It was a matchup NASCAR could only dream of: Melanie Troxel and Ashley Force going head-to-head in the first all-female Funny Car elimination round.
Troxel won the round, made it to the finals and ultimately claimed the title Sunday at Thunder Valley Nationals â€” making her the first woman in NHRA history to win in both its nitro classes. Troxel downplayed the significance of her matchup with Force, trying hard to remove gender from the historic moment.
â€œEverybody wants to make a big story about Ashley and I running against each other,â€™â€™ she said. â€œFor me, itâ€™s not about the other female out here. I think itâ€™s pretty sad if we have to just compare ourselves against each other.â€™â€™
Sheâ€™s right, of course. Female competitors are no longer a sideshow in most forms of racing, and Troxelâ€™s championship proved women are succeeding at a consistent pace.
Except in NASCAR, that is.
As the most celebrated day in motorsports approaches this week, the differences in gender equality have never been more profound. Danica Patrick headlines a trio of three women who will compete Sunday in the Indianapolis 500, but NASCAR wonâ€™t have a single woman in its showcase Coca-Cola 600 later that day or in any of the NASCAR-sanctioned events spanning 10 days of racing at Loweâ€™s Motor Speedway.
Three decades after Janet Guthrie became the first woman to race in the 600, NASCAR still boasts all-male fields at its premier Sprint Cup level. In fact, no woman has raced in the 600 since Guthrie, and the Cup series has not had a female racer since Shawna Robinson ran seven events in 2002.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s something NASCAR is really concerned about. A female driver is not something they really need,â€™â€™ said veteran racer Mike Wallace. â€œFor a while, a lot of people thought it was a novelty. And Iâ€™ve had people close to me say â€˜Girls canâ€™t drive.â€™
â€œWell, maybe they canâ€™t. But maybe there are one or two who can, and we just need to give them a chance.â€™â€™
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