A Gendered History of NASCAR

The article cited in the blog can be found here: When in Charlotte, one must visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum. I can’t help but mentally go through a gender and diversity analysis wherever I am, and the Hall of Fame, impressive as it is, has many ways to improve.

There is only one mention of a race car driver that is not a white male. It is Wendell Oliver Scott, the first African American race car driver in NASCAR. Wendell was a race car driver in the 1960s and won the Grand National Series in 1963, NASCAR’s highest level. His story is worth repeating and amplifying. He faced significant systemic barriers due to his race, segregation laws and poverty but he persisted. He built his own race cars and was his own pit crew. He would stay late after races to pick up spare parts that sponsors and other racers would leave behind or throw out to add them to his car to literally find ways to improve it piece by small piece. The world never saw his full potential because he never had the opportunity to race a car relative in quality to his competitors.

There are almost no mention of any female race car drivers… or any women at all actually. There is one short 2 second glimpse of Danica Patrick in a small corner of a video that is showed in the museum theatre.

In the exhibit explaining pit stops, there is a female engineer in a video who gets to speak twice (the male engineer also speaks twice). All other images, voice-overs and videos are of men.

Aside from that, in the portion of the museum where “Administrators” are recognized- there are only 2 women displayed among the sea of men. Both of the descriptions of these incredibly accomplished women start by stating in bold that they are the “wife of…” or “daughter of…” before listing their accomplishments. Obviously none of the men’s descriptions begin like this.

History is important. Language is important. We have almost completely erased the contributions of women and other diverse populations from a museum dedicated to a popular sport. There have been many female race car drivers in the past and in more recent years – we should recognize their incredible accomplishments despite experiencing significant barriers and discrimination, rather than erase their existence from history.

As a case in point, when you google variations of women or female race car drivers, what you find are extremely gendered articles littered with stereotypes and discriminatory language and others solely about their appearance.

Here are some quotes from one article that are worth reading that effectively depict the barriers these incredible women have experienced in a highly masculine dominated sport…

“You can’t act like a total girly girl out there or else you don’t earn the respect of the guys.”

“To reach this point in their careers, each young woman had to endure backbiting, accusations of cheating and on-track intimidation.”

“I definitely got a lot of bad comments and a lot of hatred for just going out there and doing my thing,” the 19-year-old Zamora said. “That was kind of tough.”

“Decker said the key to survival is to be tougher than her competition. She learned this lesson when she was 12 during her first year racing stock cars.

“I remember passing someone for the lead to win the race and I got a little rough with him, and he yelled at me for it,” Decker recalled. “And I was like, ‘That’s how we race; just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do that.’ ”

“During back-to-back race weeks last season, Deegan was near the front of the lead pack late. Each time, a car that had been lapped wrecked her. “That’s something guys wouldn’t do to each other,” Deegan said. ‘If you do that to a guy out here, he’s not going to be happy about it. They say, like, ‘What’s she going to do about it?’ That’s when I started throwing some elbows up and was, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna take it anymore.’”

NASCAR and the City of Charlotte, you can do better. Don’t erase the accomplishments and contribution of women and others from history – or offensively downplay the ones that you do mention.

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