FYI WIRZ Fast Take By Dwight Drum
Web work by Larsen & Drum NHRA Images by Gary Larsen. NASCAR images by Drum.
FYI WIRZ: Female Firepower Warming on NHRA and NASCAR Tracks
Courtney Force and dad, John Force, warm up their Funny Cars.
Female power is warming up in motorsports. Danica Patrick stands out in NASCAR’s top stock car series. Courtney and Brittany Force roar in NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel classes. Former competitors Angelle Sampey and Karen Stoffer zoom aboard NHRA Pro Stock motorcycles again.
It’s not just a man’s world in motorsports anymore, and with diversity on the rise, it seems likely more females will be competing at top levels.
This reporter discovered a dozen years ago while waiting to interview Sampey in the NHRA pits that her crowd of fans waiting for autographs was comprised of many young males and moms with little girls.
Sampey was a beauty queen before becoming a Pro Stock motorcycle champion, so the male gathering was expected. But the presence of many young girls indicated a role model phenomenon.
An attractive female driver will bring male fans because of beauty. It’s not the same for the other gender. Young girls look up to female winners in distinctive ways, especially when they are competing and defeating males.
Some male sports fans will never embrace female motorsports contenders, but the realities discussed here are hard to ignore. In a connected and transforming world, staying on the edge of change is essential.
Driving a stock car at NASCAR’s highest level requires bravado and experience. Being a star at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level requires talents other than driving skills. One must look good and speak well to attract sponsors and fans.
Danica Patrick performs behind the wheel and behind the microphone.
Patrick gets it. She once responded quickly about star power:
“I think you need confidence,” she said. “Because you need to be able to hold the room. You need to be able to hold a conversation. Then there really is that X-factor of charisma and charm. Some people have it and some people don’t.”
NHRA fans get better access to pit areas and therefore more contact with their favorite racers. Brittany and Courtney Force understand the role of females in drag racing. Brittany explained.
“Being a female in the sport, we’ve brought in younger girls who want to get in junior dragsters because they see girls out here beating up on the boys,” she said. “We do get a mix and that’s one of the best parts of our job—is getting out there with the fans.”
“It’s exciting to have little girls come up to the pits telling us they want to grow up and be a race car driver too,” she said. “I always say the cars don’t know whether it’s a male or a female. So it’s a lot of fun to get in these cars and compete against these guys.”
It will be a momentous day when a female wins in NASCAR.
It’s obvious that NASCAR has done the basic fan math and understands what a winning female driver will bring to the series. It’s also obvious from past experience in NHRA that females winning in motorsports brings a boost to fan support.
NHRA has a history of females racing and winning. Two, ShirleyMuldowney and Angelle Sampey, have won championships. Courtney explained.
“As a female in the sport, we all look to Shirley Muldowney, Angelle,” she said. “Shirley really was the one that kind of paved the way for all the females in this male-dominated sport. She really did pave the way for all of us. We all thank her for that.”
Erica Enders-Stevens and Karen Stoffer
Erica Enders-Stevens joined the past female NHRA champions by winning the 2014 Pro Stock Car championship. Enders-Stevens commented.
“I have my name on a list with just Shirley Muldowney and AngelleSampey, two of my heroes,” she said. “I think any female racer will tell you that we just want to be looked at as a driver. The car doesn't know the difference in gender. It doesn't matter to me.”
Courtney expounded on a motorsports reality.
“Over in NASCAR, it's only a matter of time,” she said. “Obviously, Danica Patrick is running over there. She seems very competitive. Females are in many categories in NHRA. More women are going to be coming into the sport. We're out here to win.”
Alexis DeJoria wheels a Funny Car often sponsored by Patron Tequila, which is owned by her father, John Paul DeJoria.
“It's hard to say I consider myself a role model.” She said. “Nobody's perfect. But if I can go out there and show girls that they have other options, that anything is possible and if they have determination and perseverance, they can accomplish anything.”
One element is certain, male or female, it takes raw courage to race at extreme speeds. Many have strapped into a race car or straddled a motorcycle and taken a fatal last ride.
The three Top Fuel racers quoted here wrestle four-wheel monsters with about 10,000 horsepower at 330 mph. The motorcycle racers steer two-wheel beasts past 190 mph dressed only in thin leather and a helmet.
It takes bravado, not just testosterone, to race straight at those speeds.
Angelle Sampey smiles before climbing on her motorcycle.
Sampey returned to motorcycle racing after family time spent for her daughter. She commented about getting back on the fast bike.
“It was real scary at first,” she said. “Not being on the bike for six years—I actually wasn’t on any kind of motorcycle for six years. I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know what people would think. I didn’t know if the fans would even like me.”
She performed again.
“I didn’t know what to think,” she said. “I was scared to death to ride the motorcycle again. It took about three passes down the track for me to get comfortable.”
Stoffer returned from a shorter hiatus to win the first Pro Stock Motorcycle race during the Gatornationals at Gainesville in March.
Female speed rolls on in NHRA. Brittany stressed the hazards.
“You climb in that race car, you don’t ever know what’s going to happen,” she said. “They go 330 miles per hour in less than four seconds. They can be dangerous.”
She also tried to describe the feeling of Top Fuel racing.
“You could say jumping on a roller coaster, but nothing’s like it until you strap in that car,” she said. “Not just going down the track, but everything that comes with putting your helmet on, strapping your belts down, butterflies in your stomach, heart pounding.”
Courtney described the speed.
“You can feel the vibration of these 10,000-horsepower cars launching off the starting line,” She said. “It shakes buildings. It sets off car alarms. They’re fast. You don’t see a sport like this anywhere else, going over 320 miles an hour in under four seconds.”
It may take NASCAR a while to catch up to the number of female champions and contenders in NHRA, but the trend is that female fire power in motorsports is warming up.
The heat may make history. That first win in NASCAR at the Cup level by a female will be a hot moment that won’t cool for a very long time.
John Force warms up his Funny Car. Force is proud of his daughters.
John Force seems to be always on the job. That it helpful to him and his daughters.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum atRacetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.
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