Sunday, May 29, 2005

Death to the Obvious Narrative

One of my lesser known minor passions is motor racing. I'm no gearhead, nor do I aspire to tour the ovals of America in a stars and bars wrapped RV, but a series of visits to pit lane at our local short track when the radio company I worked for ran its own (champion) racing team was enough to stir an interest. Its a sport, people go fast, its loud, and there is beer for the fans. Count me in. So it was no real surprise to me when I found myself glancing now and then this afternoon at the TV to check on the status of the Indianapolis 500. Its open wheel (yawn), but its a tradition.

The big story this year was the prospect of rookie Danica Patrick winning the race. The story didn't originate from the fact that rookies are rarely so keenly favored, but because she is a woman. I'm not naive enough to be shocked or offended at the patronizing, gape-mouthed "she's got boobies and a HANS device" reporting, but as the race progressed today it became depressingly apparent that her chromosonal arrangement was much more important in the eyes of the commentators than her astonishing ability behind the wheel. Motor racing ain't sumo; physical strength is less of a deciding factor than mental stamina. Patrick drove very well, out of her skin in effect given a pair of rookie errors (stalling in the pits and clipping another car at a restart that tore up her nose cone) and finished fourth after expertly coaxing a car rapidly losing fuel equilibrium across the yard of bricks.

Mention she is "the first woman to..." once or twice, sure. But the tone of patronizing astonishment that accompanied her impressive drive was offensive to everyone, regardless of gender. If you are disinclined to agree with me, take a second to find a soundclip or transcript of the commentary and insert "African American" or "Jewish" for the constant repetition of the word "woman" and see how degrading and infantile ABC's coverage was.


Jim said...

Really nice piece on Patrick. I'm really not well-versed at all in racing of any sort, although I recall watching a good deal of stock car (now NASCAR) racing as a kid, on television. My dad took me to our venerable local track, Oxford Plains Speedway, several times when I was a pre-teen.

While I went on to embrace baseball as my sport of passion, I can certainly understand why others love racing. I get miffed when "elites" (some might call them snobs) love to rundown and caricature race car fans as "trailer trash", as well as using other less flattering terms of endearment

I have read several articles on Ms. Patrick, and I too have grown weary about the paternalistic (and condescending) ignorance shown to an obviously talented race car driver, who just happens to be a woman.

weasel said...

Thanks Jim. The most asinine comment of the race event came from Robby Gordon, a NASCAR driver who claimed that Patrick's slight frame gave her an advantage over male drivers:
""The lighter the car, the faster it goes," Gordon said. "Do the math. Put her in the car at her weight, then put me or Tony Stewart in the car at 200 pounds and our car is at least 100 pounds heavier. I won't race against her until the IRL does something to take that advantage away."

I'm surprised he failed to add that as it is a fact that all women's weight gathers on their hips, she'll also have a lower center of gravity making cornering easier.

Robby Gordon is so stupid he unwittingly showed IRL teams a way to make male drivers obsolete.