More and more women are joining the ranks of racing, as this Wikipedia page that hosts 47 names attest to, but it hasn't been fast nor easy for any one of them. Just like Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, these females have had to work extremely hard to crossover from fan to female racer and owe a lot those who went before them like Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney and Lyn St. James, among others.
While Danica Patrick is every racing fan's favorite femme fatale at the moment, we're fairly certain she won't be the only lady in pit row for long. There is, however, a slim chance that she might be the first female to win a NASCAR race.
(For Ford's press release on its new program, follow the jump)
FORD RALLIES WOMEN INTO RACING
DEARBORN, July 13, 2006 -- Katherine Legge of Northhampton, England, was celebrating her sixth birthday when her father wheeled out a special gift -- a go-kart. One ride was enough to hook the young girl.
"Racing is fun -- the adrenalin, the competition. And the car doesn't know if you're male or female," she says.
Decades later, Legge (pronounced "leg") has progressed from a small go-kart to a 750-horsepower open-wheel car on the Bridgestone Presents the Champ Car World Series powered by Ford. She is the first full-time female driver in the series and currently holds down 14th place in the championship standings.
Ford Motor Company would like to see more women behind the wheels of race cars, and has implemented the Ford Female Driver Development Program to do just that.
"Ford's customer base is diverse, and its driver roster should be diverse," said Dan Davis, director, Ford Racing Technology. It also makes good business sense for Ford, since the popularity of racing is increasing in many demographics and fan enthusiasm can translate into an enhanced image for the company and support of its products, added Davis.
NASCAR estimates that women represent 40 percent of its 75 million race fans.
The first participants in the program are 18-year-old Indiana native Stephanie Mockler and 17-year-old Alison MacLeod from Ontario. Both are competing in series sanctioned by the United States Auto Club (USAC).
Bob East, a noted chassis builder and USAC championship team owner, directs the program Clorox also provides support.
"This has been a great experience," said MacLeod who races in the Ford Focus Midget Series. "I've had a chance to work with Bob East, who is a legend in the sport, and with the support of great companies like Clorox and Ford, which is the dream of any young driver."
Ford's goal is for female drivers to progress to more competitive series, eventually winding up in the seat of a NASCAR Nextel Cup car.
Female drivers have periodically participated in NASCAR since the series' early days in the 1940s. However, none has ever won a race or stayed on the circuit for any extended length of time. Janet Guthrie had 33 Cup starts from 1976-80.
"It is Ford's intent that when the first woman wins a NASCAR Nextel Cup race and drives into Victory Lane, she'll be driving a Ford," said Davis.
Ford has a long history of developing diverse driver talent, such as Lyn St. James and African-American Willie T. Ribbs during the 1980s. Currently, the company is supporting NASCAR Busch Series driver Michel Jourdain, Jr. in his attempt to become the first Hispanic driver to pilot a Nextel Cup car.