When IRL driver Danica Patrick (who became the first woman to win an Indy race last weekend), steps out of her car after a race, she usually does so wearing lipstick. She also poses in leather undies (see April FHM), bats her eyelashes at interviewers and talks about her hair on Letterman (see Wednesday’s show). Usually, this wouldn’t bug me. Except for the fact that folks on the inside say this is disingenuous. When the cameras are off, Danica’s about as girlie as Chuck Lidell in a miniskirt. Which I believe sends the wrong message to young girls: You’ve gotta be beautiful, and girlie, and talented, and a bulldog on the racetrack to be great at this sport. That is a rare combination.
But it happens. I met WNBA legend Lisa Leslie at the USOC summit last week. Her book “Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You” comes out in a couple months, and Leslie says she hasn’t played a quarter of basketball since high school without applying a fresh coat of pre-game color to her lips. She says she wants to show young girls you can be beautiful, and girlie, and still kick ass on the court. But—you don’t have to be. Every night, out on the court with her, are four lipstick-less women kicking just as much ass. So young girls, no matter who they are, have someone they can releate with. That’s where I think Leslie’s message works and Danica’s doesn’t. Leslie is being true to herself, and celebrating who she is. Danica is being true to who her sponsors believe will sell more GoDaddy! or XM subscriptions, Hondas, Pioneer radios, hair product …
And it’s not like girls have many other female drivers to look up to as role models. Wanna be an Indy driver? Better pick up some leather panties.
However, Danica’s not the only woman driving in the Indy league. Which brings me to my story. On Wednesday, our motorsports editor, JB Morris, asked me what I was doing for lunch on Thursday. IRL racer Sarah Fisher was in town promoting her new race team, Sarah Fisher Racing (she is a both the team owner and driver) and giving media rides in her two-seater Indy car. “Wanna go?” he asked. “I nominated you for a ride.” Ummm, yeah.
So, Thursday afternoon, I took a video camera and espnthemag.com video producer Lyndsey Read down to Union Square to meet up with Sarah. She took me for a spin (if that’s what you call driving a car that tops out at 200-plus about 15 mph in NYC traffic) and then we talked about being an owner, her return to the Indy series from stock car racing, her days in a Sprint car and Danica’s win. The video will be up on the mag.com site closer to the May 26 Indy 500, and I’ll be sure to link it up here.
For those of you who want to know what it feels like to sit in an open-wheel racecar:
Open-wheel drivers say they become one with their cars, that they drive as if the car is attached to them, an extention of their own bodies. I understood that as I strapped the seatbelts around my torso. I felt like I was strapping on an Indy car backpack.
Although I knew all of this going in, I couldn’t help being surprised at how exposed I felt, how low to the ground my body was positioned, and how intensely I could feel every bump and turn. My outstretched legs were no more than six inches above the blacktop and I was eye level with the tops of the tires of most cars. It reminded me of sitting in a go-kart as a kid. I can’t imagine the force of turning that car up to 200 mph. (But man, did I want her to!) Any time we could get a bit of space between us and the car in front, Sarah would gas it—for a good half block. Instantly, I was aware that there is a whole lot of power fueling a whole notalot of car, and I could feel it in my bones.
Before we left for the ride, mag.com coordinating producer Lori Berlin asked me to “come with her”. The show E:60 was shooting in our office that day, and their makeup artists were hanging around waiting for the next talent to glam up.
“This is Alyssa,” she said, introducing me to the women. “She’s on camera lately, and she doesn’t really wear makeup.” Just as you probably do now, I saw it coming …
“Can you show her how to put on lipstick, please?”