Does NASCAR Have a Love/Hate Relationship With Women?January 18, 2009
Stock car racing and women: it’s always been an interesting and somewhat confusing relationship. Racing has been a predominantly male sport, getting its start in the moonshine running days of Prohibition as young men drove fast to get their liquor through to their eagerly awaiting customers.
But yet, some of stock car racing’s true pioneers were women, like Sara Christian, the first woman to compete in NASCAR in the early 1940s. Another female racing legend was Janet Guthrie, who competed at Indy and Daytona in the early 1970s.
For more information on the females who influenced NASCAR’s history, see Jen Preston’s outstanding slide show.
The NASCAR of today, however, has not one woman in the top Sprint Cup level of racing. The closest in line is young Chrissy Wallace, daughter of racer Mike Wallace and niece of Kenny Wallace, who has been competing in some Truck and Nationwide series races.
There have been a few others. For one brief shining moment a few years back, we also had female racer Erin Crocker in the mix. She had great promise, coming under the tutelage of then team owner Ray Evernham, with a perfectly matched, great sponsor in Betty Crocker.
Unfortunately, especially since so many female fans were following her rise in hopefully breaking the “girl driver” barrier, she apparently got just a little too close to her mentor Evernham. Once this “relationship” came to light, Crocker faded from the spotlight and off the track as well.
So, does NASCAR with its Drive for Diversity, which includes promoting young female drivers, just delight in building young women up, only to tear them down again, never allowing them to reach the highest levels?
What is it about the premiere stock car racing league that just cannot seem to make it possible for a female star to ascend to the Cup level?
All of this seems like such a dichotomy to me. My experience in the lower, developmental levels of racing has been the polar opposite.
At dirt and short tracks throughout the country, there are not just one but several females racing in every Saturday night event. There are serious women in the pits as well, either assisting directly with working on the cars or counting lap times or recording tire pressures.
Even in the Camping World East series, which I frequent as often as possible, there are many women with significant involvement in the racing in the pits. And there are almost always multiple female racers in the line up as well.
So, again I must ask the question of why can’t women, who are so critical at the beginning levels of the sport of stock car racing, reach the top level of the sport?
Is it because Nationwide and Cup teams are not willing to take the chance on a female driver? Do they believe in their heart of hearts that a girl just doesn’t have that capability?
Or is it a sponsorship issue? Have sponsors looked at the Betty Crocker/Erin Crocker incident and decided they are just not going down that same path?
Or is there perhaps a more sinister answer to the question? Does NASCAR really and truly discriminate against female drivers, letting them go only so far and then beating them back?
In this day and age, when we have had a woman running for the President of the United States of America, you would think that NASCAR could at least have one female driver ready to ascend to the Nationwide and Cup levels.
But that’s just my opinion. I’m too old to even think about getting in a car at this stage of the game.
And when I am fortunate enough to get garage passes, I’m the one who is way too busy watching the cars go through tech or the crews tinkering with the setups to worry about the driver who has just walked by (unless it is Jeff Gordon, of course!)
So, your turn now; what do YOU think? When do you think we will finally see a woman racing at the Cup level?
And ultimately does NASCAR love or hate the women of the sport?
P.S. Yes, that's me in the picture with the clipboard, checking tire pressures for the No. 8 car in the East series. Good times.