Will Danica Patrick’s success or failure in the Nationwide Series determine the long-term future for women in NASCAR? And how will she do, anyways?
Let's get this disclaimer out of the way first: Patrick is a fine driver who has paid her dues over the years and proven she can race and do so competitively in other forms of motorsports. That said, there’s no denying Danica is a marketing phenom. Her camp is a savvy bunch, and those smarts coupled with Patrick’s willingness to “play the game” have enabled her to obtain funding. Her brand brings in the bucks, aligning with a sponsor willing to exchange cash for sex appeal (despite some of it being tongue-in-cheek “comedy”).
That said, her level of success in the Nationwide Series may not have any effect on other women trying to get noticed. Why? Because regardless of their talent, they don’t have what Patrick does: Fame. Fame like most will never know. Patrick topped the list of Yahoo’s most searched athletes on the internet in 2011. Think about that. Think about the Sharapovas, Jeters, Tigers, Serenas and Kobes of the world. Danica bested them all. How does one ride those coattails?
That undying interest in the model/spokesperson/driver transcends NASCAR and, therefore, places her on a plane few in any sport can comprehend. At this point — and despite her success (or lack thereof) in NASCAR — Danica is more of a sports celebrity/marketing trailblazer than a stock car pioneer.
Well-funded and secure, Patrick will find her way in the Nationwide Series this year, post respectable showings (thanks in part to a financially unbalanced field) and move on to the Cup Series in 2013 where the true test lies. And that’s where the rubber meets the road, because no driver, regardless of financial backing, can enjoy a long and successful residence in the Cup Series without results.
There have been many women who have made a run at NASCAR glory and fallen well short — not that Danica will. But no matter what the racing future holds, let’s just not anoint her as some Jackie Robinson type, opening doors in a sport that, fairly or unfairly, has been pegged as a chauvinistic Boys Club over the years.
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