Danica Patrick could change auto racing, sports forever
Millions of people who have little interest in auto racing will have a rooting interest in Sunday’s Daytona 500 simply because of the primal dynamic of men vs. women
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Danica Patrick will race from the pole position at Sunday’s Daytona 500. No woman has ever done that in the 54-year history of NASCAR’s signature race. It doesn’t mean she’ll win. Odds makers think half the field of 42 men competing with her has a better chance than she does.
But imagine, for a moment, that she does win. That would be the sports story of the young year, and perhaps of the new millennium, because few things resonate more in cultures around the globe than the age-old tale of the battle of the sexes.
Men and women don’t compete directly in most sports because of physiological differences, but auto racing is among the few where size and strength matter less, and where men and women match wits and grit without any compensating allowances. Golf allows shorter driving distances from the ladies’ tees, but the driving distance at Daytona — 500 miles, 200 laps — is the same for either gender.
PATRICK: Eases up during Duel to keep pole
That means millions of people who have little interest in auto racing will have a rooting interest in Sunday’s race on Fox (1 p.m. ET) simply because of the primal dynamic of men vs. women.
“Anyone who has ever been to middle school knows about the girls vs. the boys,” says Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “Gender is one of those categories, even in this enlightened age, that still” pushes all manner of cultural buttons.
Janet Guthrie, 74, the first woman to qualify for the Daytona 500, knows all about that.
“For most of human history, broad shoulders and big muscles made the difference,” Guthrie says. “It’s only been the last 100 years or so where it isn’t always the case. That’s just the blink of an eyelash in human history — and humans are still getting used to it.”
Danica Patrick could change auto racing, sports forever,