Equal Opportunity Addiction

You may have noticed my name on the masthead of this magazine starting last month. My boss, Editor Richard Kratz, and his boss,
CEO Jeff Burk, have given me some room here each month to
speak out. I’m not sure they’ll always like what I have to say,
but I hope you do.

The name of this column comes from the name I’m known as at race tracks and car shows here in the southwest. Sometimes I almost think my full name is Alex “the Car Girl” Rogeo. And that I am, I am a hopeless, head over heels in love with automobiles, car girl. I love driving cars, racing cars, working on cars, learning about cars, looking at cars, listening to cars, well, you get the idea.

Most of all, I love racing cars, specifically drag racing, although I am looking forward to more experience on road courses and drifting. My bias is toward performance and motorsports, but I’ll speak out on any topic that grabs my passion each month.

Just recently I had the pleasure of speaking to Funny Car and Pro Mod Driver Melanie Troxel. The interview took place at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, just before the NHRA Big O Tires race on Sunday. She came out of the trailer dressed in her sponsor’s T shirt, and was happy to talk to me about a topic that is close to both of our hearts. One of the things I brought up was the fact that, in America, half of the drivers on the street are female, but on the race track - no matter which motor sport - the percentage is, at best, about ten percent at the tracks I race at. So we had a philosophical discussion on why that is. Melanie prefaced her answer by saying that, of all the motor sports, drag racing has come the farthest in involving women in the sport, so we are ahead of the game in one sense. But on the other hand, the vast majority of drag racers are still men.
           
When women do participate, we seem to get disproportionally high attention compared to men. On one hand, this is good for woman currently in the sport, as standing out and getting attention is good for our sponsors. On the other hand, it means that women in drag racing are still considered unusual enough to warrant extra attention. But is this because there are so few of us participating? Or is it because, even if the number of women and men were equal, there’s something inherently more compelling and interesting about women in racing? Regardless of the answer, wouldn’t it be much better for the sport if there were more people participating? There’s huge growth potential for the sport, and I think organizations like the NHRA would be even more successful if there were more women in the line up for each race.

I know that some racing series definitely use the fact that they have women racing as an opportunity for more promotion and attention. It only makes sense that we include the whole of the US population into this wonderful sport. But if it is so sensible, why hasn’t it been achieved?

There is an incredible intimidation factor when racing for the first time. No matter what gender you are, the first time down the track is no doubt exhilarating, but it’s also very daunting. The fear of looking foolish or damaging your car is very real for all first timers.

However, for women, the pressure is even greater because whether they intend it or not, some men give off the vibe that women don’t really belong in racing. And some men are just itching for a woman to ‘fail’ to prove that they are wrong for racing. So female novices feel added pressure to live up to the performance standard of experienced male racers.

One of the reasons it was so hard for me to accept a loss in the beginning of the season was because I hated to look like I was not doing well because of being a woman. I felt like I needed to be as good as the racers who had been doing this for 20 years, and when I didn’t perform well, it was extra discouraging.

I was lucky enough to race for the first time with a great friend of mine, and he has now become an excellent crew chief and team manager. I made a complete fool of myself, rolled through the lights, had to back up and stage again, and had a horrible reaction time. But he didn’t ban me from the car, he let me try again. And pretty soon, the bug bit and I was hooked. I needed to race again, and soon after that, I was doing it in sportsman competition. If more women had a greater knowledge of how drag racing works, how to stage the car, and what to do at the top end of the track, perhaps there would be more women willing to get in the lanes on a Friday night test and tune. And more women willing to pay to watch other women race.

So enough complaining, what can we do to encourage more women to run down the track? I sincerely believe that drag racing is addictive and I want more women addicted to the sport. So I propose (or challenge I guess) tracks and promoters all around the country to hold “Ladies Night” test and tunes. Promote women coming together and sharing in the wonderful sport of drag racing. Arrange for experienced female drivers to hold mini clinics during the T&T to explain the basics of reaction time and elapsed time, teach new women exactly how to do a burn out, stage the car, how the Christmas tree works, and race down the track. Encourage women to come with their friends, let them know that their daily driver, as long as it passes tech and is safe, will be allowed to race. And instead of putting fliers in auto parts stores and speed shops only, let’s put them in “mainstream” places: grocery stores, gas stations, coffee shops — places men and women frequent equally.

So my fellow drag racing ladies, gentlemen, track owners, promoters, speed shops, suppliers, everyone, tell your friends about this idea, advocate for it. Volunteer to help spread the word, spread fliers around, conduct clinics and help out on Ladies Night. If we commit to this, every time there’s a Ladies Night, new women will get bitten by the bug. And they’ll tell their friends and bring more to the track. And before we know it, the contagion of drag racing will spread and grow.

Let’s turn this sport into something men and women get equally excited about. More women in the sport, more women in the stands, more women watching on TV is great for the sport, for the tracks, for sponsors, and for the fans and drivers. Let’s help make drag racing an equal opportunity addiction.