Several decades back, ridicule of women drivers was a stand-up-comedy staple.
But Danica Patrick’s performance during Sunday’s qualifying for the Daytona 500 was no laughing matter.
She won the coveted pole position (the No. 1 starting spot on the inside of the front row) with a qualifying lap of 196.434 miles per hour to become the first woman to earn such an honor in a Sprint Cup race.
Gee, that’s even faster than most drivers — both women and men — go on I-26.
So Ms. Patrick will be in an even brighter spotlight than usual Sunday when NASCAR cranks up its season with its most momentous event.
She has previously captured considerable notice as not just a female in a male-dominated sport but a quite attractive one.
On Sunday, though, she earned the attention by going faster than anybody else. She also correctly gave ample credit to her racing team, explaining:
“This is very much a moment to talk about being proud of the guys who prepare the car. For us drivers, it’s very important for us to hit our shifts and be smooth. But there is a certain amount of speed that the car has as potential, and that’s what you’re getting to. Thanks to the Go Daddy crew, Hendrick for the power, and Chevy for the car — those are the elements that are really important. The driver plays a part, but a small part.”
However, Ms. Patrick achieved a big breakthrough in 2008 when she became the first woman to win an IndyCar Series race with a victory in the 2008 Indy Japan 300 in Motegi.
Since then, the hype surrounding Ms. Patrick has outpaced her results on the track. She hasn’t placed in the top 10 in any of her 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, and has managed only seven top 10s in her 58 Nationwide Series events.
Now, though, she has put her name on a stellar list of past Daytona pole winners, including Florence native Buddy Baker, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Spartanburg native David Pearson, Kyle Petty, Richard Petty, “Fireball” Roberts and Timmonsville native Cale Yarborough.
OK, so nobody has won the Daytona 500 from the pole since Dale Jarrett in 2000.
Still, when the announcer says, “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines” on Sunday at the Daytona International Speedway, the lady will be in the best starting position.
As for any residual myths about alleged feminine driving inferiority, keep in mind that American auto-insurance rates are generally lower for women than for men.
And that’s because accident, drunk-driving and speeding-ticket rates are lower for women, too.