Danicamania, the sequel

Posted by Iannucci | 2/13/2010 | | 9 comments »
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In 1988 I was a freshman at Purdue University, and yes, I realize those nine words just lost me half of my readership. Anyhow, on an otherwise unremarkable day I recall sitting in my dorm room in Wiley Hall watching a news cast where the talking head revealed how the St Louis Cardinal football team was packing up its truckload of losing seasons and heading West to my home state of Arizona.

The room next to mine was occupied by two fine young sports fans from St Louis, and within mere seconds of the airing of this announcement one of them got up, walked over to my open door, stood there and said simply to me “You can have ‘em.”

That pretty much sums up my feelings about the media coverage of Danica Patrick’s first official N----R race tomorrow. It’s not that I want her to be gone from the Indy Racing League – goodness, no – but that now some other group of sports fans has to deal with the media circus and all the skewed coverage that goes along with her involvement with motorsports.

"I can't believe I'm getting interviewed today. She must have finished early." - Tony Stewart
For all the coverage that Danica has brought to the IRL over the last few years, I would say more than not has been coverage brought to herself. That's not necessarily her fault as I don't think her intention was to ever overshadow her sport, but as a fan who has watched five years of races where every driver not named “Danica” has be ignored for what seems like half of the broadcast.

I once asked a representative of ESPN if he realized their coverage seemed to focus half of their broadcast on a single driver, and he earnestly replied that was correct, and that their studies or surveys showed that HALF of the audience is watching only to see Danica. It was quite the "jaw meet floor" moment.

Then again, when the ratings for an ARCA race on SPEED basically doubles (or triples, or quadruples) that of every IndyCar race other than The Indy 500 last year, it's hard to argue with that.

"According to the 'media' not only is Danica the most amazing racing driver since Dale Sr. but she is also related to Jesus lol." - Scott Speed
Of course, if broadcasters are going into the event thinking that one competitor is responsible for half the audience then they're most assuredly going to play it up. The "Jesus" comparison isn't beyond them because for years Danica was proclaimed as the savior for the IRL. And to some extent she may have been, as soon after her arrival the IRL ownership purchased and bimergified with Champ Car.

But there is also the possibility that for all the fans she added that there were others who stopped watching altogether what had effectively become the DaniCar series. I won't suggest that it's an equal amount to those she added, but it's not exactly a secret that over the last five years the ratings and attendance for many events has gone DOWN, not up.

"We've never had a female -- in my era -- that's been competitive. I think most of them have just been here because they're female. I think Danica's the first real female racecar driver that's coming in here. I'm not saying she's going to be competitive overnight but she's the first one who's got any sort of credentials that should be racing cars." - Kevin Harvick
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of having Danica involved in any racing series is the endless chatter of how well she compares to other women drivers, as if that were some other form of driving class. We're often told the car doesn’t know the gender of the driver, but innumerable race fans with their Swimsuit Editions stashed at their bedside most certainly do.

It's only human nature, I suppose, to be fascinated with women in what has for so many years been a men's sport, but at some point it would seem this has to end, right? I mean, at some point between Jackie Robinson and Barry Bonds we stopped saying "black baseball player", so there has to be a point where Danica and other drivers without the Y chromosome are simply "drivers". Obviously though, we haven't reached that point. It would seem we're not anywhere near it.

As I said before when I suggested she was undoubtedly the IRL’s “Driver of the Decade”, Danica’s participation in any motorsport event fundamentally changes the coverage of the sport. There will ALWAYS be more cameras and microphones pointing to her before, after, and most distressingly during any race in which she participates. It’s because a huge portion of the viewers wouldn’t be watching the race if she weren’t in it. Yes, I get that, even though I personally would prefer to watch footage of actual passing on a race track than Danica Patrick driving around by herself.

But now it’s time for stock car fans to get a taste of this. They thought they were getting a nice 10-ounce Daytona sirloin this week, but instead they’re being served 72 ounces of wall-to-wall coverage of a driver who isn’t even racing in the main event. I can’t revel in schadenfreude here because after years of this I know the feeling all too well. At first it’s so seductive to think of the interest of having a capable and fetching young lady competing in your sport, but before you know it every other person in your sport is rendered to near insignificance.

"Maybe ESPN could cover Danica on ESPN2 and the other 50 plus cars on ESPN Classic or something." - Regan Smith
Yup. Welcome to our world, stock car fans. I hope you enjoy the show.


  1. Anonymous // February 13, 2010 10:45 AM  

    Danica For President in 2012! ;)

  2. pressdog // February 13, 2010 10:56 AM  

    Agree (with Jeff, not the president thing). The only hope (and ironically danger for the IRL) is that the mass of non-Danica fans in N-word will temper TV's incessant coverage. At least ESPN/ABC/FOX has to worry about pissing off Junior Nation, whereas us Fish Heads, though legion, were offered meager counterweight in the IRL. IF Tv manages to hit the right note to keep the Danica fans and not piss off the non-Danica fans, buckle up for some 8.1 TV ratings. Finally, all this makes you appreciate VERSUS even more, doesn't it?

  3. Declan // February 13, 2010 11:37 AM  

    Great stuff Jeff. Spot on.

    I honestly don't think any of teh fans will be migrating to IndyCar on a regular basis, not enough to make a dent in the ratings any how.


  4. Inspector // February 13, 2010 10:50 PM  

    Jeff, the fact that you were once a Purdue University student doesn't bother me a bit.

  5. Unknown // February 14, 2010 7:29 AM  

    First of all, Go Boilers! Second of all, the Danica coverage is about 10x more prevalent now. I try not to follow that series and it is impossible not to see Danica news. I have a feeling that the loyal n-car fans are getting royally annoyed at the Danica coverage. Much like us IndyCar fans. It seems to me that there are several women drivers and it is not a "woman" thing so much as it is a Danica thing. It boggles my mind how the circus keeps going. Third of all, Kevin Harvick is a joke. That guy had almost no racing credentials when he raced in the Busch series for the first time other than some very minor league wins. I'd say that his biggest career accomplishment was getting Dale Earnhardt's ride when he died. You never hear those guys say anything about a driver's credentials unless it's a woman. What a joke.

  6. Sarah Fan // February 14, 2010 12:55 PM  

    If anyone wants to know what Nationwide fans think, go to their forum on the NASCAR website. Very enlightening. They do not like what's happening at all.

  7. Anonymous // February 15, 2010 8:30 AM  

    btzucker: I can't believe I'm about to defend Kevin Harvick here but...

    I can only guess you're not a NASCAR fan if you actually believe no one ever questions a male drivers credentials.

    Ever hear of John Wes Townley or Paul Menard? Or Stephen Wallace? Or even Dale Earnhardt Jr? Those guys credentials are always getting questioned. Earnhardt and Wallace wouldn't be anywhere without their last names. Menard & Townley wouldn't be anywhere without their family money.

    I'm not saying that I believe any of that but those arguments fly around all the time in NASCAR. They also fly around in the open wheel ranks as well. Ed Carpenter ring any bells? Or Marco Andretti?

    As far as the rest of your post, I agree. It's not a woman thing. If it was a woman thing, we'd see the same attention paid to Alli Owens, Sarah Fisher, Crissy Wallace etc but we don't. We see it with Danica because she's always courted that kind of attention.

    Frankly, I'm just annoyed because I lived through this garbage in '05 and now I have to go through it again!

  8. Unknown // February 15, 2010 7:32 PM  

    @Carrie. Point taken. I actually just really don't like Harvick. While I don't follow Nascar like I used to , I am a racing fan and hear the criticism of men as well. Autoracing is massively expensive so many of the "breaks" go to those with money or a name. What irks me so much about his comment is that I would argue most drivers at that level, because of money advantage, are not the best in the world. I'd say many of "the best" probably got left without money and had to quit to make a living. Or, perhaps they ended up driving in sub-par equipment and never were taken seriously. So, at the level of the Nationwide series, I'd say a whole lot of those drivers are underqualified (even some of the cup interlopers). But I'd also say that is where they should be, in the nationwide series, trying to get better. My original point was probably out of order on the criticism of women vs men thing in some regards. But if a relatively inexperienced driver has to hear the criticism so much in the nationwide series, then how will they ever be "experienced" enough to be in the top level.

  9. Kinestex // February 16, 2010 9:23 AM  

    I am willing to admit that Danica brought me back to IRL racing. I grew up a fan but lost interest after the split, with the exception of the Indy 500, which I never missed. Lynn St. James and Sarah Fisher kept my interest until Danica, but they weren't running full seasons.

    I went up to Daytona to watch the ARCA and Nationwide races and listened to Danica's radio the entire time. It was really interesting because her team talked about how much she had tested and practiced, but she was unsure of where to accelerate on restarts, where the light indicating whether the pits were open or closed was and other little things I would have expected the team to go over.

    The media surrounding Danica during the Nationwide race was just insane. There were so many people surrounding her car before the race you couldn't even see it. In an odd sort of way I do think the media glare lowers expectations on Danica, because half the stories on Danica become about the media circus she causes and the fact that she can drive at all impresses people.

    I really do think female racers expand you fan base and I think our new CEO needs to be planning for the time Danica leaves by really publicizing Sarah Fisher and bringing in some other female drivers (Milka Duno and her crashes doesn't count).