Wait, read the story before you throw your computer at the wall.
Sixty-six years ago tomorrow, the first NASCAR race was held at Charlotte Speedway, a three-quarter-mile dirt track in North Carolina, on June 19, 1949.
Finishing 14th was Sarah Christian.
Three weeks later the second race took place at Daytona’s beach course. Ethel Mobley was 11th. Christian finished 18th. Louise Smith was 20th.
The female drivers were there in NASCAR, from the start.
But now, 66 years later, only one has managed to make it to the top tier and stay there.
Like it or not, it’s Danica Patrick. She is the first woman driver to genuinely make NASCAR her career.
And a pretty good career: According to Racing-reference.info, her NASCAR winnings in Sprint Cup, XFINITY and K&N Pro total $11,852,305.
And that doesn’t include teeshirts and endorsements.
And while she may not yet have compiled sheer statistics that would send her to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the fact that she has been the first female driver to prove that a woman – particularly a woman that isn’t built like a roller derby jammer – can survive season after season in what has always been, and still is, a man’s sport.
All that said, yes, Patrick doesn’t have a win, but look at her stats this season: As we approach the halfway mark, she is 19th in points, ahead of Greg Biffle (20th), Sam Hornish Jr. (25th), her car owner, Tony Stewart (26th), and her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (28th).
That shows competence. And for a slot in the Hall of Fame, I contend that’s plenty for a pioneer. I’m not remotely saying that her situation mirrors the struggle that Hall of Famer Wendell Scott faced as the first black driver to make a living in NASCAR, but there are similarities.
But Scott’s first real season with NASCAR – 1961, when he competed in 23 of 52 races that year, winning $3,240 – came a stunning 52 years before a woman ran a full season, when Patrick did in 2013.
Add to that the attention Patrick brought, and is still bringing, to stock car racing. She arguably brought along her IndyCar fans, as well as female fans who identified more with her than, say, Jimmy Spencer.
IndyCar success doesn't mean NASCAR success
And speaking of IndyCar, no migrant to NASCAR has been able to duplicate the success of Tony Stewart, including Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Indy 500 winner Hornish, who is still struggling to establish himself. Patrick has.
Is there anyone who can say Danica Patrick hasn't been very, very good for racing in general, NASCAR in particular?
Based on what she has done up to now, Danica Patrick is Hall of Fame material. But she’s young (33) and still has time to wow us, possibly by doing the Memorial Day double – the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.
Whatever she does from here on out is, frankly, irrelevant. She has proven that a woman can compete in NASCAR, can run consistently, can handle a stock car for 500 miles, can deal with the brutal schedule.
She is the first. That’s Hall of Fame credentials.
There is a comment section below – try to convince me otherwise. But I don’t think you can.