“Only girls pull hair.”
That’s what NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Steven Wallace said on national television Saturday after an opposing team’s crew chief (Jerry Baxter) reached into Wallace’s window and grabbed his unhelmeted hair…out of anger for an on-track incident that sent his driver (Patrick Carpentier) off the track.
Although several women have competed within the various stock car series of NASCAR in its time, none of course have had as much fanfare as one Danica Patrick…who is expected to formally announce shortly the worst-kept secret in recent memory…she will compete full-time next year in the Nationwide Series…with a seat in a full-time Sprint Cup ride come 2013.
After seeing and hearing Wallace’s comment on the tube Saturday, I could not help reflecting on what I think Patrick’s full-time participation in NASCAR is going to mean…aside from a new series of poorly conceived, soft-core porn Go Daddy commercials.
For whatever good or bad reasons you or I can offer up, Danica is a national celebrity who brings eyeballs to the tube and money to the souvenir stands. I’m not so sure she actually brings fans to the track…but that metric will be easily captured next season because from my seat there have been an awful lot of empty seats in 2011 at most NASCAR events. The economy has hit this sport hard. You can see it just about every week – huge chunks of prime viewing real estate unoccupied.
She has shown to be a reasonably skilled Indy Car driver, although I point out each week throughout most of her career in that series it has been much easier to stay out of trouble and finish in the top ten…when only twenty-one or two cars were even running. With the consolidation of two rival groups, Indy Car has upped its number of weekly participants recently but at the end of the day…in almost seven years now on that circuit she has but one win. One.
I think Patrick would be the first to admit she is naturally impatient and lets emotion get the best of her at times. (Those traits she shares with a lot of current NASCAR drivers also…)
In the handful of events she has already run in NASCAR she has turned in some decent performances. The woman can drive race cars. She’s been doing so since she was five. Some attribute her lack of wins in Indy Car to the fact she’s at her best on high-speed ovals…admittedly that series has a number of road and street events quite unique to pushing the pedal to the floor and “going for it.”
The woman probably never has to work again a day in her life, but there are simply too many dollars hanging on the line not to be reeled in. I get that. I just hope she knows what she’s stepping into.
Women are objects in NASCAR and you only have to look as far as Victory Lane, where each Sunday a “Sprint Girl” awaits winners. Her mission is to try to get as close to the winning driver as possible without actually having sex with him. I can only wonder what kind of moment that will be if Patrick wins a race when one of these models in racing suits tries to mount her to get into the camera shot during the post-race interview. (wait a minute…did I just give Go Daddy another ad concept…?)
It is also more than ironic she’ll be driving for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – a driver who also is known more for an off-track identity than on-track success.
All the big-time Sprint Cup drivers have been saying all the politically correct things about her full-time arrival on the scene. That being said, comments like Steven Wallace’s during Saturday’s race are only going to be the “start” of how to handle “the Danica Effect” once she starts getting involved in wrecks and costing these drivers money and points alike.
NASCAR told its drivers some time ago to “have at it, boys.” Well, there’s a girl in town now. Danica is not the only one who will have to adjust. It should be fascinating to watch to see how competitors react to her presence. After races, most of these drivers are ready to have at it off the track…at the very least, the live interviews while still heated from being defeated will be must-see-TV with her in the middle of it all.
Danica Patrick and NASCAR. Maybe only girls are the ones who pull hair.
We’ll find out soon enough.