March 28, 2008
If you say something long enough – no matter how absurd, illogical or wrong it may be – someone just might start to believe it. That's the only way to explain how the open–wheel folks at the Indy Racing League came to implement its latest rule change: From now on, the minimum weight for IRL cars must include the driver.
What's the big deal? Well, it just so happens that the lightest driver on the circuit is a woman. And not just any woman. It's Danica Patrick, whose hotness (off the track more than on it) has made her the most popular driver in open–wheel racing.
At just 100 pounds, she weighs 20 pounds less than the two other women on the circuit, Milka Duno and Sarah Fisher. The heaviest driver, according to the IRL guide, is 165–pound Ed Carpenter.
The rationale for the move? Patrick told USA Today that she asked IRL honchos for a reason for the change. "They didn't really have one," she said.
I guess it wouldn't exactly have been smart for her to just call a lug a lug. But I will. It's stupid, and it sounds like good ol' hateration.
There was buzz in IRL garages about Danica's slight size providing her with some unfair advantage almost since the moment she burst onto the scene – and we do mean burst! – three years ago by becoming only the fourth woman to qualify for the Indy 500 and the first to actually lead the race. She also finished fourth, the best showing ever by a woman. Danica even admits that in a sport where less weight can mean higher speeds, being light offers a slight edge.
In 2005, rival teams were outed in an AP story, saying Danica might gain as much as one mph due to her size.
Whatever. If it were that much an advantage, why has Danica not won a single race in 47 tries?
It might be fair to call Danica, one of the highest–earning female athletes on the planet, the Anna Kournikova of the grease set since her results have not yet lived up to the hype. But it's pretty hard not to think this rule change was just the sad result of the constant whining of her competitors.
The IRL took great pains to prevent us from calling this the "Danica Rule." Circuit spokesman John Griffin said the new rule would lessen the disparity between the lightest and heaviest drivers, which can be as much as 100 pounds. (Have the IRL's tubbies not heard of Jenny Craig?)
Look, I fully understand efforts to create a level playing field, whether in racing (NASCAR has weight requirements) or elsewhere in our society. Disparities that provide one group with an unfair advantage over another – in sports, in the workplace, in the classroom, wherever – are growing more and more outdated with each passing day. Thankfully.
But throw in the potential new NFL rule banning hair from hanging from under a player's helmet beyond his name, and I began to wonder whether sports, which typically has been a stage for change in America, is lurching backward just as the rest of the nation slowly – and almost historically – moves ahead.
Read more posts from Roy S. Johnson's blog – Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.