Back in the 1950s, it was women in the kitchen and guys being the bread winners of the family. That all changed with the woman rights movement.
Despite that, there is still a stereotype out there that only men are interested in cars and racing. To that stereotype Alison Macleod, USAC Midget racer, says, “There are talented female drivers that break the stereotype, but there are also Asians that can drive, male ballet dancers, girls that can't cook or clean, and guys that are chefs/cleaners... in all reality its just a stereotype and should be seen as that.”
The Sprint Cup Series is male dominated. Only men started its 36 races last year. In the past, females such as Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson have tried their hand at auto racing's top level. However, it didn’t worked out due to lack of financial backing and a strong team. With the start of the 2010 season, a lot of talk about female drivers has emerged, specifically surrounding Indy Racing League star Danica Patrick.
In December 2009, Patrick announced that she was going to try her hand at NASCAR by running 12-16 Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports. For the first time, a female driver would be getting a good ride with a good team. Many argue that she’s only getting that chance due to her popularity, and the fact that she brings Go Daddy on board with her.
With the talk surrounding Patrick and how she’s going to fare in NASCAR, I spoke with Ford Racing USAC Midget driver Alison Macleod, Mosport Speedway Late Model driver Amanda Connolly and Barrie Speedway Charger driver Crystal Doucette on their thoughts about Patrick and females in racing in general.
Alison MacLeod started racing at the age of seven in go-karts and was hooked after winning her first trophy. She moved up to shifter karts at the age of 12 and was signed by Ford Racing at the age of 14 to run USAC midgets.
Macleod doesn’t mind Patrick making the switch to NASCAR as long as she’s doing it for the challenge and not because it pays more. Macleod goes on to add that she doesn’t think that NASCAR or JR Motorsports added her for exposure, though now that the deal has come together, she believes they will take full advantage of the opportunity. But with that opportunity comes a negative outlook. Macleod goes on to say that Patrick posing in a bathing suit or doing commercials for Go Daddy pushes the sponsors to want not just the talent but also looks. I asked her what she thought of the NASCAR coverage, and how the media talks about Danica Patrick. She thought, for example, the ARCA coverage wasn’t fair.
“I didn't like that there were other girls in the race, specifically Alli Owens, who ran better than Patrick did all race long,” Macleod said. “I have no problem with attention when it is deserved. She ran well but not well enough to get THAT much attention in my opinion.”
I then went on to discuss what Macleod thought of the stereotype of females’ and racing. She admitted that it would always be a male-dominated sport, even though some people will defy the stereotype.
“It’s a stereotype. Much like any other stereotype, it’s based of off some truth as of what is seen,” Macleod explained. “There are more guys than girls [in auto racing], but just because it’s a stereotype does not mean that some people go against it. It is a male-dominated sport, I don’t see that changing, and I think if it did, it would lose much of the fan base.”
In her racing experience, Macleod says she has only had one bad experience with the stereotype and adds that she’s just like one of the guys when they’re all hanging out together. She says there is only animosity from her perspective towards girls who are girly and don’t seem like they belong.
For those looking to get into racing, she advices them to start at a young age, have fun with, and the rest will come naturally.
For the 2010 season, Macleod is looking for funding to run in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series or ARCA.
Amanda Connolly started racing in 1999 after renting a Thunder Car for two races in the 1998 season from Bob Phinnemore. She began her journey with two of her best friends and has since learned a lot and proven that she can drive a racecar.
Connolly also doesn’t mind Patrick making the switch. Connolly thinks it’s great that Patrick is giving it a shot but does add that from NASCAR’s perspective, there is a marketing ploy to it.
“I think a lot of things NASCAR does are marketing ploys,” Connolly said. “Danica is a marketing machine, and NASCAR recognizes that. She has done wonders for the IRL, and if she is successful in NASCAR, we can expect the same kind of fan reaction.”
With regards to posing in a bathing suit and doing the Go Daddy commercials, Connolly said she doesn’t have any issues with Patrick posing in a bathing suit, as long as she’s doing it tastefully.
When I asked Connolly about the stereotype, she told me she doesn’t believe that there is a stereotype anymore as there are now females racing at all levels of motorsports. Though she did admit that when racing in a field of 24 guys, the spotlight is always on her.
“People will see every mistake and focus on that,” she explained. “They forget about the great move you made to take the lead, but focus on the way you might have spun yourself out one night.
“I embrace negative comments, I am an aggressive driver, and I have been for most of my career. I have never been insulted by anyone saying that I am a bad driver, nor have I ever been inflated by anyone saying I'm a good driver. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and everyone has their favorites.”
For those looking to get into racing, Connolly advices them to get experience on a crew for a year or two beforehand, watch what you’re getting into financially, and don’t be afraid to ask questions as most drivers are willing to answer them for you.
For the 2010 season, Connolly will not be running anywhere full-time, but she will be spending most of the year at Mosport Speedway and will be helping Kelly Balson run the entire Lucas Oil Sportsman Tour.
Crystal Doucette got interested in racing through her father, Dave Doucette. During her childhood, her dad was involved in derby cars and train races. In 2002, her dad started racing at Barrie Speedway. As soon as she saw him out on the track, the speed and thrill of racing, she wanted to drive a car. When she turned 15, she, along with her dad and crew, put together a 1993 Mustang for racing. Since then, she’s been involved in racing. In 2008, she finished third in the Charger points.
When asked about Patrick’s move to NASCAR, Doucette told me there was a positive side and a negative side. It’s nice to see a female move up in the racing world, but most people see Patrick more as a sex symbol then a racecar driver. With that being said, Doucette added that she thinks there’s a good chance not for NASCAR, but JR Motorsports to increase their exposure.
As with the other ladies, I asked Doucette what she thought of the stereotype, and she told me that she clearly hates it.
“Clearly the stereotype is false,” Doucette said. “If you take the females that race just at Barrie Speedway or Sunset Speedway, they all do very well. For example, myself, 2008 season, placed third in points for the Charger Series and received the Hard Charger Award (no matter what position this driver starts they always make it to the front).
“Females should be treated like any male racer would. It’s always good to see female drivers in any type of race cars, dirt cars, four cylinders, thunder cars, late models. Females are slowly making an impact in the big world of racing, and hopefully, there will be no difference between male and female racers.”
In her time racing at Barrie Speedway, she has only had one male who had a problem with her racing. She said he ran her dirtier than anyone else on the track. Though, overall, she has been respected by the other drivers.
For those getting into racing, she advices the ladies to go out and earn respect and don’t think that acting like a princess will get it done.
“You need to gain your respect out there on the track,” Doucette advises. “You can’t come into racing thinking everyone is going to go easy on you because your a girl. Don’t act like a princess around the track. You're coming into a male-dominate sport, and you want to be treated the same as them.”
Doucette will not be racing again until the 2012 season due to college; however, she’ll still be at the race track helping her dad and boyfriend Jeff Walt.
So whether it’s in NASCAR, USAC Midgets or your local short track, there are females defying the stereotype every weekend, proving that racing isn’t just a game for males anymore.