Indy faster than NASCAR in making women stars
Two of the highest profile races of the year take place Sunday. Each Memorial Day weekend, fans flock to the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600. In Indianapolis, the field will include a record number of women drivers. There won't be any female drivers in the NASCAR race. When Sarah Fisher set out to qualify for this year's Indianapolis 500, she helped make history. Fisher would become the fourth woman to earn a spot in this year's Indy 500. The others are Danica Patrick, Simona De Silvestro and Ana Beatriz. That's more women than ever before in an Indy 500 field. Terry Angstadt is with the Indy Racing League. "We think it's a fantastic development in our business," he says. "We established diversity as one of our brand attributes three years ago." NASCAR also has a diversity program. But last night there was not one woman among the 47 drivers who tried to qualify for the Coca Cola 600. So why the difference? Ray Evernham says the Indy Racing League has been considered more girl-friendly. Evernham is best known as a former NASCAR team owner and championship winning crew chief for Jeff Gordon. "We were kind of looked at as that Southern good ol' boy sport," he says. "You know, you get yourself just a T-shirt and you get grease on your hands and all that stuff. And it's not that way anymore. And I think a lot of girls see that." Evernham once hired an up and coming female named Erin Crocker, now his wife, to drive in NASCAR. She'd had success driving winged sprint cars on dirt tracks. But once in NASCAR, she struggled. Crocker soon found herself out of NASCAR. And her prospects of getting back in, don't look good. "I tried for awhile to get another opportunity in the truck series or ARCA," Crocker says. "But it's just really hard for any driver, there's not many opportunities out there. The economy's not great. I haven't necessarily totally given up on it, but I'm not trying to fight for it like I was." Evernham says the competitiveness of NASCAR has made it very difficult for any young driver - male or female - to break through. He doesn't think it's that way in Indy Racing. "It's great there are four girls running Indy. It'll attract more women, letting them know there's chances to make it. But taking that route right now, I think your chances are better." Sarah Fisher has driven both stock and Indy cars. She says it takes time for any driver to reach a top level series. And the women who've put in that time, right now just happen to be in Indy Racing. "I think the girls who targeted racing 10 years ago, wanted to compete in the Indianapolis 500," she says. "Now there's more girls who are in midget racing and sprint car racing who want to go race the stock car, NASCAR world." Another reason for the discrepancy is that Indy cars appear easier to transition into than stock cars. Compared to Indy cars, stock cars are bigger, heavier, clumsier and slower. And few who didn't grow up racing stock cars, have been successful once inside one. But, Fisher says, that doesn't mean those in NASCAR are more talented. "No," she laughs. "I think they both have their own level of technique. They're both own strategies. One is completely different than the other. Taking that into mind, I don't think one's harder than the other." Danica Patrick is trying to make the transition into NASCAR. She's racing a limited schedule in the second-tier Nationwide Series. This weekend she's at Indy. And expect more women in the IRL's future. They're a regular presence in that league's feeder series. That's not necessarily the case in stock car racing. Evernham recently sold his race team and now owns a local dirt track in Lincoln County where NASCAR hopefuls show up each weekend. "On an average, we get about 75 to 80 cars that come in to run our 5 classes over there," he says. "But out of those, only two of them are girls." While NASCAR has that diversity program, a spokesman admits it's not yet as far along as the sport would like. And as this weekend's races will show, it's at least one area where NASCAR has some catching up to do to.