Jim H from Indiana sent this story on to me a few weeks ago, and I’ve been meaning to post it ever since. I think you’ll all enjoy it:
As a veteran of auto racing for 30-plus years and go-kart racing for seven, I’ve seen a lot of change in my time. In auto racing, especially at the grassroots level in my early years (we’re talking the late ’60s, 70′s and even the early ’80s), women weren’t even allowed in the pits at racing events. To even dream of competing in the dozens of classes available…a total fantasy. Women drivers, even in the early ’80s, was just not something that occurred.
Janet Guthrie at Indianapolis changed everything, however. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise! She proved that she could do the job, despite lesser equipment and numerous hurdles to jump.
By the ’90s, women were coming into auto racing as actual competitors. One here, one there. Nothing earth-shattering. But they WERE coming.
My daughter started kart racing in 2000 and went until 2005 when she was injured in a traffic accident (she’s probably retired from racing for good but that’s another story). In 2000, she was one of three women (one adult, two teenagers) competing in our local club. And we heard the catcalls from certain dads (“don’t let that girl beat you,” or “you gonna let a girl outrun you”).
She endured her share of bumps on the track. We knew certain drivers would not drive “nice” when around her. And we heard, on more than one occasion, where a father instructed his son to finish in front of her, “no matter what.” Other drivers were great, however, relishing the opportunity to race her. Racing karts is an equal opportunity skill…weight and age classes ensure you’re racing someone at an equal, competitive level.
Back to this past weekend. I haven’t been to a race since last year (just too many things going on.) We’re talking grass-roots level. Families, low-buck enthusiasts…about as far from the glamour of Indianapolis or Daytona as you’re going to get. They don’t even race for money…it’s all for trophies, fun and experience.
And I must have counted a near-dozen girls of all ages competing. I think the oldest was 15 and the youngest around 6. These girls raced hard, clean and with full expectations of more than holding their own.
I saw parents, some with multiple children competing, backing the daughters equally with their sons. I saw fellow drivers interacting with these girls, on and off the track, in ways I’ve never seen before. These girls were there and it was no longer a novelty.
As a father of a daughter who lived racing since birth, I feel good about the future of racing and the opportunities that will exist in the coming years for other daughters who want to compete.
Check out some of the professional racing organizations, there are women competing on every professional level of the sport (with the exception of NASCAR’s top circuit…sorry to say, redneck habits die hard in stock car racing). And based on my observations at my local level and my following of the sport, the pipeline, while certainly not full, is definitely producing the future Danica Patricks, Sarah Fishers, Erin Crockers, and others that we’ll be rooting on in the future.