Sadly, Richard Petty probably doesn’t get exactly what he did when he commented about Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick to a Canadian automotive website during an appearance in Toronto Sunday.
Petty, an owner with the Sprint Cup team Richard Petty Motorsports, told the website Wheels.ca that the only way Patrick could win a Sprint Cup Series race was: “if everybody else stayed home.”
Petty, a seven-time Sprint Cup Series champion and the division’s all-time winningest driver, went on to say: “If she’d have been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a race track. This is a female deal that’s driving her. There’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport.”
Some would argue Petty probably isn’t that far off on his assessment of Patrick’s abilities. Frankly, she’s hardly even shown flashes that she has the goods to compete for victories in NASCAR since coming over to stock cars from the world of IndyCar racing. And even during her time in IndyCar, she was never a consistent threat to win.
The problem when it comes to Petty singling her out is that she’s hardly unique, whether you compare her to many of her fellow competitors now in the Sprint Cup Series or many of the other drivers that have called NASCAR’s “premier division” of racing home over the last five decades.
NASCAR’s history is built on the backs of men, hundreds and hundreds of them, who weren’t even close to having the talent to win in the sport. JD McDuffie started 653 Cup Series races and never finished a single race on the lead lap. For every Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson there’s 20 JD McDuffie’s in NASCAR’s history.
The immediate reaction is to call Petty a misogynist. A simple chauvinist. The fact that he didn’t say she can’t win because she’s a female can probably deflect some of that criticism, but the problem is there’s probably about 5-10 men that she races with regularly that are as untalented or a lot more untalented than she is, but “The King” only singled out the lady.
And therein lies the real issue with him saying what he did. If he has the cojones to say Danica is untalented then say the same thing about David Gilliland or David Reutimann or David Stremme. That’s the problem, guys like Petty say she’s not good and is there for all the wrong reasons, but won’t call out their own buddies in the sport doing the same thing she is.
The problem is, all he’s doing is unwittingly indicting the history of NASCAR, including his own era. Is Patrick short on talent? Maybe. Want to put together a list of drivers who have competed at the top level of NASCAR that would have never got a second look if talent was even the fourth or fifth most important factor in scoring a ride?
With moistened chunks of chewing tobacco flying out of his mouth – like he’s chatting up the local sheriff at this week’s town square revival – Petty will call Patrick out to any reporter that asks because she’s one of them lady folk that shouldn’t be racing with the boys. Let’s be frank, Petty is the old South. And while some may look at the “old south” is just sweet tea and fried chicken, there’s an ugliness that permeates it that we all know about. And that’s undeniably a part of Petty.
But yet he won’t call out the multitudes of those Southern gentlemen over the years who have filled fields, most with less talent than Patrick. The fact is, he’s employed a good portion of them himself over the last three decades in operating what has become a historically awful racing organization.
Who remembers Richard Petty calling out Kevin Conway for being untalented when he landed in the Sprint Cup Series a few years ago solely on the strength of his relationship with a male enhancement pill company that essentially paid his way to the top?
The fact is, in a sport where gaining a position in the big leagues is something someone can buy with little or no talent or previous experience, no team owner should be singling out Patrick, who has paid far more dues in the sport than many who have come before her in NASCAR.
The dirty little secret is that you can put all the suits you want on the boys in Daytona, and it’s still a good old boys network at the top of the sport. “If y’all can come up with some cash and jump in a car, then giddyup brother, come play with us. But if you’ve got breasts or wear FUBU, well …, that’s another story.”
Kenny Wallace is essentially Danica Patrick with male parts. Far less talented than most of his peers yet has made a career out of NASCAR because he smiles for the camera and he’s good with the media. Ever remember Richard Petty saying Kenny Wallace was essentially a lifetime loser?
You can’t call Patrick out for being in the sport and being low on talent when your sport’s history is based on being populated with bushels of untalented men who have been welcomed with open arms because they have big checkbooks and they know how to smile nice for the camera and more importantly, how to bow down in the presence of The King.