A Woman In NASCAR

Posted on February 23, 2013

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A Woman in NASCAR

NASCAR, FOX, and Danica Patrick.

By: Rob Oakman

Danica at Daytona

Danica at Daytona

Even if you live under a rock, most of them have wifi nowadays, so you know that Danica Patrick is on pole for the 55th running of the Daytona 500. If any other driver were on pole we would be hearing about stats, past performances, predictions for the race, and other racing relating information. But with Danica all we hear about is that she’s a woman, she’s hot (If you like that type, and who doesn’t?), and that she’s racing her boyfriend. I have one thing to say to those subjects. So What?

Danica is known both in and out of racing as the sexy woman that prances around in bikini’s for her sponsor godaddy.com. Her looks have helped bring in the sponsorship dollars that have her running in the elite NASCAR series. Most racing fans understand that it takes money to climb the racing ladder and have no problem with this. NASCAR and FOX Sports are also trying to cash in on her looks by pushing the “She’s sexy and a Woman and she drives” angle to anyone who will listen. You can imagine a meeting where someone from NASCAR said “The sexy racer angle works for bringing in the dudes, the first woman thing works for hairy chicks and makes us look progressive, and the star-crossed lover thing with her and her boyfriend works for the “starved for romance hard-up regular chicks” so we should get all kinds of new viewers” and the FOX guys said with dollar signs in his eyes “We can do that.” (Those are probably close to being direct quotes). The problem is none of this works and I’ll tell you why.

Problem number 1.

Lookin sexy in that suit

Lookin sexy in that suit

The kind of people that are interested in Danica as a “Hot Chick” don’t watch NASCAR races, they don’t spend money on NASCAR merchandise, or support its sponsors. Why? Because they can’t see her when she is racing. Car racing is not like Skeleton where you can watch a 20 year-olds fit buttocks wrapped in skin-tight synthetic material jiggle down the track at 80 miles-an-hour (Like you haven’t watched!) the car blocks your view. If you are watching a race and someone asks you “Who you rooting for?” and you say “The hot chick” and you point at the green godaddy car the person is gonna think your sexually aroused by cars (Not that there is anything wrong with that). And even when FOX inevitably rolls out the “Crotch Cam” it won’t matter because she wears a full body fireproof suit. Anyone that wants to see Danica the “hot chick” has to go on the net. On race day the car, suit, and helmet all get in the way of what they want to see. Even if NASCAR let her run naked the crotch cam wouldn’t work because the good bits would be surrounded by sponsor stickers; and you can imagine the type of sponsors that would be. Talk about killing the mood.

Problem number 2.

What has and always will make NASCAR successful are the personalities of its drivers. Think of the Bush brothers, Jeff Gordon, or Tony Stewart. Even Mark Martin, who had no personality his entire career, has managed to earn one as the determined, grizzled, never say die veteran. As far as I’ve been able to research “Female” is not a personality. Every interview, every comment, every stupid graphic FOX comes up with, every question they ask in their interviews, are directly or indirectly related to Danica being a “Female”. Because of this you can’t actually tell if she has a personality at all. I’m pretty sure she knows she is a woman and so does everyone watching. Move on. Only on occasion does Fox reluctantly ask her something about her race car, or the race, and when they do you hear her tone change. Suddenly she becomes a highly experience racer that loves what she does. You can hear her passion for the sport and when this happens the ears of race fans perk up. We are listening to someone who cares about the same thing we do. Someone that is grateful to be part of the sport and loves every race, every lap, every corner, every inch she gets to run. That’s what I want to see and hear. That’s the racer that will bring in fans.

Problem number 3.

We will need to see a lot of this.

We will need to see a lot of this.

The romance story between Danica and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is on every news broadcast, in every news paper article and blog that doesn’t traditionally care about racing. Is this a good thing? NASCAR and FOX clearly think so. I say No. Because who cares if they are dating? Not a race fan. Pushing this angle is clearly about getting nontraditional race fans interested. Fine, it has gotten lots of media attention, but that only works out if they meet on track in some dramatic fashion and on a regular basis. In a series with 43 cars it is very unlikely that Danica and Rickey will end up really battling for position anywhere let alone for the win. You might get the “Harliquin Romance” crowd to tune in for a race or two, holding their breath every time FOX highlights how close on track they are (Which they are going to do over and over and over again all race long, every race, for the whole season…and more so if they break up), but these people won’t stick around for two and a half hours waiting and hoping when they can get their old lady thrills watching Passions or reading 50 shades.

Even pushing Danica as the first woman on pole is problematic if they go too far because it isn’t the first time NASCAR has used the “Look how progressive we are, we have a woman racing in our series” banner. The only way to translate Danica racing into more female viewers from the demographics that don’t already like racing is for Danica to win…a lot. One race won’t do it let alone one pole. You see, the types of people that NASCAR and FOX are attracting are fair weather fans. If the only reason you are watching is to see the girl win, it is disheartening if she loses. If she wrecks these “fans” change the channel. This has been the case with the previous female competitors in NASCAR and, in fact, in other male dominated sports that try to push a woman on fans. The only way to keep these new “fans” interested is to keep Danica up front, which I don’t put past NASCAR to try to make that happen, and FOX is more than happy to do anything for revenue so…who knows. The type of fans that will want to keep watching are the people that want to see her as a personality, as a racer, not a “Woman Racer”.

I don’t want you to get the idea that I have a problem with Danica using her sexuality to gain sponsors. The opposite is true. Having been a long time member of the “Rejection Letter Collectors Club” I say if you can use your gender, race, religion, family influence or even daddy’s cheque book to get into a race car than good on you. When it comes to getting sponsors to spend money on you they have to expect a return on their investment (ROI). If that puts you in cowboy boots and little else, but equals a ride in the big leagues, then yee haw!

Advertisers are trying to create an emotion from potential buyers (That’s us) that will become attached to the product or service they are pushing. Danger, safety, sexy, power, inclusion, individuality, these are all qualities a good campaign can project. To get their message across Advertisers have 30 seconds, a billboard, or a sticker on a car to get an emotional response, and get you to buy. A celebrity endorsement or the personality of a driver can help express that. But for a series like NASCAR and the broadcasters like FOX, what they are selling is the sport and its personalities directly. You can’t package that in a sound bite (As mush as they try). Successful sports advertising shows a potential audience its existence but has to allow the audience to discover their own emotional connection with the team or individual player/driver. Just being local, having a history, or a good story can bring people in, but it has to be genuine.

Think about how you became attached to racing. It wasn’t a commercial, or a poster, or a celebrity endorsement was it. Most likely it was from someone you trusted and looked up to that loved racing and showed it to you. It was their passion that made it your passion. The driver that became your favorite spoke to you somehow. Their personality touched something inside of you that can’t be equated. And from that moment on you supported them, no matter where they went, what commercials they did, or petty crap they tried to sell. It is who they are you support, through thick and thin, wins and losses, and you will continue to support and  defend them to the day you die, even if they die first.

Trying to push false personalities in order to bring in dollars will only sour present fans. It doesn’t bring in new ones. The disingenuous nature of what they are trying to do with Danica looks bad on everyone involved, and she seems to understand that, but can do little about it.

Danica the Racer

Danica the Racer

What makes racing great is the same things that make any human struggle great. Only with racing we get to watch the competitors fight as a team, overcoming adversities, parts failures, mistakes, miscalculations, ever striving for the perfect race. And we also get to see the drivers,  alone, fighting for every position, every tenth, every inch. They push the edge, going ever further, never giving up, taking all they dare and them some. And when the race is well and truly over, when one team, one driver, is declared the winner, we have seen an amazing feat of engineering, teamwork, and individual achievement. No one truly cares if that person is a man or a woman. All a fan really cares about is that they are watching people with the same passion and love for the sport that they have; skilled professionals, doing what they do best, never giving up, until the race is done. What these professionals do or do not have between their legs is irrelevant. I only hope NASCAR and FOX figure this out soon. Preferably before the “crotch cam”.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to send them along below and follow OakmanOnRacing.

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Posted in: Editorial