The slow but steady growth of women racers appears at a glance to be growing. NASCAR has their first full-time female Cup driver, IndyCar has fielded several women over the last few years and the cornerstone of women in motorsports, drag racing, has had women winning events for half a century. However, when you look more closely, women may be losing their foothold in racing. Could there be a possible purge?
Only Five Full-timers
NASCAR’s Danica Patrick is a marketing phenom from IndyCar that few racers of any persuasion can match. Patrick is currently a rookie running full-time in Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s top series. Although Danica has had very limited successes in racing, she still is one of the most popular drivers in the world. However, when you look around NASCAR, they don’t have a full-time driver in any one of their three national touring series’ – except for Patrick.
Johanna Long is driving in the Nationwide series but because she’s with a small team, they just can’t make every race. While Long is a young and accomplished driver, she has not been able to turn the potential into a full-time marketing opportunity. The 21 year old has yet to win a national event; although, she did win a famous offseason race called the Snowball Derby in 2010, defeating the likes of Landon Cassill, Mike Garvey, David Stremme and David Ragan – all drivers who have plied their wares in NASCAR Sprint Cup series. How big is this race? It was won by Kyle Busch of NASCAR fame the year before Long did.
Veteran driver Jennifer Jo Cobb is a current part-timer in NASCAR Trucks – but partially because of ongoing legal battles with a former partner plus another driver, she has been unable to make every event this year. NASCAR has had a Drive for Diversity program to help minorities including women but has yet to produce a full-time female driver.
After Patrick left …
In IndyCar, women have made some inroads including Patrick before she moved over to NASCAR. Janet Guthrie and then Lyn St. James established themselves as legitimate competitors back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, but it wasn’t until this past decade with the likes of Sarah Fisher and then Patrick that women were capable of winning. Patrick has the only victory to date.
Recently, Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz, Katherine Legge and Pippa Mann have driven in the IndyCar series but only de Silvestro is a full-time driver. De Silvestro looks skilled enough to compete for a win but to date, none of these women have had a visit to the podium in their careers.
On the business front, Legge acquired what appeared to be a solid multi-year sponsorship last season with TrueCar (source: Yahoo! Sports). However, before this season began, her Dragon Racing team brought in youngster Sebastian Saavedra and the marketing partner switched their allegiance, with Legge being knocked out of the ride (source: Fansided).
Even issues in drag racing
In drag racing where women have sometimes numbered a dozen or more in the professional ranks at one time, they’ve had a down-turn of sorts. Yes, the Force girls, Courtney and Brittany are running full-time for their father John, but other than heiress Alexis DeJoria who joined as a full-timer last year, that’s it … there are no other female drag racers that have made every event so far in 2013. Leah Pruett has missed one race this year and likely will miss more in Top Fuel. Angie Smith is running most of the events in Pro Stock Motorcycle but for a class that one time had four full-time women riders, it’s a step back.
The biggest setback for women drag racers has to be in Pro Stock and Erica Enders-Stevens. A veteran driver on and off for several years, Erica broke through with a history making win last season, becoming the first female to ever win in the class. She followed up with three more victories and was in the thick of the championship battle all year. This season, she won the second event in Arizona and has been staying in the top five in points and in fact is fifth currently. Yet, she had to miss the inaugural race in New England a couple weeks ago because of sponsorship woes. No, it doesn’t help that the Recession is still rearing its ugly head but Enders-Stevens is a bright light in the industry. And now she has more financial issues and won’t be able to make the next race in Norwalk, Ohio, which is this coming weekend.
As a marketer, I have long considered women in racing as an unfound marketing treasure with boundless sales opportunities for business. When corporations and motorsports organizations finally figure it out, there is likely a goldmine of marketing dollars to be had if done right. Racing fans are the most brand loyal in the business world and with the right combination, great financial ROI can be earned with a segment that’s not being taken advantage of at this point.
The series of events that has left motorsports with a handful of full-time female drivers in motorsports may be unintended. Regardless, with tens of millions of women fans following motorsports, it is racing’s – and businesses – loss if they don’t have more than a tiny representation of women racers.
Additional sources: Racing Reference
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Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus for several years has written and blogged about every type of racing. He was one of the Top 100 writers in the world on Yahoo! for 2012!