Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Racing's Top Female Drivers? Not Quite.

The headline was trumpeted from coast to coast.

“Racing's Top Female Drivers Meet at Kentucky: Patrick, Fisher to discuss race weekend on IRL teleconference.”

The Indy Racing League Indy Car Series lined up Rahal Letterman Racing’s Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher – who will drive for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in a one-off effort this weekend at Kentucky Speedway -- to address the media in advance of the event. There is no doubt that the Patrick/Fisher tandem will be of great interest to the nation’s media. The last time two women took the green flag in a major Open Wheel race was… well… never, and a lot of people will rightly be interested in what Patrick and Fisher have to say on that topic.

I have no problem with any of that. On the contrary, I think it’s great that two women will be in the field at Kentucky. Further, I look forward to the day in the not-too-distant future when every national event will feature at least a half-dozen female drivers. I do, however, take issue with the IRL’s characterization of Danica Patrick and Sarah Fisher as “Racing's Top Female Drivers.”

Patrick, last season’s Bombardier Rookie of the Year, is currently tenth in IndyCar points, with two top-five finishes and six top-10s. Fisher has not run a major-league race in nearly three years. Together, they have combined for a grand total of no wins in the upper levels of the sport.

Even semi-regular listeners to Sirius Speedway know that I have spoken at great length in defense of both Patrick and Fisher over the years. I have pleaded with the racing public to give them the time it takes to adapt to their chosen forms of racing, without the pressure of being expected to win instantly. Both drivers have achievements to brag about. Both have won IRL poles – and at Kentucky, no less; Danica in 2005 and Fisher in `03 – and both have contested for wins, even if they haven’t grabbed the brass ring yet.

I have preached the sermon of patience long and loud, and I will continue to do so. But let’s be realistic about exactly what Patrick and Fisher have accomplished, shall we?

They have yet to win a race; something that Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey, Karen Stoffer and Melanie Troxell have all achieved – numerous times -- at the highest levels of drag racing. They have yet to win a championship; something that Muldowney and Sampey have also achieved, multiple times. With that said, it is ludicrous to paint Fisher and Patrick as “Racing's Top Female Drivers,” or anything like it.

At present, they are tied with Erin Crocker, Katherine Legge, Allison Duncan, Deborah Renshaw, Kelly Sutton, Ashley Force and Erica Enders (to name just a few); all of whom have climbed to the top levels of the motorsports ladder, but have not yet proven that they truly belong.

All of them may make it. Some of them will probably not. But either way, they will do so without the half-baked pronouncements of some PR hack, desperately trying to make a series sound bigger and better than it really is.

11 comments:

  1. Jason In California12:20 AM

    Katherine Legge? Uh Dave Ms. Legge has 3 Toyota Atlantic victories to her resume. She became the first women to a win a open wheel race in this country. She also finsihed in the top five in the points for the Atlantic series. She earned her ride by winning races and staying up front.

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  2. I guess we disagree on the "major league" status of the Atlantic Series, Jason. WHat I said was that those drivers have made it to the upper levels, but have not yet proven that they belong, by winning races.

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  3. Lance from PA10:10 AM

    The worst thing that happened to all women in racing is Danica-mania. All of a sudden people just wanted to "add water and poof!" you have an overnight success story for a woman. Racing just doesn't work that way. Women will be successful, but it takes time.

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  4. lance from PA11:41 AM

    Check out Erin Crocker's weekly article on NASCAR.com today. It's very timely and speaks to this very topic. What a bright girl with the right attitude (not that I'm biased in any way!)

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  5. Jason In California8:23 PM

    Dave,

    No doubt she has not won in CC as of yet. However she did earn her ride by winning races in a ladder series just like any male driver would be expected to do.

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  6. Jill Chastenay9:35 PM

    I agree with Moody on this. These women are getting too much press for what? Being female in racing? That's not right. It would be different if they were winning! I think it would be great if we had some women in the sport (more than 1or2) but it would be better if they were winning too.

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  7. Dave,
    If this were horse racing, I would have to say You linked Danica with some pretty cheap company. It's true she has never won, but, she has raced in stakes type races compared to the maiden races most the others have raced in.

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  8. Dave,

    I would put those you named in drag racing ahead of both Patrick & Fisher in terms of accomplishment at the major league level. I think if you want to see the best woman racers you better head to a drag race. However, to lump Patrick & Fisher in with the likes of Crocker or Duncan is ignoring what they already have accomplished in the IRL, arguably the pinnacle of open wheel racing in this country. Fisher has a 2nd place finish to her credit, and Patrick has a couple of top 5 runs as well. Both have proven on a given day they have the stuff to run in the top 5 in an Indy car, the others haven’t even been able to crack the top 20 on a regular basis in the lower minor leagues.

    I would call Patrick & Fisher group 2 (with the drag racers being at the top of the list in group1), Legge pretty much by herself in group 3, and the rest (I put truck racing in the same category as Atlantics), in group 4. With that group being light years behind the other 3 groups.

    Group 1 is already made of stars for the most part, I think group 2 has the talent to make it to victory lane and be stars - but time will tell. Same for group 3. I think almost everyone in group 4 is in over their heads and will never get much higher than the level they are currently at (with the possible exception of Allison Duncan).

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  9. Jason In California2:26 PM

    Uh Andy, how can Danica be ranked higher then Legge on your list when Legge has 3 wins in Atlantics compared to Danica's zero wins in Atlantics? I think your theory has some holes in it.

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  10. Easy Jason, I consider the IRL a much higher level of open wheel racing than Atlantics. You have to beat a lot more talent to finish top 5 in the IRL, than to win in the Atlantics.

    If Legge was winning or consistently running in the 5 five in Champ car, then it might be a different story, but in my opinion she is now at the same level as Patrick, but has accomplished a little less there, so far.

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  11. Jason In California2:48 PM

    Andy,

    Did you know that Danica raced in Atlantics as well? And that she failed to produce the same results as Legge did in the same equipment. No one is saying that the Atlantics series is a higher ranked series then the IRL. All I'm saying is that the Atlantics series is the best way to compare these two drivers. As the IRL and CHAMP CAR series are very different when it comes to the cars and types of circuits that they race on.

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