Friday, April 21, 2017

Danica Patrick: The Name Everyone Knows

The fourth woman to race in the Indy 500 has been just as influential as the previous three. Probably more so, in some ways, along with being the most controversial. But let's start with the basics.

Danica Patrick started the Indianapolis 500 seven times and holds the record for the highest starting position by a woman (fourth) and the highest finish (third). She was also the first woman to lead laps in the iconic race, which she did in front of a crowd roaring its approval in 2005. Beyond Indy, where she always seemed to do well, to date she's also the only woman ever to win an IndyCar race.

After racing in IndyCar from 2005-2011, Danica moved to NASCAR in 2012, where she's still competing. Along the way, she capitalized on her growing popularity and started building a brand. She's been featured in a lot of high-profile advertisements for her sponsors (such as Go Daddy), she's posted in minimal clothing for Maxim, and she's dressed to the nines to attend a variety of awards shows.

Today, she's got an enormous social media following, and she's continuing to build her empire, including a wine label, a line of exercise wear, and a workout plan and cookbook coming next year. While her on-track results in NASCAR have been short of spectacular—barring her pole position at her first Daytona 500, which was amazing, given it was her first race in the series—she's gotten lots and lots of coverage as (often) the only woman in the field.

And that's where a lot of the controversy comes in.

"Do I use being a girl to my advantage? I use everything I can to my advantage," she says. "Maybe back in the day you didn't need to be the greatest looking [athlete] to be on TV and you didn't need to speak the best, but in this day and age, I think you need to be the package... Do I get more attention than a lot of people who at times do better than me?" That would be yes, Danica suggests. "But it doesn't come without its costs, that's for sure. It doesn't come without its criticisms."
(espnW.com)

Danica takes a lot of criticism about posing in a bikini, about not performing on the track, about getting "too much" media attention, and more. But I think that underneath it all is a shrewd strategy to make as much hay as possible while the (media) sun shines. As she said above (it's a great article from 2012), she'll use everything she can to her advantage. That may make her less of a "pure racer" than some of the women I'm profiling in this series. But I'm not going to fault her for it, that's for sure.

(Photo from danicapatrick.com)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Kiss The Bricks Release Countdown: Week 3 Giveaway!

I'm so excited about the release of my 5th book, Kiss The Bricks, that I'm doing 5 weeks of 5 giveaways each week! Lucky you!

This Week's Prizes
This week is for Corvette fans! I've got all things Corvette, so enter and spread the word!
  • Grand prize: a photomosaic puzzle of Corvettes, a t-shirt from the Daytona 500 in 2013, a windbreaker from the National Corvette Museum, a travel mug from Zip Corvettes, a Hot Wheels Stingray, a Corvette Racing hat, and an advance copy of Avoidable Contact.
  • Runner-up prizes: assorted caps and a commemorative tile and key chain from race at the great Road America track.
How to win?
By 12 midnight on Wednesday, April 19, do one of the following:
  • Comment on this post.
  • Comment or share my Facebook or Twitter posts.
I'll announce and contact the winners by the end of each week. And if you don't win this week, there are two more weeks of prizes ahead, so stay tuned!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sarah Fisher: The Most Starts at Indy

As the second woman to race at Indy, Lyn St. James, made her final start in the Indy 500 in 2000, Sarah Fisher made her debut. At just 19, Fisher was the youngest woman to compete in the 500, and she still holds the record for the number of total Indy 500 starts (9).

She holds other records beyond the Indy 500: the first woman win a pole position for a major open-wheel race (Kentucky Speedway, 2002), the track speed record holder there (221.390 mph), and the first woman to stand on the podium in the series (3rd, Kentucky Speedway, 2000). She also holds the record for the fastest woman at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (229.439 mph).

For all that she came along third to the Indy 500, Fisher was every bit as pioneering as Janet Guthrie and Lyn St. James before her. Where she differs is in coming to racing as a career, not a hobby—while both Guthrie and St. James turned racing into a career, they stepped into the racecar later in life.

Fisher started racing at five years old, winning her first (of many) karting championship at 11. She was the first woman to run a full season in IndyCar and holds the record for the most starts of any female in IndyCar Series history. But the bottom line on Fisher seems to be that she grew up a racer, wrenching on cars in her father's garage, and being female was almost incidental. As has every female IndyCar competitor, she's gotten lots of attention and questions about being a female in the business. With every reply, you can almost imagine a shrug, as if to say, "what's the big deal?"

"I love this sport; it's a family sport, in my opinion," Fisher said. "It's been my whole life, so why would I not bring my family into it? If they want to be involved in it, that's tremendous and it would be a compliment. But at the same time, I don't want them to do it because I did. Because it's a very dedicated thing you do, and you have to put your whole heart into it to be successful with it."
(espnW.com)

She started transitioning to her next role before she'd hung up her helmet, launching Sarah Fisher Racing in 2008, becoming the first (and youngest) female owner/driver in IndyCar Series history and the second female owner/driver in the Indy 500 after Janet Guthrie. In 2011, she became the first female team owner to win a race in the IndyCar Series.

Unfortunately, she shuttered her team in 2016 and turned her attention to a new venture with her husband (former tire changer and later crew chief Andy O'Gara, who she once ran over during a pit stop): Speedway Indoor Karting, a brand new facility near IMS. But no one has ruled out a return to racing. Given her popularity with IndyCar fans—she was voted most popular driver three times—a lot of us are crossing our fingers.

(photo from Sarah Fisher's Facebook page)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Kiss The Bricks Release Countdown: Week 2 Giveaway!

I'm so excited about the release of my 5th book, Kiss The Bricks, that I'm doing 5 weeks of 5 giveaways each week! Lucky you!

This Week's Prizes
This week is for writers and readers. For thinkers who like the feel of pen on paper and want to make sure they capture their thoughts.

  • Grand prize: two notebooks (one large and one more portable) for recording your thoughts, a print copy (slightly used) of my 2nd mystery (Braking Points), an advance copy of my 3rd mystery (Avoidable Contact), a book to record who you've loaned your books to, and a bag from Left Coast Crime 2016 (the Great Cactus Caper).
  • Runner-up prizes: assorted caps and a commemorative tile from the Monterey Sports Car Championships in 2006 (ALMS race at Laguna Seca).
How to win? 
By 12 midnight on Wednesday, April 12, do one of the following:
I'll announce and contact the winners by the end of each week. And if you don't win this week, there are three more weeks of prizes ahead, so stay tuned!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Lyn St. James: A Driven #2

After Janet Guthrie's pioneering stretch of Indy 500 appearances (1977-1979), it took another 13 years for a woman to take the green flag. (Note: Guthrie did not qualify in 1976 and 1980.) THIRTEEN YEARS, people!

But in 1992, not only did Lyn St. James show up qualify, she also finished the race in eleventh and earned Rookie of the Year honors—the first woman to do so (only two women since have matched her). After that success, she went on to compete in the 500 a total of seven times (including in 2000 at the age of 53) and make 16 CART/IRL starts.

In addition, before her Indy Car years, she had a short career in sportscars, being sponsored by Ford, during which she raced at the 12 Hours of Sebring (eight times) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (twice). And she was the first woman to win a professional road race driving solo. And the first woman to exceed 200 mph on an oval track. And more.

But no one could have imagined all of that success after witnessing St. James' first race, when she lost control of her Ford Pinto racecar and drove it into a lake.

Nor could she or team owner Dick Simon have predicted her results at that first Indy 500. After all, it was her first oval-track race and only her second open-wheel race.

Except maybe St. James herself.

When asked about her legacy in racing, she responded, "I guess I would hope that people think of it all as, 'She did it for the right reason. She did it because she loved the sport. She wasn’t trying to prove a point or change the world, or whatever. But in fact, she cared enough to try to make the world better for women in racing.'"
(Petrolicious interview)

And she has made the world better for women in racing. In fact, I'd say it's her work since she hung up her racing suit (full time, at least) that has produced the biggest impact on the racing world. As early as 1993, she launched a non-profit aimed at helping develop female drivers, which has helped train and coach hundreds of young women over the years.

In addition, she created the Complete Driver Academy (formerly the Lyn St. James Driver Development Program), which was the most comprehensive educational and training program of its kind for talented and gifted female drivers. More than 275 women (and 30 men)—including familiar names such as Danica Patrick, Erica Enders, Erin Crocker-Evernham, Melanie Troxel and Sarah Fisher—participated in the invitation-only Academy.

These days, St. James is still active as a speaker, an ambassador, a board member, and, undoubtedly, a variety of other occupations. She's also a frequent VIP guest at IndyCar races. In fact, come May, you're pretty much guaranteed to see her—as I did last year—strolling through Gasoline Alley with a smile on her face.

(Photo from  LynStJames.com.)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Kiss The Bricks Release Countdown: Week 1 Giveaway!

I'm so excited about the release of my 5th book, Kiss The Bricks, that I'm doing 5 weeks of 5 giveaways each week! Lucky you!

This Week's Prizes
In honor of the Grand Prix of Long Beach (happening next weekend, also the site of my 4th book, Red Flags), this week features a Long Beach and racing theme.

  • Grand prize: Long Beach day pack, Long Beach cap, personal cooler, IndyCar Nation seat pad (for those hard stands), a rain poncho (just in case), sunscreen and other track essentials, and an advance copy of my 3rd book, Avoidable Contact, to read between on-track sessions.
  • Runner-up prizes: assorted caps and a commemorative tile from the Generac 500 in 2006 (ALMS race at Road America).
How to win? 
By 12 midnight on Wednesday, April 5, do one of the following:
I'll announce and contact the winners by the end of each week. And if you don't win this week, there are four more weeks of prizes ahead, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Janet Guthrie: The First Woman at Indy

Unlike many female racers today, Janet Guthrie didn't start out a racecar driver. She started out a physicist, with a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan, and a pilot, logging hours in the air as early as 13 and making a parachute jump at 16. She applied for NASA's scientist-astronaut program in 1964 and made it through the first round of eliminations.

But when she needed a car, she didn't purchase just any four-wheeled contraption. She bought a 1953 Jaguar XK120 M coupĂ© (for those of you who don't know, it's NICE) and she started competing in local hill climbs, rallies, and gymkhanas with it. Her skill and interest in racing increased, and by 1972, she was racing full time.

She explained, "I think it's just in some people's nature to want to find out what it's like out there at the edge of human capabilities, and fortunately I was born in the machine age when broad shoulders and big muscles didn't make that much difference – didn't make any difference, in fact"
(IOP interview).

In the mid-1970s, a long-time team owner and car builder, Rolla Vollstedt, offered her the chance to race his cars. With his support, between 1976 and 1977, Guthrie became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Cup series race, the first woman to compete in the Daytona 500—as well as the race's top rookie—and the first woman to qualify for and compete in the Indy 500.

She faced plenty of resistance. Race fans told her they hoped she'd crash. Drivers suggested the reason she didn't qualify for Indy in 1976 was due to her gender (and kudos to AJ Foyt for being angry enough at those comments to offer Guthrie a test in his own backup car). The legendary Richard Petty was quoted as saying, "She's no lady. If she was, she'd be at home. There's a lot of differences in being a lady and being a woman."

As Guthrie explains, "The only way to deal with that stuff was on the race track; there was no other way to deal with it. As long as I had a car to drive, I figured I could handle whatever came with the territory" (NASCAR.com).

Janet Guthrie proved herself on the track, racking up two class wins at the 12 Hours of Sebring, finishing sixth at Bristol (NASCAR), and ninth in the Indy 500. (Given how well she did with very few starts and limited funding, it's only a shame she didn't have more, and better-funded, cars to drive.) What she accomplished paved the way for more women to follow.

(Photo from JanetGuthrie.com.)