About a week ago, we learned that Woman of pressdog® Simona De Silvestro has left IndyCar to join the Sauber F1 team. She’ll use this year to prepare in anticipation of a shot at running F1 in 2015. Here’s one of many stories with the details.
Simona’s departure means, as of now, IndyCar won't have a full-time female driver for the first time in a log time. It has also renewed some discussion about whether we’ve evolved to the point of not using “female driver” and just saying “driver.” George over at Oil Pressure has a discussion on the topic you may want to check out. We’re closer to this genderless driver condition than we were in Janet Guthrie’s day for sure, but we’re not quite there yet.
Most female drivers know there are positives and negatives associated with their gender in re: racing. Positives: it naturally attracts some level of attention and makes them different, both of which are useful in the area of marketing. And since marketing yourself in order to find cash is such a HUGE part of what’s required for most drivers to find work in racing in general and IndyCar in specific these days, the gender factor can be useful in that area. The negative is that you still have to deal with a lot of attitudes that women don’t belong, or resentment based on the assumption that gender causes women to get special treatment at the expense of men who are competing for those same limited sponsorship dollars. Plus, the extra attention that being female in racing brings can also be a curse, because you can be put under a microscope and held to a different standard than the males. See: Patrick, Danica.
Speaking of Danica, a true sign of our changing attitudes toward female racers will come when more people don’t immediately compare one female driver to another. How many people loved Simona simply because they perceived her as the opposite of Danica? Whenever I post something on Facebook or even here about Simona or Pippa Mann or Katherine Legge or any other driver, invariably someone will comment “She’s much better than Danica" or my favorite: "Danica who?” (Note: back in my hater days I did the same thing. The story of my transformation from Danica hater to fan -- which holds the all-time record for hits on this site -- is here.)
Today this practice makes me insane. To me it indicates people still have a racing apartheid in their heads where the two genders are kept separate and often held to different performance standards. If this is your mindset, then the only way to evaluate one female driver is by comparing her to another one, in the same way you don't compare a WNBA player to an NBA player.
It’s also a convenient way for people who are not fans of Danica to get a shot in at her. Never want to miss that opportunity! Holy backhanded compliment to the non-Danica driver! I try very very very hard not to compare drivers based on gender. When people can deal with female drivers on their own merits without using other female drivers as a measuring stick, then we’ll be getting somewhere.
I don’t think IndyCar as a league needs to make a big push to get a full-time female back into the lineup. The league just shouldn’t be involved in who gets rides, in my opinion. As I’ve said earlier, if a qualified woman (or man) shows up with a bale of cash, she (or he) will have a ride in IndyCar. In a sense, money is the ultimate genderless factor in racing. That's probably the only positive in racing's heavy reliance on drivers who "bring money." So the question of if IndyCar will have a full-time female driver is largely a question of if a female driver can scrounge up enough cash.
Most people know I'm a big fan of female drivers, as evidence by the Women of pressdog® lineup. My fandom of the women comes from two sources: 1) the idea of women and men competing equally, which is only possible in racing and a few other sports, is fascinating to me and 2) I have two daughters, and daughters need role models in the area of not letting faux gender-based "rules" limit their ambitions. Female drivers fit that perfectly. The wopd deal started with Sarah Fisher, who I am a big fan of, and I wanted my daughters to see as an example of a woman who didn't let her gender automatically limit her ambitions.
Today, when my daughters or wife watch a race with me, they'll usually ask if there are any women in the field, and if there are, they cheer for the women. So in that sense, IndyCar could loose a hook that attracts an audience.
Tying in perfectly with this whole "female driver" discusion was Richard Petty making some comments about Danica Patrick, which caused umbrage and spawned about 303 stories (including stories about whether or not it was news).
Mr. Petty said Danica might win a race if she was the only one on the track. I took it as Petty saying Danica had no talent at all, which is not sexist in my view. I certainly don’t agree, and I don’t think a lot of current drivers agree that she has NO shot to win, but Petty has the right to his opinion. Not a big deal to me, honestly. Nor was it a big deal to Danica who had the perfect response.
As reported by More Front Wing (and I think nobody else) Petty also said later during a Q&A with fans at the same setting that: “I just don’t see that the good Lord said women need to drive race cars. I think He said men, you drive race cars, and women, you do something else.” Read it here.
If you don’t think the Almighty said women should drive race cars, is that sexist? Not sure. Depends on your definition of sexist. I think Petty's wrong on a bunch of levels, among them the presumption of having even an inkling of how the Good Lord guides the lives of others. Again, Petty's opinion is not a big deal to me. Petty is entitled to his opinion re: racing and the Good Lord, and his stature makes his opinion news. No man's opinion or actions hinders God even slightly, and I don’t see this as damaging Danica either. In fact, it creates publicity for her -– a lot of it positive -– so in that sense Petty actually rang the cash register for Danica.
Welp, time to get to the day job. For a good look at what goes on behind the scenes with a popular NASCAR driver, check out Nate Ryan’s story here. He followed Danica around for a day and recorded some of the insights. It’s a good look at the off-track life on any given weekend. Not exactly high glamour. Lot of goofing around and talking about random stuff.