By David G. Firestone
My first post in returning from summer break won’t be about how I spent my break, that’s for Friday, but rather about a serious issue in auto racing. In North America, NASCAR especially, auto racing is seen as a sport that is primarily for white males. Internationally, auto racing is much more diverse. But in most of the major sanctioning bodies, males are the dominant sex in the driver’s seat.
However, this trend is starting to change, and for the better. Auto racing in North America is becoming much more diverse. More and more women are starting to make their way into the top echelons of auto racing. All of the top series in North American auto racing have a more diverse set of drivers, including more women. It’s great for racing, since it helps shake of the old image, and it will bring a more diverse group of fans, and more media attention. All of this will, in turn, make the sport much more appealing to large groups of people.
There is, however an issue that involves women in auto racing. Since the majority of auto racing fans are males, sponsors will attempt to appeal to them, and one of the easiest and most effective ways of appealing to males is using attractive females. As such, sponsors and promoters will use a female driver’s sex appeal to help them win fans over.
Recently, I acquired a driver suit from CASCAR, which is the Canadian equivalent of NASCAR. It was worn by a driver by the name of Tara MacLeod, during her Rookie of the Year season in 2005. I’m going to have to do more research on this suit, since information on her, and her team at the time is not easy to get. The seller threw in a few hero cards, including this promotional photograph.This picture sums up, better than anything I have seen, why the sex appeal of female drivers should not be used as much as it is. On general principals, using sex appeal is a horrible move. Here we have a woman, who is trying to be taken seriously as a driver, and trying to be seen as a legitimate race car driver, wearing the firesuit, with the top unzipped, and showing cleavage in a sparkly bra, with the tagline “Driving men crazy.”
On first glance, it’s obviously designed to appeal to men who view women as nothing more than objects. On closer inspection, a couple things stand out. First off, looking at her face, it’s clear she’s doing this for her sponsor. She clearly doesn’t want anything to do with this, but is going along with it, because they who pay her bills told her to. The other thing that jumps out here is the fact that she is clearly wearing a wedding ring, which means she has a husband.We have progressed so much as a society, yet in one of the most technologically advanced sports in the country, we haven’t made it passed the “she have curves, so lets use them to sell” phase when it comes to women in auto racing. Sadly, this is almost universal, as Danica Patrick, The Three Force Sisters, Alexis DeJoria, Leah Pritchett, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Milka Duno, Angelle Sampey, and even Shirley Muldowney are guilty of this. It’s amazing how many women in the NHRA often wear sponsor branded tank tops while their male counterparts wear standard crew shirts. Hell Danica Patrick’s Wikipedia page has “American female models” as one of the categories her page is under.
I find it amazing that this advertising strategy is still being used, because it sends the wrong message to future female race car drivers. It send the message how you look is just as, if not more important as your racing talent. If there are two women racing, both have the same amount of talent, both have similar on-track results, but one is five years younger, and 25 pounds lighter, and she is willing to pose in a bikini, whereas the other one won’t pose, then the younger slimmer driver is the better option. It’s the outdated approach of how you look is more important than who you are, or what you can do.
There is no worse message to send than that. In the first place, it makes clear that only young sexy people deserve a real shot. The message that being a little heavy, not having a perfect face, not having a perfect body, not being as young, or not having the right look is so outdated. What next, are sponsors going back to 1950’s hiring practices, and not signing drivers who are married? Will talent having sex with sponsors be a thing? How much more out of touch could the racing world be than to send this message?
In addition to the whole idea to being 40 years out of date, it’s also a bad idea in that it takes away from a driver’s accomplishments. For example: Danica Patrick is the first woman to win an IndyCar race, lead the Indy 500, and win the pole for the Daytona 500. Yet for the most part, she is seen as a bikini model who races cars. It has gotten to the point that when she gets tired of everyone focusing on her sexiness, and her body, and complains about it in the press, IT COMES OFF AS HYPOCRITICAL! If you didn’t know her racing career, and didn’t know what she has accomplished in auto racing, and if she wasn’t one of the faces of NASCAR, you would think she was nothing more than a bikini model, and that was her only contribution to society.
The third problem with this approach is that it sends the wrong message to other sponsors. Going back to Danica Patrick, one of the best things to happen to her image is losing GoDaddy as a sponsor, since their ads bordered on softcore porn. Her ads had no respect for her racing career, her on-track achievements, or even her off-track work with animals, but rather her wearing tight clothes with GoDaddy printed on them, and having sexiness permeate the commercial.
This is an issue because a lot of companies realize that women don’t like to be seen as objects, and want to be treated as equals. The “sex sells” approach could and has turned some of these companies off, especially ones founded and run by women. If a company that was founded by strong independent women, and wants that image is considering auto racing, nothing will turn them off the idea faster than the idea that a woman’s body is more important than her racing talent. This will also hurt teams working under the same idea.
The idea of an outdated marketing idea dissuading future talent, and alienating future team participants and sponsorship money in auto racing is a really bad idea. This will lead to more issues, such as lost TV revenue and more problems that come from that. I wish I could say this was unique to auto racing, but sadly it isn’t. Across the board, women in sports have to be sexy in order to be taken seriously. Everything I’ve discussed above applies to these sports as well.
Thankfully there are a few drivers who don’t use sex appeal. Erica Enders-Stevens, Pippa Mann, Sarah Fisher, Katherene Legge, and the legendary Janet Guthre are examples. For these drivers, racing is the goal, looking sexy isn’t. I have a lot of respect for them, because they prove you can be a respectable race car driver, without being a fashion model. Sadly, these drivers don’t always get the respect they deserve.
I don’t mind a driver looking good, there are no issues there. There is a difference between looking good, and looking sexy. Looking good means that your hair is clean and brushed, as is your face. If you wear makeup, it’s done right. Your clothes are clean, and your teeth are brushed. Looking sexy means that you are showing a lot of skin internationally, and the clothes you wear have to be tight to hint at what is covered. Looking good is meant to give a good impression, looking sexy is meant to get men to drool over you.
Drivers who have to look sexy as part of their racing career are kind of painting themselves into a corner, since physical looks don’t last forever. The fact is that sponsors who insist on using sex appeal as a selling point don’t mention that once your looks go, they can ALWAYS find someone else who is just as sexy, but much younger. That’s a really bad message to send, since it basically states that once you stop looking good, your career doesn’t really matter. Again, are their outliers, of course, but for the most part, the “sexy sells” approach means that once the sexy leaves, you aren’t selling. God forbid a woman should naturally age, or have children.
At this point, I’m going to mention I’m a heterosexual single male. I have no problem mentioning that because the fact of the matter is that not all heterosexual single males are horned up immature children who want nothing more than to see sexy ladies in tight clothes. A lot of us are of the opinion that women are equal to us, and should be treated as such. I don’t see Matt Hagan, or Dale Jr., or Scott Dixon having to go through the “sexy test,” seeing how they look in tight clothes and bathing suits in order to attract sponsorship, so why in the world should women have to?