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Tough for the Girls

Saturday, I watched an Indy Lights race for the first time.  I’m not sure the whole slinging-a-car-around-an-oval thing would be enough to grip my attention on a regular basis, but the primary reason I was watching the Kentucky 100 wasn’t because I felt the need to branch out from Formula 1 in my motorsport viewing.

I suppose it had something to do with the irritation that had been building over time — over every Formula 1 news site with a “Pit Babes” section presented on equal footing with “Championship Standings,” over every Formula 1 photographer offering close-ups of women’s asses among the photos of cars and circuits and drivers.  Irritation over having it made very clear that the role women are expected to play in Formula 1 is almost entirely decorative.

This is the sort of thing women are smacked in the face with on a near-daily basis, of course, and most of the time I simply shake my head and roll my eyes.  “Boys.”  Obviously, I love Formula 1 in spite of all this.  But as I’ve widened my reading a bit, I’ve come to realize that, in my own country, there are several woman racing drivers.  Not just Danica Patrick.  Several! They aren’t the ones standing on the grid holding signs while men photograph their cleavage; they’re the ones wearing racing overalls and sitting in the cars.

I’d seen that British driver Pippa Mann had pole position for Saturday’s Indy Lights Kentucky 100, and I’d also learned that it would be possible to watch it streaming online.  And then I thought, “You know what would be very cool?  Watching a woman win a race.

Pippa Mann: Indy Lights Kentucky 100 Winner

Well, win Pippa Mann did, and it was very cool to watch.  Once the race was restarted after a rather scary three-car accident (all three drivers were okay), Mann started out in front and stayed there.  Martin Plowman challenged her a bit at the beginning, but she brushed him off and then just steadily increased her lead throughout the course of the race.  Two seconds, three seconds, three and a half seconds, four seconds, five seconds, six…

It really was a joy to behold.  And the commentators never once remarked about what a looker she is, and the guys on the podium with her didn’t seem put out to be standing just slightly lower than a woman up there.  Jury’s out on whether the mechanics were able to concentrate on strapping her into the car, per Jenson Button.

Later that evening, I watched a bit of the IndyCar Kentucky 300 and was struck by a few things, including how fast the cars were going on average (~160 mph) and how long the race lasted (~1:45).  Seems a bit comparable to F1 — which leads me to wonder about certain things, which leads me to wonder about other things. For example, by my count, there were four women (did I miss any?) driving in the Kentucky 300; not a single one of them, to my knowledge, had her head ripped clean off her shoulders by the G-forces involved, as Tonio Liuzzi or Jenson Button might fear.  Despite only five having tried (and mostly failed) in the past sixty years, I’m not sure I understand why a woman shouldn’t be capable of taking a successful stab at Formula 1. I think it’s bound to happen, and maybe not that far down the road.

I honestly look forward to that day, whether the woman be Danica Patrick or Pippa Mann or someone else entirely.  Sure, it’s bound to be tough for her.  No argument here.  Formula 1 is tough for everybody, even the boys.

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