TAYLOR: The King Speaks Out


CONCORD, N.C. — Richard Petty has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind. NASCAR’s King with 200 victories and a North Carolina drawl is the definition of old-school cool. During a fan Q&A in Canada earlier this week, Petty started a media firestorm when he was asked if he thought female racer Danica Patrick could win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

“Only if everyone else stayed home,” Petty replied, drawing laughs from the audience. Over the course of the next few days the topic was debated over social media and on sports television with people agreeing, disagreeing, making snide remarks or even condemning The King for speaking his mind.

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, joined in on the debate saying that while he appreciates anyone who is not afraid to speak their mind like Petty, he disagrees with Petty’s assertion that Patrick cannot win a race, siting restrictor-plate races as an opportunity for Patrick to win.

Here are three questions to ponder from this debate.

Should Richard Petty be labeled a sexist and a Danica Patrick hater for what he said? No. That would be a vast over-exaggeration of someone’s opinion. Petty, it should be said was not a fan of Janet Guthrie’s foray into stock car racing in the 1970s either. However, one needs to remember the era during which The King was raised. Take that into account and its not surprising Petty would make politically incorrect comments.

Is Richard Petty correct in his assessment of Patrick’s racing ability?

Again, the answer is no. Patrick can win a Cup Series race, whether it be at Daytona or Talladega or elsewhere. With Stewart-Haas Racing equipment there is a possibility of an upset on any given week. Too many times in NASCAR racing there has been a surprise winner to simply state that she will never win. Bobby Hillin, Phil Parsons, Derrike Cope, Trevor Bayne, Lake Speed and others have scored stunning victories and there is no reason why Patrick can’t be a part of this group.

Will Patrick ever be respected as a legitimate race car driver?

To a lot of people Patrick is a celebrity who chooses to drive race cars. People who dislike her are quick to point out a large part of her ascension to the top rung of the sport of auto racing was based on sex appeal and marketability. Some of that is true.
What the people who dislike her choose to ignore are her performances in the Indianapolis 500. Her top five points finish and consistency in IndyCar and most of all her desire and dedication to get better at her profession.

Patrick is only in her third full year racing stock cars. As a rookie she was on par with a lot of other drivers (including Sam Hornish Jr.) who made the transition from open-wheel cars. To make a quick conclusion that Danica Patrick isn’t a legitimate NASCAR driver would be a mistake as not enough time has passed to make an accurate statement in this regard.

People will continue to talk and debate this topic. As long as a female driver is in the sport, there are always going to be critics and naysayers. It is unfortunately still part of our culture although it improves every year. Here is hoping that people have a more open mind, including Richard Petty.