Kyle Petty rekindled an old motorsports controversy last week when he spoke of Danica Patrick being a “marketing machine” and a fast driver as opposed to a good racer.  “She can go fast, but she can’t race,” he said. “I think she’s come a long way, but she’s still not a race car driver. And I don’t think she’s ever going to be a race car driver.”

Agree with Petty or not, his comments focus on a long-standing debate over what makes a good or even great race driver.  The late Chris Economaki (in)famously argued that Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna were great drivers but not great racers, his logic being that each was nearly unbeatable when starting from the front of the field, decidedly less so when starting from further back.  With all due respect, Chris must have missed 1967 Italian Grand Prix or the opening lap of the 1993 European Grand Prix.

That said, the annals of motorsports are replete with hugely successful, even great, racers who were nothing special in qualifying.  At least two of them are named Unser — Al Unser and Al Unser, Jr.  Together with AJ Foyt and Rick Mears,“Big Al” shares the record for most Indianapolis 500 wins with four.  But while Mears won the Indy 500 pole six times and Foyt four times, Unser took just a single pole at Indy (1970).  The contrast between his son’s qualifying and racing form is even more pronounced.  Al Jr won no fewer than 34 IndyCar races in his career but started on pole just seven times, famously saying his father taught him they pay the money and points on race day.

Driver or racer?  If there is indeed a difference, arguably the best of the best like Clark, Senna and Mears are great drivers and great racers.

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3 Comments

To be successful in Motorsports you need to be both. In fact, taking Danica as an example; If you’re a female in Motorsports then you need to be all Three.

First a great driver, someone with the ability to consistently put down lap after lap like a photocopier. A great driver can also communicate with the team and engineers in a way that enables them to develop the car and wrap it around the Drivers style and ability, Cite: Michael Schumaker during his career with Ferrari.

Second a great racer, this is someone that has ‘bottle’. That steely nerve that doesn’t get unsettled when there is a track full of cars. A great racer remains focused with his intention locked on continuing to be a great Driver even in the midst of the race tension and pressure.

Third a great marketeer, this is especially true for someone like Danica. Fast, good handling, competitive cars cost money. Lots of money! The costs are exponentially incremental, every small performance increase has a greater cost than the last. You’ve GOT to be able to sell yourself, your team, and above all Your Sponsors.

Of course in iRacing, point 3 is mute, because iRacing is top dollar motor racing at 2 cents prices 😉

See you on the track

Rick Timmis (Abazander iSAM Truck series racer)
July 10th, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Hey there boys and girls lets talk about Danica ability to race. The drivers don,t just get a spot on the track,they have to prove they belong on that track every race.One out of forty-three . Danica has do that weekin weekout.She,s as tough as anyone in the circuit. Kyle Petty it sounds like you thank she,s getting a free ride. I believe Danica has earned her stripes in racing from the time she started driving anything.Why do I think that ? Look at Danica as a competitor in life,she,s a winner who always pushes the envelope.I know Danica will win races in Nascar and in life.

Rambo
July 21st, 2013 at 1:05 pm

well guys I think MR.petty is just a little jealous maybe that she is as good a driver now as he ever was ,or maybe because of her beautiful hair ,that he dosnt have. lol

tommy wesley
July 30th, 2013 at 8:49 am

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