Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

NHRA beat NASCAR to the line long ago when it comes to diversity among drivers

GAINESVILLE — A few ago weeks ago when NASCAR kicked off its season with the Daytona 500, major attention was focused on Danica Patrick, the only female driver in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. Her quest to become successful in stock car racing dominates headlines almost daily.

But when the NHRA drag racing series returns to Gainesville this weekend for the annual Gatornationals, female drivers won't be in short supply. It's just not that unusual in the NHRA.

"Obviously it was (once) a male-dominated sport," said Courtney Force, a 23-year-old Funny Car driver and a daughter of legendary driver John Force. Her older sister, Ashley Force Hood, raced Funny Cars as well. "Shirley Muldowney went in and totally paved the way for all us women to go in there and be able to start racing.

"As a kid, I knew this is something I wanted to do. Racing against the guys, I don't think they really hold it against me that I'm a woman. I think it's pretty accepted now. I don't think it's how it used to be."

In fact, Barbara Hamilton was the first woman to obtain an NHRA license in 1964. In NHRA history, 16 women have competed in Top Fuel, 13 in Funny Car, six in Pro Stock and 14 in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Muldowney, the first woman to obtain a Top Fuel license, is the Top Fuel leader among women with 18 victories — and the Hall of Famer known as "Cha Cha" is a three-time Top Fuel champion (1977, '80 and '82). Ten women have qualified No. 1 in a pro category in NHRA history.

"I think it's important to understand that we've had women in our sport for a very long time," NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein said. "There have been many women. Our sport has been more diversified for a longer period of time than other motorsports. It's not new to us. It's basically old hat. We're used to it. We're happy with it. We've been happy with it for years. I think it's not something new here, whereas in NASCAR they've had some girls come in, but Danica is at a different plateau, so the attention is much higher. Our sport has been exposed to the girl side of things for many years. We as male drivers have accepted that a long time ago. Let me tell you, you better have your hat on when you pull up against the girls."

That diversity extends beyond women in all four professional categories. From Hispanic brothers Cruz and Tony Pedregon, to Dubai native Kahlid alBalooshi, to U. S. Nationals winner Antron Brown, who is African-American, the NHRA prides itself on the diversity it has cultivated over the years, without having to legislate with special regulations.

"I mean, there's women, guys, different races, and that just brings everybody in to watch NHRA," said champion Pro Stock motorcyclist Hector Arana. "Everybody is equal in the NHRA. They're all able to have the same equipment. Everybody can have whatever they want. … That's a big reason why NHRA is so good. Just anybody who has the drive, the will to win, can race NHRA."

Drivers said a major reason the NHRA has been able to successfully diversify is because it's more cost-feasible than other motorsports. Brown, a 36-year-old New Jersey native, had family involved in drag racing before he was born. He grew up in an area with five race tracks within 90 minutes of his home. He said the accessibility of "hometown tracks" and the diversity of people who flock to them lends itself to a more diverse sport.

"To have a drag car race to bring in, you don't have to have a lot of money into it," he said. "A lot of racing is grass roots where we come in at, and you didn't see a color barrier, you didn't see any barriers. You didn't have to have millions of dollars in events, or $50,000 to $100,000 to race a go-cart for a year. I got into it when you could take some normal stuff and make a hot rod out of it, go to a drag strip and have fun with it. I think that's why NHRA drag racing is a more diverse sport than NASCAR is."

NHRA beat NASCAR to the line long ago when it comes to diversity among drivers 03/08/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 9:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Cup-winning Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk makes Hockey Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said Dave Andreychuk's name has surfaced often the past eight years with the selection committee.

    30 Oct 2001:  Left wing Dave Andreychuk #25 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates towards the blue line during the NHL game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada.  The Maple Leafs defeated the Lightning 3-2.  Mandatory Credit:  Dave Sanford /Allsport
  2. Rays acquire slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria from Marlins

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chaim Bloom said the Rays weren't necessarily in the market for a shortstop. The team has a number of those. But when the Marlins recently began shopping Adeiny Hechavarria, well, that was too much to pass up.

    Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as one of baseball’s top defensive shortstops in the past three seasons with the Marlins.
  3. Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, Pittsburgh

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Pirates

    7:05, PNC Park

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Probable pitchers

    Rays: Alex Cobb (6-5, 4.05)

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  4. Lightning journal: Forward Yanni Gourde agrees to two-year deal

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Just three years ago, Yanni Gourde was fighting to stay in pro hockey.

    Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA108
  5. What they're saying about Dave Andreychuk making Hall of Fame

    Lightning Strikes

    "Dave helped me so much when I was just starting my career, a young kid that was looking to find his way as a hockey player, a person and a member of the Tampa Bay community. In addition to watching him compile such awe-inspiring statistics, I remember him as a big brother to me and many others, making sure all the …