men snicker at the thought of her ‘sitting on the pole’.  There are skeptics who think her first full NASCAR season will end as lackluster as her previous two partial seasons.  Some experts point out that just because she did well in Indy car racing in the past does not mean she’ll succeed in stock car racing.  Other experts believe this will be a good year for her because she has more experience now; and it doesn’t hurt that she is on a team led by 3-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart.

Women have achieved genuine equality in most walks of American life, including in many fields usually associated with men.  But team sports is an area that is still very segmented and gender segregated.  Women are capable of playing football, for example, but usually do not have the strength and muscular size to compete with men in such a physical sport, so male and female teams are separate.  Direct one-on-one sports such as wrestling and boxing are similar in that regard.  Men and women competing directly in less physically demanding sports like tennis is perfectly acceptable.  The same is true for group-based sports featuring individual competitors, such as running; men usually have faster times in those activities but not always.

So why is it so unusual for a woman to compete in auto racing?  And why do so many male race car drivers have such negative attitudes toward female drivers?  What are they afraid of?  It does take some amount of strength and endurance to drive a race car for several hours on a hot day, but those physical demands are just as easily achieved by women as they are by men. 

The reluctant acceptance of women in motor sports might just be related to tradition: guys usually have more interest in cars than girls do.  It’s a social and cultural thing.  But women have just as much potential as men do when it comes to driving.  I see it every day in my daily commute to work in the overly-congested Washington DC area.  And I learned this automotive gender equality at a young age because my high school girlfriend was a hot-looking gear head, like Danica is, and sometimes drove her car like she was in the Daytona 500.

HGTV host Jodi Marks
I was channel surfing this morning when I first thought about writing this post and I stumbled on a show called Girl’s Garage.  It featured three female custom car builder/mechanics taking the viewer through their latest project.  It did not surprise me that three hot women can customize a Mustang and explain each phase of the project in great, credible detail.  But it’s a little odd watching three hot women wearing low-cut t-shirts and plenty of sparkly jewelry in the garage while installing headers and a muffler kit.  It’s hard to tell if they really did do the auto work or if they are just good actors.  On-again-off-again HGTV home improvement show host Jodi Marks looks great too, but when you watch her remodeling a kitchen wearing clothes that are appropriate for the job, you just know she actually did the work (I also researched her just to make sure).  The Girls’s Garage girls?  I’m not so sure.

Danica - not at the track
There are many pictures and videos of Danica Patrick in a bikini and heels in ads for Go Daddy internet services.  She has the body and the attitude to make that work.  She also has the good sense to not dress that way during NASCAR races.  It would destroy her credibility and it wouldn’t be safe.  Like many guys, however, I would love to see that.  Other guys do picture that, right?  I’m not the only one, am I?

So while Danica sits on the pole in Florida tomorrow, I’ll be sitting on my sofa in Maryland watching the race on TV.  I hope she comes in … second.  As hot as she is, my favorite driver is still Jimmie Johnson.  Gentlemen, uhhh drivers, start your engines!  May the best man, uhhh driver win.

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