To the IRL, Size Matters (Too Much)

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If you say something long enough – no matter how absurd, illogical or wrong it may be – someone just might start to believe it. (Just ask Hillary.) That’s the only way to explain how the open-wheel folks at Indy Racing League came to implement its latest rule change: From now on, the minimum weight for IRL cars must include the driver.

What’s the big deal? Well, it just so happens that the lightest driver on the circuit is a woman. And not just any woman. It’s Danica Patrick, whose hotness (off the track more than on it) has made her perhaps the most popular driver in open-wheel racing. At just 100 pounds, she weights 20 pounds less than the two other women on the circuit, Mika Duno and Sarah Fisher. The heaviest driver, according the IRL guide, is 165-pounder Ed Carpenter.

The rationale for the move? Patrick told USA Today that she asked IRL honchos for a reason for the change. “They didn’t really have one,” she said.

I guess it wouldn’t exactly have been smart for her to just call a lug a lug. But I will. It’s stupid, and it sounds like good’ ole hateration.

There was buzz in IRL garages about Danica’s slight size providing her with some unfair advantage almost since the moment she burst onto the scene – and we do mean burst! – three years ago by becoming only the fourth woman to qualify for the Indy 500, the first to actually lead the race and finishing fourth, the best showing ever by a woman. Danica even admits that in a sport where less weight can mean higher speeds, being light offers a slight edge.

In 2005, rival teams were outed in an AP story, saying Danica might gain as much as 1 mph due to her size.

Whatever. If it was that much an advantage, why has Danica not won a single race in 47 tries?

It might be fair to call Danica, one of the highest-earning female athletes on the planet; the Anna Kournikova of the grease set since her results have not yet lived up to the hype. But it’s pretty hard not to think this rule change was just the sad result of the constant whining by her competitors.

The IRL took great pains to prevent us from calling this the “Danica Rule.” Circuit spokesman John Griffin said the new rule would lessen the disparity between the lightest and heaviest drivers, which can be as much 100 pounds. (Have the IRL’s tubbies not heard of Jenny Craig?)


Look, I fully understand efforts to create a level playing field, whether in racing (NASCAR has weight requirements) or elsewhere in our society. Disparities that provide one group with an unfair advantage over another – in sports, in the workplace, in the classroom, wherever – are growing more and more outdated with each passing day. Thankfully.

But throw in the potential new NFL rule banning hair from hanging from under a player’s helmet beyond his name, and I began to wonder whether sports, which has typically been a stage for change in America, is lurching backwards just as the rest of the nation slowly – and almost historically – moves ahead.


7 thoughts on “To the IRL, Size Matters (Too Much)

  1. […] Needless to say, this is sure to stir up a hornet’s nest. For more on this story, please read Roy S. Johnson’s Blog “Baller’s, Gamers & Scoundrels”… The entry on Danica and the IRL’s crazy decision is entitled To The IRL, Size Matters (Too Much). […]

  2. Dallas Dan says:

    Well, as I recall from physics 101 weight has no bearing on top speed or terminal velocity. Horsepower, aerodynamics and to a lesser degree rolling resistance are all that matter.
    Danica’s small size and weight would only have an effect on acceleration and de-acceleration. The difference between her at 100lbs and the heaviest driver at 165 lbs. is 65 lbs. When this is added to the minimum weight of the cars you are talking about a miniscule difference. Find something else to complain about and leave Danica out of it. When is the last time she won an IRL race? Where is the advantage.

  3. Adam says:

    Wow you guys are out of it. The teams spend hundreds of thousands of dollars engineering ways to find a couple pounds less drag…Obviously 20lbs is going to make a fairly big difference.

    20lbs at Indy would equal one full lap at the end of the race, with a otherwise identical car.

    With teams spending all this money to find 1hp or 2 lbs less drag, lighter oil for less resistance and helicopter tape on all visible gaps on the body work, letting 20lbs. bounce around as an advantage is ridiculous. I know of no other series that weighs the car without the driver, because its the right way to do it!

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