Richard Petty's Comments on Danica Patrick Are Straight Out of the 1950s

Saying She'd Win 'If Everyone Else Stayed Home' Was Over the Line, Embarrassing for Sport

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COMMENTARY | Richard Petty still thinks he is living in the 1950s.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, you must have missed the news that The King trash-talked Danica Patrick on Sunday with some extremely sexist hyperbole.

The NASCAR legend, who won 200 Cup races and seven championships in his career, said the following when asked Sunday if Danica would ever win a race at the Cup level:

"If everybody else stayed home. If she'd have been a male, nobody would ever know if she'd showed up at a racetrack."

Ouch.

I have to check my calendar to see the year, because if that's a sexist dig straight out of the "Mad Men" era, I'm not sure what is.

Don't get me wrong -- I know Danica is one of the least-experienced stock car drivers on the track each week and is far from a favorite to win.

But to say the others would all have to say home is not only hyperbole, it's just wrong. Comments like this do nothing to help the sport and only reinforce stereotypes people have about NASCAR.

Petty went on to say that something else that was at least a little bit true.

"This is a female deal that's driving her. There's nothing wrong with that, because that's good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport," he explained after his initial dismissive comments.

This is true. Danica is a "brand." She is a marketing machine and will readily admit so.

But to dismiss that when you are part of the world of NASCAR is ridiculous. The entire sport is a brand and a marketing machine. Logos are placed everywhere imaginable.

To dismiss Danica as someone who is simply marketable is ridiculous. Sure, she's not great, but she has good days and bad days, and at restrictor-plate tracks she regularly runs up front.

Will she ever win on a non-plate track? Probably not, though short tracks like Martinsville would be her best shot.

But could she win at Daytona or Talladega? Absolutely, as she has shown skill at this type of racing in her short time in NASCAR, winning a pole and running up front regularly.

And Richard Petty knows that, even if he won't admit it due to the sexist attitude he showed with these comments.

NASCAR has long been viewed as a "good old boys" club, and Danica's arrival had done a lot to dispel that. But comments like these can only undo any progress NASCAR has made to shed that image, and I'm not sure what he's trying to accomplish by saying what he said.

This is nothing new either. Back in 2006, Petty expressed similar views as well about women in racing: "I just don't think it's a sport for women. And so far, it's proven out. It's really not. It's good for them to come in. It gives us a lot of publicity, it gives them publicity."

I have the utmost respect for Richard Petty as a racecar driver, but when it comes to issues like women in racing, it's clear he's still living in the dark ages, and that's a shame. Hopefully he'll emerge into the real world soon and realize how ridiculous he sounds.

Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

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