Hot, nasty, sexy speed. America is all about speed and race cars. Originating in the South during Prohibition, an underground racing circuit transporting alcohol became what we know today as NASCAR, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing. As the NASCAR lore begins, a “bunch of dirt poor good ol’ boys who lived anywhere from Virginia on down to Georgia had no other choice to survive than the illegal whiskey business…they souped up their cars to haul their bounty, and then ran from the law like their behinds were on fire” (Houston, 2012). The story goes that because “boys will be boys, they wound up racing each other on local highways…then on a crude track [in] a cow pasture somewhere, and the rest, as they say, is history” (Houston, 2012).
In this narrative, the lead characters are “boys” and later, in NASCAR history, “gentlemen” as in, “Gentlemen start your engines!” which has further morphed into “Drivers start your engines!” because the drivers now include (gasp) females. The idea of a female race car driver usurps pillars of racing that are difficult, even for this amateur female race car driver, to accept. Race cars are named with feminine names, which is done because the woman is considered more beautiful, agile and sexier than a man. I must admit that I, too, see race cars as sexualized female beauties. I catcall fancy cars that I see or race next to, or my most favorite girl, Victoria, my race car.
Let me introduce you to Victoria, she is a dream. When I open the garage door, I coo, “Hey, pretty girl…” and this happens without thinking. The car herself makes me swoon, and I become excited to drive her, to feel her speed, the thrill of her vigorous engine that rattles me and thrills me in a way I cannot compare to anything other than falling in love. And then having mind-blowing sex that leaves your body limp in post-coital bliss.
Racing Victoria, in the vacuum world of just Victoria and me, is my intimate experience of love, adrenaline and pumping endorphins. However, once I step out of the car, I am gendered, classed, and discriminated against because I am not a “good ol’ boy.” Women in amateur racing represent a small percentage of the participants. Racing is a men’s sport, like football or wrestling. Any time a woman joins the competition, it is conspicuous and unnatural. It is incredibly rare that a woman takes first place in a race. There are classes of competition (meaning group, not specifically socioeconomic or other class) that include car classes in addition to a men’s class and a women’s class. The last race I competed in, I took 2nd in the women’s class. There were only eight women racing.
The seven other female racers and I all shared common characteristics in our expression of our “racing personas.” We all wore our long hair down (you have to have it down when you put your helmet on anyway), but we want to be identified with flowing long, often blonde, hair. Many of the female racers wore pink, their helmet, race gloves, clothing or their car were adorned with pink stickers or other identifiers that specifically named them female.
These acts of proclamation of our femininity are met with men that are both intrigued and indifferent to our inclusion in the race day. Often they give off an air of merely indulging the women racing in the event. The men talk to each other, make sexist jokes, and compare racing strategies. The women are not engaged in conversation by the men, often not even with each other as we are all trying to project confidence and not a “gossiping female” stereotype.
Admittedly, I do race with a male counterpart. My boyfriend, Julian, is the one who introduced me to the official amateur racing circuit. He and our other mechanically minded friends (mostly male) have taught me everything I know about cars and racing. It is because of Julian that I know how to apex a turn, how to approach the Chicago Box in autocrossing, and how to carry speed into a turn and use speed to turn the car, not the wheels. It was my father who taught me how to change a tire, but it was Julian who taught me to speed-change all the tires to slick, racing tires, and to alter the air pressure in the tires as the race continues and the tires expand as they heat up.
At the last race, where I took 2nd in the women’s class, Julian took 2nd overall (of 118 racers). Julian was like a celebrity. He is incredibly talented in racing, and men stopped us as we were walking around to speak to Julian and ask for tips on the track. One man in particular, came running over to us as we walked the lineup. He shoved his hand out to Julian to introduce himself and stumbled over his compliments to him. They spoke for a few minutes, the man never looked at me, shook my hand, or introduced himself to me. He does not know my name. As Julian and I walked off, the man clumsily called after me, “Oh and you – you just keep doing everything he tells you to do!” I boiled with anger. I interpreted this statement of “doing what he tells you to do” in regards to both my racing technique and in my life as my boyfriend’s property as his woman.
In that moment, the glorious sensation of racing Victoria vanished, and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I was livid by this man’s application of invisibility on me, as a woman and as a lesser racer than my male teammate. Racing is competitive; there are class distinctions both as grouping of similar vehicles, but also in the socioeconomic ability of racers to afford high-end cars and the ability to build out their engines. Less obviously, there are nefarious class distinctions based on gender, and the female race car driver has a long way to go to reach equality with her male counterparts. I will forever hold the invisibility as my cross to bear in my participation in race events. I will approach every man as a possible pig, and I will work harder to hone my racing skills. Someday, if I work hard enough, maybe I will even beat the great Julian. Ah! I get the thrills just thinking about it.
Until next time, I am racefully yours,
Carmen Rhodes brings us into the world of female racers in her series “Racing Women”. Tune in next time…
Houston, R. (2012). NASCAR’s earliest days forever connected to bootlegging | NASCAR.com. Retrieved April 22, 2015, from http://www.nascar.com/en_us/news-media/articles/2012/11/01/moonshine-mystique.html