By admin | February 17, 2010
By Richard Allen
Had it not been for a pothole, Danica Patrick would have been THE story of SpeedWeeks at the Daytona International Speedway. The female racer who has come to NASCAR from the open wheel ranks completely dominated media coverage throughout most of the time leading up to the Daytona 500.
As well known for her commercial making prowess as her driving, Patrick has become the face of overexposure for average talent. It’s not that she is a bad driver, but she isn’t equal to the hype. But then, no one would be.
This week’s media frenzy surrounding her arrival bordered on the obscene. One media member even went so far as to present Danica with a rose at a press conference. Every move she made was covered by television, radio and print media to the nth degree by swarms of reporters.
And this groveling was not limited to the media. During practice sessions large crowds of people would stand aimlessly at the back of her garage stall just to watch her come and go.
Had this been the first time a woman had ever run in a stock car race all of this overexposure might well have been understandable. However, anyone with a sense of racing history knows that Danica is not crossing bridges already crossed by Janet Guthrie and several other female drivers. For that matter, there were a total of six women racing in the ARCA race at Daytona and two ladies in the Nationwide Series event. And as for winning, women drivers have been doing that at the highest levels of drag racing for decades.
Admittedly, Danica’s presence did indeed drive higher ratings in the ARCA event. There were an estimated 87% more viewers watching that race over a year ago. And, her performance was respectable. She overcame a spin to finish in the top-10 of her first ever stock car race.
Her performance in the Nationwide Series race was far less noteworthy. After riding near the back of the pack and having difficulty with the style of racing needed on the high speed Daytona track, she was eventually caught up in an accident which ended her day.
The coverage had been so over the top in favor of her that one reporter from another network was prompted to comment via twitter that, “ESPN may turn off their cameras now that Danica is out of the race.” Trouble with that statement was it had been made by a pit reporter on SpeedTV, which had been even more over the top than ESPN.
The real problem here is that other drivers, teams and sponsors are being cheated out of publicity for the sake of covering a novelty. The term novelty refers more to her commercial appearances than the fact that she is a female driver. She has become one of those people is simply famous for being famous. If she were running at the front of the pack it would be one thing for her to get so much coverage, but she was not. She did not lead a single lap of either race she competed in.
Even if she were indeed running at the front of the pack she would not deserve the hype that was given to her, no one would.
The question is, how long does this continue? Danica has twelve more races to run in the Nationwide Series this year. If she continues to run outside the top-10 in that series does she still command so much attention?
Keep in mind, this is not an anti-Danica column. It is an anti-hype column.
My guess is that no matter how well Danica Patrick does, the other drivers might as well not worry about getting any camera time. Who knows, that might actually be a good thing for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The media may actually leave him alone for twelve weekends this season.
(And yes, I laugh at myself for pointing out the excessive hype while yet writing a column to bring more attention to it.)
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly columns appear in The Mountain Press and The Knoxville Journal.
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