Women Drivers

Before Danica Patrick's 4th place finish at the Indianapolis 500 this past weekend, NASCAR driver Robby Gordon complained that Patrick holds an unfair advantage over the rest of the field.

Gordon, a former open-wheel driver now in NASCAR, contends that Patrick is at an advantage over the rest of the competitors because she only weighs 100 pounds. Because all the cars weigh the same, Patrick's is lighter on the race track.

"The lighter the car, the faster it goes," Gordon said. "Do the math. Put her in the car at her weight, then put me or Tony Stewart in the car at 200 pounds and our car is at least 100 pounds heavier.

"I won't race against her until the IRL does something to take that advantage away."

Patrick's small frame is clearly evident in the exhibit on the right. Gordon's complaint reminded me of a passage from Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers in which Juan Rico talks about female pilots.

Then the ship's braking program hit us and I stopped shaking. Eight gees, I would say, or maybe ten. When a female pilot handles a ship there is nothing comfortable about it; you're going to have bruises every place you're strapped. Yes, yes, I know they make better pilots than men do; their reactions are faster and they can tolerate more gee. They can get in faster, get out faster, and thereby improve everybody's chances, yours as well as theirs. But that still doesn't make it fun to be slammed against your spine at ten times your proper weight.

Does Gordon have a point? Does Patrick's small stature give her an advantage over most of the male drivers? For that matter, are there any sports in which women's physical characteristics are an advantage over men's?

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This is along the lines of

This is along the lines of what has already been said: Gordon's comments are pretty ridiculous. Even if we take him at his word that he weighs 100 pounds more than Patrick, then that means he weighs ~50 pounds more than this year's winner Dan Wheldon (~145 lbs) and 2-time winner Helio Castroneves (~155 lbs). One thing that doesn't come across on television is that race car drivers are really small--not jockey small, but small nonetheless. This is even true of NASCAR drivers: I'm only 5'10", or so, but I felt _big_ when I've met guys like Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte, and Mark Martin.

As for the question of muscle mass: it's not so relevant when you're talking about the IRL and NASCAR, where the cars have power steering (which, admittedlt, can fail--making it turning a handful). So it really becomes a matter of muscle endurance, and, in general, muscle training for endurance doesn't require the mass that muscle training for strength does. Strength training is probably a much bigger deal when it comes to stuff like motocross racing or even some of the off-road type stuff that Robby Gordon actually excels in.

The real reason that women will never become a big presence in racecar driving is that men have them beat in the one attribute needed to go drive really fast around a track with a bunch of yahoos: willful stupidity, i.e. macho physical courage and the willingness to put it all on the line. NASCAR has the highest percentage of women fans of any major sport in America, not because the gals watching wish they could drive racecars, but because they wish that their boyfriends/husbands were more like the cute, courageous, and successful Jeff Gordon or the dashing, daredevil rebel Dale Earnhardt Jr.

there was a similar issue in

there was a similar issue in the world of golf about 2 years ago when Annika Sorenstam wanted to play on the PGA Tour and Vijay Singh made some strong comments.

when it comes to non-contact sports like tennis, golf, and bowling, I say if the woman can hang with the big boys then let her. The few instances where some high school football team has a female kicker, is a slightly greyer area and finally in more extreme circumstances like women in combat, I'm sure many more men would object.

1. Yes, Gordon has a

1. Yes, Gordon has a point.
2. So what?

The aerodynamics of Nascar

The aerodynamics of Nascar cars are in principle no different than weight differences with IRL drivers. Robby Gordon wouldn't win a Nascar race either if he didn't have the money to race a finely-designed Nascar car. Rich teams throw money at projects such as windtunnels to get an advantage. Patrick has an advantage that she didn't have to pay for... what's the meaningful difference? Gordon has double-standards. And 3 men had what it took to best the lightweight (in terms of weight) Patrick. Obviously, weight isn't everything.

I can't believe no one else

I can't believe no one else has mentioned her obvious advantage over the men. Look at that picture for Christ's sake.

- Josh

Gordon does have a valid

Gordon does have a valid point: IRL cars do not include the weight of the driver (unlike, say, F1 cars.) The difference between 1850 and 1950 lbs is not trivial. I've raced go-karts, and there's a reason why the 8-year olds pull away from me coming out of corners, and it's got nothing to do with ability. (Even if some of them are better than me... :-) )

However, as anybody who knows anything about Robby Gordon would expect, he delivered the message like the complete asshat he is. Remember the like from "Bull Durham" about having a million-dollar arm and a 5 cent head? Well, Gordon has a $10,000 talent and a two-penny brain. He's been fired more frequently than any driver out there. On two occassions, he has had to field his own team in NASCAR because he kept getting fired from paying rides. One year, car owner Felix sabates said of Gordon "I gave him an unlimited budget, and he exceeded it." Once, when driving for Derrick Walker in CART, in a fit of petulance he drove around the track with the car in first gear, with the pedal to the floor in order to deliberately blow up the engine.

Gordon is an idiot manchild of slightly-above-average driving ability.

Women also tend to be less

Women also tend to be less belligerent than men, that could help explain why men dominate sports.



NASCAR cars are different, but they all have to weigh the same. Weights are added for lighter drivers.

IRL is different, and it is well known that lighter drivers, regardless of their genitalia, have an advantage. Danica is CONSIDERABLY lighter than most men, and has an easily remedied advantage.

Sam Hornish is about 60 lbs heavier than Danica, which translates to 0.8 mph slower at Indy speeds. Drivers are forced to lose a lot of weight to be competitive.

All Robby Gordon is saying is that he's not going to bother killing himself to lose weight for a race he still will have no chance to win.

Danica is an excellent driver, and I expect her to win a good number of races. Unfortunatey, her achievements (and those of all lighter drivers for IRL) are diminished because of the inequality of car weights.

I think any advantage

I think any advantage Patrick would have due to her small stature would be offset by her commensurate lack of muscle mass, particularly in the upper body muscles used to do things like hold the steering wheel steady through a 180 mph turn.

I think it's pretty obvious that Gordon just can't stand the thought of losing to a girl.

Weight is added to horses to

Weight is added to horses to ensure they are of equal weights during a race. But there is a critical difference between the typical horse race and the typical auto race--the latter is much lengthier. A horse race generally lasts no more than one mile, while an Indy Car race lasts several hundred. I suspect the difference in weights between cars is statistically insignificant over great distances, though it is possible less weight helps conserve fuel.

I might be mistaken, but I

I might be mistaken, but I think in horseracing they will add extra weight to a horse to compensate for an especially diminutive jockey. Someone who actually knows what they're talking about should check me on this.

Let's say Gordon is right.

Let's say Gordon is right. Therefore, so? Let all the drivers be women, or most of them. Let it become noteworthy when a man qualifies. Men dominate most sports because of physical advantages. Why shouldn't women dominate one particular sport because of physical advantages?

It's not likely to go that far, because there probably won't be that many women who want to become IRL stars, and men probably have some physical advantages that compensate for their weight. The point is, there's no moer reason to penalize Danicka Patrick for weighing 100# less than a male driver than to penalize some low-rank PGA pro for being able to outdrive Annika Sorenstam by 75-100 yards.

Gordon has a point, since

Gordon has a point, since teams can be penalized for having a car that doesn't meet weight specs. I don't know what the margin of error is for weight regulations, but it's far less than 100 pounds.

Still, he is somewhat hypocritical because he participates in Nascar where cars are noticeably different. Nascar teams spend countless dollars and time perfecting their aerodynamic advantages. Why doesn't he complain about those differences?

And finally, aren't sports all about the best person winning? if weight is an advantage in racing, why is it wrong to take advantage of it? It would be absurd for us to criticize football players for being too big or basketball players being too tall.


Danica Patrick has an advantage racing Indy cars because she's lighter than the average guy driver?

300 lb linebackers have a

300 lb linebackers have a big advantage over those of us half their size in football. Since I'm under 6 foot tall I always knew I wasn't going to play in the NBA either. Hey, genetics gives different people advantages in different sports. This is not news.

The question is this: What is the purpose of the competition? In this case is the purpose to tset the driving skills of the driver? If so, then the advantage of a lighter body undermines the test of driving skills.

But here is what is wonderful about this debate to me: In the long run it doesn't matter. Races and athletic competitions already filter out large percentages of the population which do not have what it takes genetically to compete. Once we can sequence complete genomes cheaply we'll be able to save a lot of people the trouble of even trying to compete.

But then we'll be faced with people genetically engineered to compete. Sports will then either be conducted between people who are close to genetically identical on features that determine competitive ability. Or sports in general will become more like car racing the engineering skills of the team also matter. Genetically engineered athletes will compete as representatives of genetic engineering companies. So instead of Ford and Chevy competing we'll see MaxGen Engineering competing against GeneSports Incorporated.