Ashna Patel, Camille Du Gast, Cholistan Desert Rally, Danica Patrick, Donna Mae Mimms, Dorothy Levitt, International Women's Day, Janet Guthrie, ladies races, The Sports Car Club of America, women racers
Ever since the earliest automobile race was organised in Europe in 1887, a number of pioneering women drivers have struggled to stand shoulder to shoulder with their male compatriots in the racing circuits of the world.
This has been a complicated affair because although no law bars women from driving in competitive motorsports, it has been an uphill task to change the mindset of a number of institutions that have kept these sports male dominated. As far back as 1903, women like France’s Camille Du Gast and Britain’s Dorothy Levitt have challenged norms and began racing professionally.
Across the Atlantic, the struggle was no less arduous. The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) was formed in 1944 to promote motorsports and had an exclusively white male membership. As SCCA membership was given through references, women could only hope to enter the racing circuit either as navigators or eye-candy to prominent drivers. In the 1950s, the SCCA gave permission for “ladies races” which opened doors to women. This ultimately led to Donna Mae Mimms accomplishing the unthinkable in 1963 by winning the SCCA National Championship.
The iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway (home of the Indy 500) began allowing women as pit and garage crew in 1971, and in 1977 Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the race. In 2005, Danica Patrick further cemented that gain by becoming the first woman to win the Indy Japan 300.
Today, women viewers are increasingly becoming an important segment for both race sponsors and broadcasters. It is estimated that for some franchises, over 40% of the fan base constitutes women, which suggests that more women behind the wheel will be a given in future races.
Last month, Pakistan’s Cholistan Desert Rally crossed a major milestone when the organisers finally allowed women to participate. Ashna Patel trail blazed her way to becoming the first woman to conquer the sand dune peppered track in Bahawalpur.
Hopefully, she will not be the last.
– Tariq Ziad Khan
First published in the Adbuzzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 8, 2015.