Won’t the helmet muss her hair?

For the first time, a female racecar driver has a chance at winning the Indianapolis 500. I’m not sure what to make of the article. Naturally, it focuses on the fact that she’s the first woman to ever be in this position (previous women in the race were never considered serious competitors). But it seems to go out of its way to remind the reader that she’s a little girl — focusing on her small size, her pink fingernails, calling her a “lady” in the headline, etc. For her part, she doesn’t seem all that interested in discussing her role as the girlie in the race:

“I’ve been racing for 13 years and all the time it was against males, so being the only woman in the 500 is really nothing new to me,” Patrick said. “Besides, I do not think of myself as a woman driver. I am just another Indy car driver out there. We are all the same when we are sitting behind the wheel.”

She’s right, but at the same time, she isn’t just another Indy car driver out there, as much as I wish that were the case. I’m always a bit conflicted with stories like this as to how much I think we should focus on her gender, or if we should mention it at all. Of course it’s noteworthy, which is why there’s an article on it. But is writing about it just re-instating ideas gender difference? Or is it applauding her accomplishments? I’m still trying to figure this one out.

18 comments for “Won’t the helmet muss her hair?

  1. May 19, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Speaking as a pilot, I think Danica is doing great things for the womens’ movement, even if they choose at first to focus on how beautiful she is. The reason I say “as a pilot” is because in 1992 Patty Wagstaff became the first woman to win the aerobatic championship, and from that day forward, no pilot ever was able to mutter so much as an under-the-breath statement about whether or not female pilots were qualified to be considered “equal” to their male counterparts. To this day, she is considered such an accomplished aviator that on the one occasion I heard some jerk make a “women pilots” comment, the other ten guys on the flight line with me leaped on him so fast it practically blew my hair back.

    So let the media focus on its usual trivialities like hair, nails, etc. She’s an awesome driver and I know I’ll be rooting for her at the next Indy! On another note, as a long-curly-haired motorcycle rider, I can probably tell you more about helmet hair than Danica!

  2. May 19, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    speaking as a man with three daughters, i hope the woman wins at indy. i’m also speaking as a guy who doesn’t follow sports, so i didn’t know she is there.

    re the comment above, i did see a piece on tv about patty wagstaff. i was suitably impressed. there was, of course, no way of knowing from watching the planes what sort of pilot was at the controls, other than damn good. were i to watch indy without a program how could i know who is driving which car?

    maybe next year women will take the top 2 spots. the press will get over the stupid stuff.

    oh. well maybe the press will get over that particular stupidity.

  3. May 19, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    First it has to be news. Then it can be not news.

    It is unfortunate, but the very fact that “traditional” gender roles exist means that first it must be news to transcend them, or overcome them, or reverse them. Then that act of transcending or overcoming or reversing, after being news, becomes un-news. Conventional, even.

  4. Jim H from Indiana
    May 19, 2005 at 2:10 pm

    Speaking as a father with a daughter who races (go-karts), I say more power to Danica. She is very talented and unlike the past women to attempt the Indy 500, she has the financial and technical backing (read that as a front-running car, top crew and big bucks to stay that way) to be successful. She probably won’t win but that’s because of experiece, not her gender. Still, I can see a very definite top ten or top five finish out of her, if she stays out of trouble.

    At the grass-roots level of racing, I’ve seen the hositility toward “some girl” is racing against the boys (or men) or, gawd-forbid, that “girl” beat some future Mario Andretti-want-to-be for a $2 trophy. I’m also proud to say that my daughter dishes as well as receives: she didn’t cut anyone slack on — or off — the race track. She earned their respect. And the ones who didn’t give any respect, didn’t get hers either — also, on or off the track.

    As for the feminine part, who cares? You can’t see their nails under the gloves! At one time, my daughter had extremely long blonde hair and you couldn’t see it under the helmet. When she’d come out onto pit road to start a race or practice session, she’d wear her helmet. After practice or the race, she would take her helmet off on pit road and the blonde hair would cascade down her shoulders. The looks of some competitors (who didn’t know her) and especially spectators sometimes was the best part (especially if she had had a strong race or been extremely fast if it was practice). On the track, it’s Man (capital M) and machine vs. other Man and machine. Gender has nothing to do with talent, determination or luck (and you need a lot of luck in racing, let me tell you).

    Finally, to give you a view as to some of those prejudices out there, there’s this story. At a race some years ago, a driver in front of her blocked her and prevented her from passing him. He tried crashing her, squeezing her into the wall and generally drove dirty. To show her unhappiness, she started ramming her kart into his but always in places where he was in no danger of crashing or spinning out. Hard enough to let him know he was wrong and she was faster. After the race, he exploded! And his dad too. Cursing, yelling, jumping up and down…the full works. With poise and a smile, she told him, “I could have crashed you any time I want…but I don’t drive that way,” and walked off with a smile. Meanwhile in the grandstands, two boys (approx age 8-12) was with their father watching the race. One of the boys looked in the program and said, “Dad, that’s a girl” and pointed to her as she was beating the rear bumper off the jerk in front of her. From a friend of mine who was an eyewitness, the dad responded “My god, look at her drive!” as if her gender totally prevented her from being out there, let alone playing hardball with some idiot who deserved it.

    Hopefully, Danica won’t have to do that at Indianapolis or have to deal with those prejudiced yokels in the grandstands that think similarly.

  5. May 19, 2005 at 2:15 pm

    Jim H: Your daughter sounds awesome. Keep cultivating that attitude in her. So cool!

  6. May 19, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    Re: the post title

    The helmet head look is coming into style. Shouldn’t be a problem.

  7. Thomas
    May 19, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    Danica’s good, but there’s no reason ot slight Lyn St. James, a damned fine driver with a great career in sports car racing. When Lyn first ran the Indy, she had a good car, started sixth, and was the rookie of the year. The track was slick and dangerous and only ten cars finished. Lyn was the only rookie to make it to the finish line. In her later appearances, she never had a good ride, and Danica Patrick took the fastest practice lap so she clearly has a great car — but Lyn St. James was never a joke competitor. She had a shot.

  8. Jim H from Indiana
    May 19, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    Thomas, so right. Lyn was an extremely talented driver way back in her days running the Kelly Girl series in IMSA all the way up to her Indy career. And I meant in no way to slight Lyn. I’ve been a big fan of Lyn since those IMSA days (early 1980s) and have followed her career ever since. She should be a model for any woman wanting to race: Poised, well-spoken, confident without being cocky (both in herself and her talent) and proud to be a woman who is a racer but not carrying her gender like a chip on the shoulder.

    But Lyn never had a ride, even in her rookie year, similar to the quality and backing that Danica has.

    BTW, Lyn’s developmental program for female drivers is a really good program. I’d love to get my daughter in it but she’s probably too old now (at the ripe age of 21). Anyways, the program mostly is open wheel and Christina (my daughter) wants to run Daytona!

  9. Jim H from Indiana
    May 19, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    BTW, Lauren, she was raised with the sense that she could do anything she wanted to (whether it was a “boy” thing or “girl” thing). She chose to go into racing. And, contrary to others’ thinking, she is no less “feminine” for that participation!

  10. May 19, 2005 at 3:35 pm

    Whereabouts in Indiana are you guys? There isn’t much racing in this area (Western Central Indiana) except for the annual Grand Prix at Purdue.

  11. May 19, 2005 at 11:46 pm


    THANK YOU for mentioning Lyn St. James. I remember watching her race when I was actually still into watching racing on television. I lived closer to Indianapolis than I do now, and I was REALLY into it… Foyt, the Unsers… and I remember Lyn.

    Gods, I long for the “good old days” when the Indy 500 was simple. None of this CART/PPG/IRL split BS.

  12. Jim H from Indiana
    May 20, 2005 at 7:52 am

    Lauren, there is good go-kart racing all around central Indiana. A weekly dirt track in Lebanon (fairgrounds), New Castle has a good track, traveling circuit (SIRA – http://www.sirakarting.com), are three that come to mind. SIRA runs events in Brazil, Terre Haute and Clinton — is that western central enough for you? :-) There are others but I’m not familiar with them.

    And all three I mentioned above have at least one girl (under 18) racing while others (like SIRA) have some women (over 18) racing. Unfortunately, my daughter is recovering from a serious traffic accident (some clown crossed the centerline) and won’t be racing this season, otherwise, I’d invite you to one of our races.

  13. Thomas
    May 20, 2005 at 8:04 am

    Now, I’m no NASCAR fan (I strongly prefer watching cars turn both ways, so I follow F1, and I keep an eye on sports car racing and rally). But in terms of visibility, Indy is a one-trick pony, and it would be much more valuable to have a woman running in the Nextel Cup series. It’s my understanding that Shawna Robinson’s not at that level. Anyone coming up?

  14. Jim H from Indiana
    May 20, 2005 at 8:46 am

    Actually, yes. Ray Evernham, the guy who brough Jeff Gordon into the big-time in NASCAR, signed Erin Crocker to his developmental program. Erin, 24, hails from Massachusetts and is a former quarter-midget champion as well as sprint car winner. For Evernham, Erin will run a variety of ARCA (which is like NASCAR) and possibly Busch Series events to learn the ropes. She’s got a darn fine teacher with Evernham (and he’s got the money, technology and connections) so she’s got to be legitimate.

    I’ve never seen Erin run but if she can run sprint cars, she definitely has some talent. And I know in her only ARCA showing to date, she took the pole (easily, by 6-7 mph faster than everybody else) and finished seventh (I think). I just “googled” her web page; check it out if you want to know more.

    I know Juliana Chivotti (may be mispelled) of Canada is attempting to move up to Infiniti Pro and other Formula cars but so far hasn’t connected. She’s been running shifter karts for the last half-dozen years and definitely has the talent.

    Don’t count Shawna out. She didn’t have the right deal in her Nextel Cup debut: severely underfunded team with no experience and no connections. She has bounced back with a sometime Busch Series ride (though still underfunded) and hasn’t done too bad.

    Just off hand, no others come immediately to mind but I know there are others out there. And it’s not a talent thing; it’s a money thing. Racing is expensive (just to run a strong shifter kart team requires $50-100,000 and everything goes up from there) and, though experience is everything, connections and money seems to drive driver advancement today. It’s all about finding the right sponsor, the connected mentor and then making it happen. It’s tough for the guys, let alone the women!!

  15. May 20, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    -Nobody’s done anything in Shawna Robinson’s old Cup ride. I think Ken Schraeder (he’s driving it now, right?) managed a 12th at Darlington with it, but that’s the highlight.

    -We could debate Sarah Fischer all day long, but whatever you think of her, she’s staging a comeback in NASCAR, right now in a regional touring series, but I heard talk of her trying to do something in Busch (or maybe ARCA) in ’06. More power to her. I think the fans of NASCAR are ready to embrace some women in their series, and it really doesn’t matter what the other good ol boys think about it. Fans excite sponsors, sponsors bring money, and money is what makes NASCAR tick.

    -I think it was Bobby Rahal who gave the best quote I’ve read about Danica Patrick: “I don’t care if she’s a woman. She’s one hell of a race car driver.” Amen. It would be really cool if she won next Sunday since I’m actually going to the race.

    -And Lauren, there’s actually a good deal of racing locally. Kamp Motor Speedway runs dirt-track stock car races on their 3/8 mile red clay oval almost every weekend from mid-April til the first of October. However, they actually run a “Powder Puff” series out there… don’t get me started on how pissed off that makes me. I mean, yay, women drive race cars, right? But it’s a bit… disheartening, I guess, to know that most if not all of them at KMS feel like they have to run in the girls-only series. I have no idea if they have women in the other series or not; I haven’t really paid attention.

    (Before you demand my membership card back, let me say I only know of the goings-on at KMS because of The Job That Shall Not Be Named.)

  16. May 20, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    Holy Christ. Did I just say all that in public?

  17. May 20, 2005 at 2:07 pm

    I know nothing about sports, I can only comment on the “girly” part.

    There are a lot of ways that this could be interpreted, but I think it would be a negative only if the writer were implying that her feminine traits made her a less capable driver. Otherwise I see it as a good thing. Either a) the reporter is trying to write a colorful article and include fun details, b) the reporter wants to show that Danica has the freedom to be herself when she drives, or c) the reporter wants to counter any ideas that “any woman who can race against men must be a butch (which means to us narrow-minds that men still rule since we don’t consider butches to be real women).”

    A relative of mine had an interesting experience of breaking into men’s sports. I talked about it here.

    P. S. – Hi, Jill! I followed you here from Third Wave.

  18. Thomas
    May 20, 2005 at 3:34 pm

    Hey, Unapologetic Atheist, does aerobatics produce high G-loads? I’ve heard that, because of the propensity to circulate blood to the organs at the expense of the extremities, women black out at higher G-loads than men, by a significant margin. It seems to me this actually gives women something of a biological advantage as competetive pilots, yes? At the upper end of open-wheel racing, this would be the case also. (For those that don’t know, those cars are aircraft in reverse, using aerodynamics to produce massive downforce, allowing the cars to stick like glue in corners and go faster.)

    Since you mentioned motorcycles, that’s another area where women have an advantage: In motorcycle drag racing, small, light women have an advantage. There are a half-dozen or more women racing drag bikes on the national level. I don’t follow it, but even I have heard of Angelle Seeling, who has won, what, three national titles now?

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