Patrick, female pioneers search for equal ground in auto racing
On the day
Patrick became the first woman to win an open-wheel race when she passed
"It's a first, and firsts are in history books," Patrick said of her Twin Ring Montegi triumph. "I've definitely thought about that before, and I've always hoped and wanted to be that person. It's probably one of the only things I ever really thought of myself as a girl. But I did think it would be nice to be the first female to win in history."
Patrick will try to make history again in Sunday's Indianapolis 500, but she and her fellow women drivers know it will still take some time -- and several more wins -- for women to be more than a blip on the radar screen in a male-dominated sport. Even last month's historic wins by Patrick in IndyCars and
Fisher will start 22nd at this year's Indy, tying
Fisher knows what it's like to work her way up through the ranks, and she said her initial IndyCar splash in 1999 could show its effects in the next several years. "When I started, a lot of young girls looked up to what I was doing and because of that they started racing go-karts," Fisher said. "More girls are going to be able to see it's possible to be done.
Force grew up around racing. Her father,
"So we sent her to
Bumbera also followed in her father's footsteps, racing go-karts at the age of 8. She used her father's experiences as a Late Model driver to learn the business side during her teens, which has helped her for the past year and a half that she's been part of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity initiative. She said the success of her female counterparts gives her confidence that she can also reach the top.
"It's a man's world," Bumbera said. "For a woman to come through [like Danica] and win like that is paving the way for everyone else that wants to do that. It shows everyone that it's possible."
Now 20, Bumbera is racing part-time in Camping World West and also racing Late Models regularly at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif. She hopes to run full time in Camping World in the next year or two and eventually reach the Sprint Cup Series.
Aside from her obvious ability to pilot a car, Bumbera is also young, blonde and attractive. The unfortunate truth for women in motor sports is that sex appeal is often as important as their ability to drive. "A pretty young lady today in motor sports is going to have the opportunities," Muldowney said.
Patrick certainly has. She's posed for the
Aside from her strong bloodline, Force is also well-known for her looks. Finding sponsorship is obviously easier for a woman whom men will find attractive.
"Deep down every female driver really wants to be recognized as a driver," Ashley Force said. "Really, the girl-guy thing is exciting for the fans and for the media, but as drivers, when we work and we train with our teams, we want to be recognized just for whether we're doing well or not."
To get to that point, it's going to take more than one or two victories a year. Women are going to have to compete on a weekly basis. They'll have to have the type of equipment Patrick has now with Andretti Green Racing and Force has with John Force Racing.
Patrick is fifth in IndyCar points entering Sunday's 500, trailing Castroneves by 34 points. In the NHRA, Force is second in Funny Car points,
And Muldowney hasn't walked away for good just yet. She says she's raised about $1.2 million toward her goal of running a one-car team in Top Fuel with a female driver. However, Muldowney contends that she's not going back until she raises the approximately $3 million it will take to actually compete week-in and week-out.
"I miss [racing] every day," Muldowney said. "I had my turn at it, and I'm satisfied with that. But I would still like to go out there ... there is plenty of ass I would like to kick."
Women competing not only every week for wins but also moving into ownership roles will only help more women enter the sport. Fisher hopes to have a role in both.
"One or two [victories] here and there aren't going to change the sport as a whole," she says. "To consistently do that and keep providing results ... that's an awful broad shoulder to have because there are so few of us here. It can't just be equal opportunity. Not every girl has the ability to race cars. Not every boy has the ability to race cars. It's a special talent. If the talent is there, hopefully it can be looked at as equal regardless."
John Force hopes that will change soon enough. He says the time is here to end racing's time as a "man's world."
"In the old days, women raised our children, they cooked, but that day's gone," he said. "I think NASCAR's the only one left that doesn't have a woman in the seat, at least in the professional ranks, but why not? Women can raise our children, they can take off to corporate America, they're running our businesses, the stands are packed with them, and we've got a woman running for President. So why not? Why wouldn't you want a woman in a race car?"