"Now that Danica’s gone, who is going to replace her?"
So I wrote back and said: "I hope whoever it is turns out to be is a really good racing driver – as good a driver as she’s been."
And he wrote back and said, "No! What I mean is, who is going to replace her as a woman racing driver?"
I didn’t continue the debate because I was too busy shaking my head and thinking to myself, "I thought we were over all that."
You know, once upon a time, a female racing driver was a curiosity. There weren’t that many. Janet Guthrie was the first to drive through the glass ceiling in the modern era. She was the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, in 1977. What a lot of people don’t know, or have forgotten, is that she qualified for what was then the NASCAR World 600 a year earlier. And she was an accomplished sports car racer.
Since then, Indy car, USAC, NHRA and NASCAR and CASCAR lineups have included names like Lynn St. James, Arlene Hiss, Kathy Rude, Shawna Robinson, Shirley Muldowney, Kat Teasdale, Bev Griffiths, Kelly Williams, Kathy Muller, Teri MacDonald-Cadieux, Juliana Chiovitti, Melanie Troxle and Desire Wilson, among others
In recent years at Indianapolis there have been - in addition to Patrick - Milka Duno, Pippa Mann, Ana Beatriz, Simona de Silvestro and Sarah Fisher.
In short, women racing drivers are no big deal any more.
But my friend’s note is not the only one around. There seems to be a feeling out there that the IndyCar Series has to have "another Danica."
At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be one. Mann has shown that while she was a good Indy Lights racer and passable in an Indy car on the big track at Indy, she was way over her head in races on shorter ovals.
Beatriz is an okay racer but will likely never challenge for a victory. So is De Silvestro (an okay racer) but she hasn’t been near the front very often and while Patrick had only the one Indy car victory before leaving for NASCAR, she was frequently in the hunt for others, particularly on ovals.
Fisher, who was also a potential race-winner, has retired as a driver to concentrate on being a team owner and the series made it clear to Duno that she wasn’t welcome back.
A name that’s been bandied about recently as being in line for a ride in 2012 is that of Katherine Legge. There seems to be a consensus that she has a sponsor and will drive in the series next year and if it turns out to be true, I say it will be a step backward.
This has nothing to do with Katherine Legge, the person. I’ve met her a few times and she’s very nice; she’s good looking and personable.
It has very much to do, however, with her ability as a racing driver and she’s simply not good enough.
One of the things people asked following the disaster at Las Vegas that killed Dan Wheldon was whether some of the drivers were sufficiently talented, or experienced enough, to have been allowed to start that race. One of the results of the subsequent inquiry was expected to be a more vigilant examination of drivers licensed to race in IndyCar.
Legge was introduced to the Champ Car World Series in 2006 by series owner Kevin Kalkhoven, who - frankly - was looking for a woman driver to counter Patrick’s celebrity in the then-rival Indy Racing League.
Legge had won three races the year previous in the Atlantic series but before anyone points to that grand achievement as proof of her ability, it should be noted that only four drivers ran the entire series (she tied for third place in the standings . . . ) and the average starting field was less than a dozen cars.
I interviewed her prior to her Champ Car rookie season and here is how she described her career:
"Here I am today and what's amazing to me is that I've still only done about 30-35 races in my whole life. I always believed I had the talent, but I never really had anyone behind me who believed in me. I had my dad, but he's not a millionaire who could afford to send me racing.
"So I did a handful of races in Formula Ford and then I had the opportunity to try Formula Renault for a few races. . . I met Kevin Kalkhoven and my world changed. I did Atlantics for a season (he sponsored her and she won those three races) and now here I am in Champ Car (his team). I'm surprised. But I knew I could drive the car; I knew I could be fast in the car."
As it turned out, she wasn’t particularly fast in the car. She did two seasons in Champ Car, never got near the podium and stood 16th in points her first year and 15th the second. She then did three seasons in the German Touring Car Championship with similar results – 19th place, 18th and 18th. She didn’t race at all in 2011.
To repeat, Katherine Legge is a nice person but with that record, she has no business racing an Indy car on the same track as Dario Franchitti, Will Power, Scott Dixon and the rest (including currently unemployed drivers James Hinchcliffe, Oriol Servia, Justin Wilson and Paul Tracy).
This is a series whose president boasts that it wants to feature the best drivers in the world. It already put the boots to Marty Roth and Milka Duno because of safety concerns and I'm sure there are now some others on their "discourage list."
If Katherine Legge isn't on it, she should be.