ORLANDO, Fla. — Tony Stewart is not only one of the best drivers in all of NASCAR; he should also be put in charge of the sport’s merchandising and marketing wing.
Stewart can only be described as a promotional genius for his incredible idea earlier this week of putting Danica Patrick in a match race against the iconic Richard Petty. In Stewart’s mind, what better way to get NASCAR’s chauvinistic old “King” to shut his sexist trap than by putting him on the track and letting him race against the sport’s beautiful, young queen.
“I think that (a race) would pretty much settle it once and for all, maybe get him (Petty) to shut up a little bit, too,” Stewart said of Petty on Wednesday in an interview with Performance Racing Network. “I will supply the cars. If he wants to race her, I’ll make sure they have exactly the same setup in the car and give him the chance.”
And if Patrick were to win the race, Stewart continued, “If I were her, I’d take (the checkered flag) over there and cram it up his (rear end).”
Just to be clear: Stewart wasn’t talking about the rear end of Petty’s race car — nor should he have been. It’s about time somebody in NASCAR stood up to King Richard for his misogynistic crack recently that the only way Patrick would ever win a race in NASCAR is if “everybody else stayed home.”
It’s certainly no surprise that Stewart is the one to take umbrage with Petty’s comments considering he is a renowned hothead, not to mention the owner of Danica’s Cup car. But even though he has a vested interest in defending Danica, Stewart still deserves a massive amount of credit for coming up with the most appealing idea for NASCAR fans since gun racks and naked-lady mudflaps.
Are you kidding me? Patrick vs. Petty would be our generation’s Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs — except it would take place at 200 mph. Even today, more than 40 years later, Riggs vs. King and their famous “Battle of the Sexes” remains as one of the most pivotal points in women’s sports history.
A crowd of more than 30,000 — the largest single attendance ever for a tennis match — watched the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” at the Houston Astrodome, and millions more watched on national TV. Riggs not only relished his role as chauvinist pig, he said he wanted to be the world’s “No. 1 chauvinist pig.” He claimed any “half-decent male player could defeat even the best female player.”
Even though Riggs was 55 at the time and King was in her prime on the women’s tour, her methodical straight-set victory was considered a seminal moment in gender equity in sports.
“She (King) has prominently affected the way 50 percent of society thinks and feels about itself in the vast area of physical exercise,” Frank Deford wrote in Sports Illustrated at the time. “Moreover, like (Arnold) Palmer, she has made a whole sports boom because of the singular force of her presence.”
I’m not saying Danica defeating the 76-year-old Petty would be as historic as King defeating Riggs, but it would certainly grab the nation’s attention. And in some ways it would seem even more authentic than the original “Battle of the Sexes.”
After all, Riggs was just a very good tennis player in his prime; Petty is the winningest NASCAR driver of all-time. Riggs was a hustler who insulted women’s tennis mainly to get back in the limelight and make a quick buck; Petty seems to really believe women don’t belong on the same race track as men.
“What I said is what I said, and that’s what I believe, OK?” Petty said a few days ago.
OK then, King, if that’s what you truly believe then go strap on your helmet, put on your fire suit and get in the car.
If you’re man, er, woman enough.