Does NASCAR need a 'Danica'?

Friday, May 9, 2008 at 2:12am

NASCAR could use more lip gloss and eye shadow.

It needs a whiff of Chanel No. 5 wafting through the garage, mingling with the fragrances of gas fumes and motor oil.

It needs more dangerous curves, and no, we’re not talking road courses.

NASCAR needs a Danica.

If you thought Danica Patrick’s recent Indy Racing League victory in Japan was a blockbuster, imagine its impact in NASCAR, with its gadzillion more fans and media exposure.

It would rattle racing’s Richter scale.

It’s just a matter of time before Patrick jumps to NASCAR; she’s flirted with the idea in the past, and now her stock has risen.

While we’re waiting, here’s a question: why hasn’t NASCAR grown its own Danica?

It insists it’s trying. It keeps enlisting promising young female drivers in its Diversity Program, but nothing happens. They go in, race awhile in the minor leagues, then disappear.

What’s the holdup? Why’s it so hard for a woman to break into NASCAR?

It’s not a physical thing; as Janet Guthrie once said, “I don’t have to lift the car, I just have to drive it.”

But Guthrie didn’t make it. Neither did Patti Moise, Shawna Robinson, Deborah Renshaw, Erin Crocker or any of the other women who in recent years tried to break through NASCAR’s sheet-metal ceiling.

During NASCAR’s formative years there were a handful of successful women drivers, most notably Louise Smith. The irrepressible Ms. Smith, the only woman racer inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, could hold her own, on and off the track, with the rowdy band of semi-reformed moonshine runners.

I interviewed Smith during Renshaw’s travails and she offered some advice to “girl drivers.” Never let ‘em see you sweat.

“Don’t let the boys intimidate you,” Louise said. “If they hit you, smack ‘em back twice as hard. Eventually they’ll leave you alone.”

Following the Louise Era, NASCAR went through a period when women were banned from the pits and garage area. Femme fatales were deemed too, well, distracting.

(Judy Allison once was forced to climb a fence to reach her husband, Bobby, in Victory Lane.)

Look around NASCAR today and you’d think the ban is still in effect.

NASCAR insists it is searching earnestly for its Danica. Skeptics say it needs to look harder.

When she’s found, it’ll be a big day for the sport. The Good Ol’ Boys need a Good Ol’ girl to shake things up.

Larry Woody is a veteran sportswriter in Nashville and has covered auto racing for almost four decades.

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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

NASCAR needs a new (old) face not a pretty face, not that anyone would mind.They need to go back to stock cars and get rid of the restrictor plates and wings. There is so much potential for them but they are stuck on stupid. Why not two circuits one for short tracks and one for super speedways doubling the races at each track or opening up others?I met Janet Guthrie at Pocono and she was charming and beside the big guys of the day (Petty and Caleshe was the most sort after in the garages.For a sport that is big business they aren't bringing it up to its full potential. People go to see the stars not the warm up band.They need Heros and Dominators not politically correct raceing. Both in drivers and cars. Let them race what they build this was never the Indy Circuit where they all look alike.

By: slacker on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Well said idgaf.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I miss the days of Elliott, Earnheardt, Kulwicki and Waltrip (Darrell, not Michael) and I'm sure those a little older than I remember King Richard, the Allisons, Junior and Cale fondly. But the problem with NASCAR is that it has gotten too big and too commercial and therefore boring. Danica would make the fan magazines more interesting, but would she make the racing any more so?

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I like Danica, but I too, miss the old days. I was on hand at the old Nashville fairgrounds speedway when DW won his first cup race. It was exciting to see Richard Petty's blue and pink(they called it red, but it was pink) STP Dodge coming out of turn 4, beautiful sight. Dale Jr's car tonight will have DW's old Mountain Dew paint scheme. I still watch it and I pull for Michael since I have always been a huge DW fan. I have always pulled for Bobby Hamilton and Bobby Jr and Casey Atwood, who got screwed by Ray Evernham. Glad to see Sterling back in the 40 Dodge tonight and starting 14th.

By: frogmild on 12/31/69 at 7:00

What NASCAR needs is less corporate controls and more "real" competition. From tires to decals what's the difference. It's become the professional wrestling of sports.... even the winner is pre-determined by corporate team mates. It's moved from the most exciting sport to the level of Curling.

By: frogmild on 12/31/69 at 7:00

What NASCAR needs is less corporate controls and more "real" competition. From tires to decals what's the difference. It's become the professional wrestling of sports.... even the winner is pre-determined by corporate team mates. It's moved from the most exciting sport to the level of Curling.