The last Daytona 500 should be NASCAR’s wakeup call. For years, NASCAR has been one of the most gender exclusive sports out. But two weeks ago, it featured a fresh face in the traditional lineup of drivers that the entire sport can learn from — Danica Patrick.
Typically, NASCAR has always been a sport devoid of any women; the only women you even see on the track are the stereotypical glamorous, blonde “driver’s wifes,” in the stands hoping and praying for her hubby’s million dollar win.
Patrick is far from typical. Once thought of by many as a novelty item who was nothing more than a pretty face for the racing world, Patrick took the pole position on NASCAR’s biggest stage.
This is indeed a new precedent in the world of stock car racing. In the world of sports, particularly NASCAR, women have never been on the same level as men — perhaps Patrick’s performance in the race illustrates the potential women have to succeed in sports, breaking through the glass ceiling.
What does this mean for the sport? It means the beginning of a new era for NASCAR.
Now that Patrick has proven women can race, I believe we will begin to see more women among the ranks of excellent drivers.
Partly what makes this a big deal is that her success in the race — even though she finished in 8th place — is a “take that” to men who have dominated racing since its beginnings.
This also sheds light on the conservative nature of its fan base. NASCAR has always sported fans that usually wouldn’t take kindly to big changes like this one, which I find to be one of is pitfalls.
From the outside, it seems to be an insular group, and I think Patrick’s presence in the race really shook them up. Things have definitely changed for NASCAR, and show no signs of stopping, whether they like it or not.
Its meager beginnings in North Carolina as a circuit, where working-class men would race their everyday cars, has now grown into a multimillion dollar franchise, but it’s diversity is lackluster.
In an attempt to appear diverse, NASCAR has created an initiative to promote diversity in the sport, “Drive for Diversity.”
I don’t think it has truly come to fruition until the last race, where the organization was force-fed something new, perhaps leaving a bitter taste in its mouth.
What NASCAR has needed for the past several years, has been a makeover — a complete changeup, something beyond “diversity initiatives”, and to recruit female drivers, along with ethnically diverse drivers.
This will be difficult for NASCAR, because it may pose too big of a change over a short time period.
What will make or break NASCAR is whether it will broaden its horizons, and make a legitimate push for diversity of not only race, but also gender like the rest of society.
If it don’t take away anything else from this last race, maybe the viewer ratings — which were the highest in five years for the Daytona 500, according to Sports Media Watch — will surely send it a wake up call.