Sex and celebrity wins again.
Chrissy Wallace drove in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona on Saturday. No female had started a Nationwide race since the 2008 season. But almost no attention was paid to Wallace, because Danica Patrick also was in the lineup.
Danica, you might know, is dabbling in NASCAR racing after several high-profile years on the Indy car circuit. She gets more attention than anyone else in auto racing. She’s recorded one Indy league win and she’s a decent driver. But if she were male you’d never have heard of her.
Plus, because she’s so photogenic, the news coverage never sleeps. A couple of years ago Danica did a swimsuit photo spread. She’s also starred in a series of racy TV commercials in which other sexy women around her start disrobing before the camera pans away.
A good-looking woman in a fast car sells big in America.
It’s the same thing with tennis players and golfers. Maria Sharapova is far from a star for the ages in professional tennis, but she’s broken world records for the number of photo appearances on the sports pages.
I’m a regular but casual NASCAR fan. I watch most of the Nationwide races and never miss a season opener, so there I was Saturday, expecting plenty of coverage of Danica. But even as weary as I am of saturation coverage of celebrities, I underestimated this one. The ESPN crew rattled on about Danica and put up special graphic boxes focusing on her race status. The sports news crawler across the bottom of the screen brayed, “Danica Patrick is the first female to start a Nationwide race since 2008.” Resigned to the over-coverage of Danica, I settled in, trying to follow the race itself — including the leaders, imagine that.
A crash at the back of the pack on the first lap interrupted Danica Day. The driver got out of the wrecked car, not hurt. “That’s Chrissy Wallace,” the TV announcer said.
What? Who’s Chrissy Wallace? And, hey, that’s a woman’s name!
I’d never heard of Chrissy, through no fault of hers. Her last name rang a big bell; there were three other drivers named Wallace in the race, all veterans. One of them is her dad, Mike. Rusty Wallace, now a TV commentator, was a NASCAR star years ago. What a story, I thought. Here’s a young woman from a legendary NASCAR family, starting a race with her dad, cousin and uncle. Tell me more.
The usual quick, perfunctory pit garage interview with the crashed driver followed. Chrissy got in one run-on sentence, blaming her spin-out on the driver behind her. Instantly, it was back to the announcer’s booth and the Danica coverage. Later, Patrick crashed at the race’s midpoint, and much of the following broadcast and print coverage centered on the Danica circus. Tony Stewart, one of NASCAR’s best drivers, won the race, but seemingly no one cared.
Pathetically, ESPN later during the race edited the inaccurate crawler to give credit to Chrissy along with Danica for being the first woman starters since 2008.
Sex sells, people. Numberless starlets, singers and other sexy women in the public eye can’t avoid the camera lens, and seemingly most don’t want to. I’m sure it’s also why Danica has become the publicity and marketing black hole of auto racing, sucking the atmosphere out of any location when she’s on site.
Chrissy Wallace doesn’t have a centerfold aura. The way our celebrity-dominated culture works, that’s too bad for her. She’ll have to gain her greater fame by driving well. Hopefully, she doesn’t care. Maybe racing hot rods with her dad will do.