If I have a secret (and illegal, under the rules) whatchamacallit hidden in the engine of my race car that makes it just a little bit more powerful than the engines in the other racers' cars -- and that little extra push helps me go just a little bit faster on the track -- have I cheated?
The answer seems obvious.
Now consider the case of Indy phenom Danica Patrick -- the 23-year-old woman who came in 4th at this year's Indianapolis 500.
At 100 lbs., she tips the scales at about half the weight of the typical male driver. This means that her car weighs about 100 lbs. less than the cars driven by her fellow drivers -- all of whom are men and all of whom weigh considerably more than 100 lbs. It also means Patrick's car is about 1 mph faster than the other cars, all else being equal.
And that extra 1 mph can mean everything in a race.
Robby Gordon, a former Indy Car/open wheel racer, feels this constitutes cheating and says he won't race the Indy 500 again unless the field is equalized -- by adding weight to Danica's car to negate her advantage. "The lighter the car, the faster it goes," said Gordon. "I won't race against her until the Indy Racing League (IRL) does something to take that (unfair) advantage away. Right off the bat, a guy my size is spotting her 105 lbs.," he added. Other drivers, including Tony Kanaan, have expressed similar concerns.
It seems an entirely legitimate gripe. After all, the cars are supposed to be exactly equal -- so that driver skill determines the winner, not who has the better car. But if one car weighs substantially less than the others, the end result is the same as if a slightly hotter camshaft, higher-flow fuel injectors or turbo with more boost were installed furtively by the pit crew.
The problem is that IRL (and NASCAR) rules were set up to deal with overt, mechanical cheating -- not an incidental advantage of biology and sex. Patrick can't help her size -- and asking her to stuff down Hardy's Thickburgers until she bloats to the size of A.J. Foyt is taking things to far.
But she has a definite built-in advantage -- and this is unfair -- even if it's not "cheating" in the moral culpability sense.
Patrick has great talent -- so she shouldn't want to benefit from her weight advantage and have that constantly marring her race record -- and casting any future victories into contention.
Given that more women are almost certainly going to enter the world of racing -- and given that, in general, women tend to be significantly smaller and lighter than men -- why not adjust the rules (and the weight of the cars with their drivers in them) to equalize things and keep the playing field level?
It seems reasonable.
And more importantly, it seems fair.
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