By admin | May 20, 2008
By Richard Allen
Do you know who is on the pole for the Indianapolis 500? Odds are, since you have visited this website you are a racing fan so you are probably aware that Scott Dixon completed his four lap time trial faster than anyone else and grabbed the pole for the prestigious race.
There are no doubt many sports fans, who are only casual racing fans, who would be unable to name this year’s pole winner.
Do you know who qualified 5th for the Indianapolis 500? Whether you are a casual fan or avid enthusiast there is a good chance you have heard Danica Patrick will be starting from the middle of row 2 this Sunday.
For the past several years IndyCar racing has suffered from a void of personalities. There are no more A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti or even Michael Andretti type characters driving in the sport. Still, IndyCar racing has the premier auto racing event in the world. So, during the month of May when those networks built around other sports suddenly become interested in open wheel racing they seek out personalities.
Danica Patrick has stepped in to become the face of IndyCar. Although there are numerous drivers with more impressive resumes, she commands the greatest amount of media coverage. The fact that she recently won an event in Japan has only added to Danicamania.
Recent rumors have placed Danica in talks with NASCAR teams, most notably Roush Fenway Racing, about the possibility of a move to stock cars.
What could Danica do for NASCAR? Would she have the same media driven impact in Daytona as in Indianapolis?
Unlike IndyCar, NASCAR is filled with big personalities. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson are known to even the most casual of fans. They are seen on television screens throughout America on a daily basis endorsing a myriad of products and services.
Obviously, the novelty of being the only female driver in NASCAR, especially one driving for a competitive team like RFR, would result in publicity and more importantly, sponsorship.
Would the fact that she is female bring in more women as fans? NASCAR already has many female fans. Perhaps a better question would be, would women cheer for her because she is a woman? Possibly, but many ladies who follow the sport are long time fans of a particular driver who they probably would not part with.
At some point, novelty wears off, sometimes quickly, as former Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve discovered. Success, or at least perceived success, has to come about when there are already plenty of personalities.
Other open wheel drivers who have attempted to make the move to stock cars have had varying degrees of success, or failure, but it would be reasonable to say that none have established themselves as championship caliber. Juan Pablo Montoya has been the most successful, taking a win last year on the road course in Sonoma, California. But even he has had difficulty adapting to the oval tracks.
Other drivers who have more impressive resumes than Danica have struggled in NASCAR. Sam Hornish, who did run well in last week’s All Star Race, has barely managed to stay inside the Top 35 of the point standings. Patrick Carpentier has missed three races and has done little to get excited about in those he has made. Jacques Villeneuve hardly had a chance to show what he could do, losing his ride due to lack of sponsorship after the Daytona qualifying race.
So, what would Danica do for NASCAR? She would bring an enormous amount of short term publicity, without question. She would bring a multitude of marketing possibilities. However, any long lasting impact she might have would be determined by her success or failure on the track. And considering the difficulty some with much stronger resumes than hers are having it is highly questionable that she would deliver wins or championships.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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