Cars & Football

The Super Bowl, as argued by scholars and pundits alike, has long been considered an idealized representation of American masculinity. Since the first Super Bowl contest of 1969, football fans across the US have gathered around TV sets to join in a celebration of men engaged what has been described as “professional warfare” on the playing field. As noted by gender scholar Jan Huebenthal in 2013, as the ultimate football contest, the Super Bowl “celebrates physical violence committed by hypermasculine players against their opponents” (6). Not only is masculinity on stage in the game itself, argues Huebenthal, but is reinforced in the commercials that fill in the gaps in Super Bowl coverage.

1969 Goodyear ad

From its very beginning, the gas-powered automobile was constructed as masculine. As Michael Berger writes, “everything about the car seemed masculine, from the coordination and strength required to operate it, to the dirt and grease connected with its maintenance” (257). This association has been reflected in the types of cars historically marketed to male drivers, as well as the “natural” driving behaviors attributed to the man behind the wheel. Vehicles with descriptors such as powerful, rugged, durable, and tough were considered appropriate choices for men. And, as Clay McShane argues, in order to establish automobility as a male activity, men quickly claimed the emotional traits necessary for driving – “steady nerves, aggression, and rationality” – as masculine (156). The construction of the automobile as a symbol of masculinity has, not surprisingly, been reflected in car advertising over the past few decades.

The early Super Bowl telecasts featured commercials from automobile advertisers who, as Smithsonian journalist Jackie Mansky notes, were “playing for the men in the room.” The 1970 contest featured a spot for the Pontiac GTO – long considered the ultimate muscle car. In 1975, a teenager’s souped up Plymouth Barracuda – the first pony car – was called upon to appeal to the young male market. Fandom scholar Danielle Sarver Coombs argues that as the Super Bowl reflected the culture of the time, so did its ads. “For a hyper masculine sport like football,” Coombs explains, “hyper masculine-focused advertising followed in turn.” And as she pointed out, football commercials “continue to cater to the male market despite a documented shift in the demographic tuning in” (qtd. in Mansky).

Kia EV9: “Perfect 10”

The car commercials that aired at the 2024 Super Bowl – although still directed primarily to the male audience – were decidedly less “macho” and testosterone-driven than many from the past. Auto commercials from the early years were often offensive to women; as Mansky recalls, a 1969 commercial for Goodyear Tire featured a woman in distress with the tagline, “when there’s no man around, Goodyear should be.” However, the car ads that aired during Super Bowl LVIII, although not directly directed toward female viewers, displayed a more twenty-first century sensibility. The commercials presented men both sensitively and humorously; they addressed automobiles through a nostalgic and cultural rather than gendered lens.

Toyota Tacoma: “Dareful Handle”

The Kia commercial featured a dad who drives his ice-skating daughter through perilous weather conditions to perform for her grandpa in a backyard pond; Volkswagen connected moments in cultural history – including a nod to the rulings extending gay marriage rights – to combine, as Ted Nudd of Ad Age notes, a “sweeping legacy statement with a product tease in an uplifting way.” Even ads that that relied on longstanding male troupes poked fun at male driving behavior. The commercial featuring the Toyota Tacoma pickup calls upon humor to demonstrate the vehicle’s role as an off-road adventure machine, focusing on the passenger side grab bar – referred to as the “shut the front door” or “whoa whoa whoa” handle. As Hagerty’s Peek and Petroelje write, “as the camera jumps from one frightened passenger to the next, we’re shown an orange Tacoma kickin’ up dust while doing donuts and other herky-jerky maneuvers at high speed.” The spot created for the Kawasaki Ridge ties the farcical mullet hairstyle – “business in the front, party in the back,” to the powerful front engine and rear towing ability of the of the sport side-by-side. This change in advertising attitude could certainly be attributed to the increase in female watchers; while driven somewhat by the “Taylor Swift effect,” girls and women accounted for 47.5% of the Super Bowl audience (Crupi). But it also suggests that automakers recognized that women would be watching, and geared their commercials to be funny or heart-warming and appealing to all rather than just the male audience.

Kawasaki Ridge: “Mullets”

As someone who has a passing interest in football but considerable enthusiasm for cars and commercials, I found this year’s Super Bowl automotive advertising offerings to be imaginative, entertaining, and surprisingly accessible to an expanded audience. Thank you Taylor Swift, and to the automotive advertisers who recognized that women like cars, too.

Berger, Michael. “Women Drivers!: The Emergence of Folklore and Stereotypic Opinions Concerning Feminine Automotive Behavior.” Women’s Studies International Forum 9.3 (1986): 257-263.

Crupi, Anthony. “Taylor Swift Effect Kicks in for Super Bowl as Female Demos Soar.” 16 Feb 2024.

Huebenthal, Jan. “Quick! Do Something Manly!”: The Super Bowl as an American Spectacle of Hegemonic Masculinity, Violence, and Nationalism.” W & M Scholar Works, 2013.

Mansky, Jackie. “What the Earliest Super Bowl Commercials Tell Us About the Super Bowl.” 31 Jan 2019.

McShane, Clay. Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Peek, Jake & Nathan Petroelge. “2024 Super Bowl Car Ads: Touchdowns, Field Goals, and Penalties.” 12 Feb 2024.

Rudd, Tim. “Super Bowl 2024 Ad Review – The Best and the Worst.” 11 Feb 2024.

Gender & the Automotive Showroom

A recent article in Autoblog reported on a salary survey conducted by Automotive News regarding the average pay of car dealership employees. The headline – “What Car Dealership Employees Earn: Lots of Money” suggests that working in auto sales is a lucrative career. The article bolsters this claim with the assertion, “multiple respondents […] submitted comments noting they entered the business for the money.” While Autoblog notes that women in the profession make considerably less than male counterparts, the disparity is attributed to a problem with the survey’s methodology rather than any gender inequity within the system.

Jalopnik covered the news with a slightly different take. The article put the significance of the $74,000 pay gap into context by comparing it to the $74,580 income of an average American household. The author notes that the salary gap percentage – 66 cents to every dollar earned by a male dealer – is 17 percent less than that of women in other jobs. The article reveals that when asked, only 6.3 percent of men in dealerships surveyed believe the industry “is not welcoming to women” compared to nearly one third of female respondents. As successful car dealers put in an average of 55 hour weeks, asserts Jalopnik, “the world of car dealerships is truly the exemplary  old boys’ club, rewarding long hours and grueling working conditions.” The article cites the response of a 25-year veteran in the business; as she confessed, “I have never been so disrespected and unappreciated in my life. I am mansplained to constantly by customers and coworkers.”  Rather than dismiss the $74,000 pay gap as the product of questionable research methods, Jalopnik uncovers responses from the study that provide insight into conditions that influence the incredulous gender pay inequality.

In 2000, sociologist Helene Lawson authored Ladies on the Lot, a comprehensive study of 49 women who worked in car sales from 1987-1999. Although this project was conducted over a quarter-century ago, the conditions under which the women worked, and the obstacles they faced in the field, are eerily similar to those referenced in the recent Jalopnik piece. As Lawson argues, women entered the field for the same reasons as men – they were attracted to the work for the possibility of a high income; they sought car sales as a way to achieve the “American Dream.” However, once on the job the women were subject to sexual harassment, isolation from male colleagues, criticism for perceived “inadequacy,” exclusion from professional training, lack of mentoring, and admonishment for “feminine” style selling techniques rather than the male intimidation practices preferred by male colleagues. As the author notes, the expectation that they would work 12 hour days and 60 hour weeks was problematic, particularly for women with children who required child care. Male managers often positioned female dealers in the back of the sales floor with lower priced vehicles, which negatively affected commissions. Working in car sales, the author asserts, “involves long hours, high pressure, questionable ethics, no salary guarantee, and little job security” (Sacks 780). As Lawson reports, while female dealers who adapted more aggressive, ‘fast-talking’ selling techniques and sacrificed family and social life for the job were happy with the money they earned, the overwhelming majority of women in car sales wound up “chasing an elusive dream of autonomy and economic sufficiency that was just out of their grasp” (Mahar).

Kurt Russell in Used Cars

Despite the claim of “faulty survey methodology,” the revelation that women in automotive sales earn one third less than male peers indicates conditions that exist within the car dealership culture are disadvantageous if not inhospitable to women for a variety of reasons. While women have made inroads in many aspects of the automobile industry over the past 25 years, today’s $74,000 pay gap within the car dealership collective suggests that gender equity has a long way to go. Or as Jalopnik’s Bradley Brownell blatantly concludes, “the American dealership network system is broken and awful.”

Brownell, Bradley. “The Gender Pay Gap At Car Dealerships Is Way Worse Than The National Average.” 22 Jan 2024.

Huetter, John. “Auto Retail Professionals Make Great Money — But Men Make an Average of $74,300 More.” 20 Jan 2024.

Lawson, Helene M. Ladies on the Lot: Women, Car Sales, and the Pursuit of the American Dream. Roman & Littlefield, 2000.

Mahar, Karen Ward. “An Unbelievably Bad Deal! Women Sales Agents and Car Dealerships in America.” H-Net Reviews, 2001.

Sacks, Nancy Lee. Review of Ladies on the Lot by Helene M. in Gender and Society (Oct 2021) 779-781.

Williams, Stephen. “What Car Dealership Employees Earn: Lots of Money.” 23 Jan 2024.

Safety and the Woman Driver

Numerous studies on automotive preference have determined that more so than men, women put a priority on safety when choosing and operating a vehicle. Although the female driver enjoys performance, handling, and design as much as her male counterpart, the cultural expectation that women are ultimately responsible for children’s well being requires that women consider safety first in automotive choice. This focus on women as safety-conscious in automobile purchase and use has existed since the early auto age and has continued until the present time. Women were, in fact, responsible for many of the current safety features all drivers take for granted. Female engineers and designers invented or contributed to the development of turn signals, brake lights, windshield wipers, rearview mirrors, instruction manuals, and GPS. In turn, female automotive consumers prioritize safety features such as airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. In a study of masculine and feminine automotive behaviors, Smart et al note that as drivers, women reported using turn signals, seat belts, and driving lights more frequently than men. As caretakers, the authors suggest, “women might be more concerned about the safety of themselves and their passengers than their male counterparts.” Women’s determined concern for safety – as inventors and consumers – has not only made them more responsible drivers than men, but has also pressured auto makers to incorporate safety features in automotive engineering and design.

Yet although women’s influence has ultimately resulted in safer vehicles, the primary benefactors of these improvements are male drivers. As an IIHS [Insurance Institute for Highway Safety] study concludes, even though crashes involving men are more severe – due to behaviors including speeding, alcohol-impairment, and drowsy driving – women are more often critically injured or killed in crashes of equal severity. As late as 2019, crash test dummies were modeled on a male body; the female crash test dummy did not exist. As Consumer Reports asserts, “that absence has set the course for four decades’ worth of car safety design, with deadly consequences” (Barry). Although the majority [71%] of crash deaths in 2017 were male, females are at greater risk of death or injury when a crash occurs. As CR reports, it is well understood in the industry that male and female bodies perform differently in crashes; however, “the vast majority of automotive safety policy and research is still designed to address the body of the so-called 50th percentile male—currently represented in crash tests by a 171- pound, 5-foot-9-inch dummy that was first standardized in the 1970s” (Barry). Although regulators requested a female dummy in the 1980s, it wasn’t until 2003 that NHTSA developed one for crash test use. However, rather than reflect the physical differences between male and female bodies, the ‘improved’ dummy was just a scaled-down version of the male model. As Consumer Reports notes, although advances in automotive safety have helped all vehicle occupants survive crashes, “decades of damning crash statistics and pleas from safety advocates have not been enough to change the rules to make vehicles safer for women” (Barry). In 2022, a group of researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute introduced a new female crash test dummy – the first to represent the average women since car crash tests were instituted over a half century ago.

This lack of attention to female bodies by auto manufacturers became tragically evident with the introduction of airbags. In the late 1990s, once the installation of airbags became compulsory, women and children were dying in low-impact collisions that shouldn’t have been fatal. As Eve Epker of Forbes notes, “the culprits were the airbags, which aimed to keep a male in the 50th percentile of height and weight in his seat – and didn’t adjust their force for a woman or a child.” Consequently, rather than keeping women and children safe, the airbags were actually leading to an increased number of fatalities in the non-adult male population. What these two examples demonstrate is that despite society’s emphasis on the importance of women as family caretakers, the auto industry continues to produce auto safety innovations that “benefit men and men only” (Epker).

Women are not only less safe when involved in crashes, but a recent report in the New York Times reveals that women endeavoring to escape an abusive partner are often stalked and terrorized through the use of apps that remotely track and control cars. As author Kashmir Hill notes, “modern cars have been called ‘smartphones’ with wheels because they are internet-connected and have myriad methods of date collection.” Former partners with automotive access [and violent histories] can not only track the female driver but can control the vehicle’s functions. Abusers have been known to follow, stalk, and surprise their victims. Heaters and air conditioners are also remotely turned on to make the victim uncomfortable and feel as though she has lost control. Writes Hill, “domestic violence experts say that these convenience features are being weaponized in abusive relationships, and that car makers have not been willing to assist victims.” Auto manufacturers have denied responsibility for harassment and have evaded taking any kind of action, citing joint phone, car ownership, or insurance policies as impenetrable barriers. Judges have dismissed auto companies from lawsuits, often questioning the victim’s reliability. As one such official incredulously remarked, “it would be ‘onerous’ to expect car manufacturers to determine which claims of app abuse were legitimate” qtr. in Hill).

Women possess over 50% of driver’s licenses in the United States and influence nearly 85% of automobile purchases. Yet throughout automotive history, a concern for women’s safety and autonomy has been a distant second to that of the man behind the wheel. One can only hope that with the rise of women in the ranks of automotive decision makers, women’s interests and influence will be considered seriously and action will be taken to keep women out of danger when in the ‘safe haven’ of the automobile.

Barry, Keith. “The Crash Test Bias: How Male-Focused Testing Puts Female Drivers at Risk.” 23 Oct 2019.

Carlier, Martha. “Number of U.S. Licensed Drivers by Gender” 14 Mar 2023.

Covington, Taylor. “Men are more confident drivers, but data shows women are safer.” 20 Dec 2022.

Esker, Eve. “Fasten Your Seatbelts: A Representative Female Crash Dummy is Here.” 12 Sep 2023.

Hill, Kashmir. “Your Car is Tracking You. Abusive Partners May Be, Too.” 31 Dec 2023.

Irmantus, B. “The Psychology Behind How Women Choose Cars.” 7 June 2023.

McElroy, Nicole Gull. “Women Buy More Cars. So Why Are the Designs So Macho?” 6 Dec 2023.

Smart, Birgit, Amanda Campbell, Barlow Soper, and Walter Buboltz, Jr. 2007. “Masculinity/Femininity and Automotive Behaviors: Emerging Knowledge for Entrepreneurs.” Journal of Business and Public Affairs 1 (2): (n.p.).

Wood, Johnny. “Can the World’s First Female Crash Test Dummy Make Driving Safer for Women?” 7 Dec 2022.

Motorsport and Female Representation

Photo: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire (AP)

Last summer, female racing icon Danica Patrick once again made the news. However, it was not for her achievements behind the wheel, but rather for a comment she made while being interviewed on a broadcast designed with younger viewers in mind. When asked by a young admirer when the world would see a woman racing in F1, Patrick dismissed the whole notion, arguing that the ‘female mind’ would prevent women from such a motorsport achievement. Jalopnik writer Elizabeth Blackstock was highly critical of the former racer; as she argued, ‘a sporting broadcast designed for young children is perhaps not the best venue to share a deeply discouraging message to a large subset of young viewers.’ Social media platforms were flooded with negative responses from motorsport fans; as an X poster exclaimed, “There’s nothing worse than when a woman gets a platform in a male dominated space and uses it to showcase herself as the “exception” instead of using it to deconstruct harmful stereotypes.’ As one who has broken considerable barriers in the racing world, Patrick has the props and the potential to serve as a role model for young female aspiring racers. However, Patrick’s comment suggests she has little interest in assuming that role.

Vicki Woods in the NASCAR Hall of Fame

The reluctance of a groundbreaking female pioneer in any male-dominated profession to serve as a role model is not without precedent, nor is it particularly uncommon. Dr. Shawn Andrews, writing for Forbes, notes there are a number of reasons why women in power do not support or encourage other women. Andrews discusses phenomena such as the ‘Queen Bee Syndrome,’ when women display behavior more typical of men to display toughness, set themselves apart from lower ranking women, and fit in. Andrews also notes that when competition for ‘spots’ in favored in-groups increases, ‘women are less inclined to bring other women along.’ However, that which perhaps applies most directly to Patrick is the notion that, due to the obstacles women – particularly those first to attain success in predominately male fields – face in their career, their attitude toward other women is often ‘I figured it out; you should, too.’ I found this to be a somewhat common practice in my past career in advertising, where women who had struggled to attain respected positions were sometimes reluctant to mentor younger up-and-comers, endeavoring to keep hard-earned power and prestige for themselves.

Much has been written about the importance of female representation in male dominated areas in both academia and the media. In a study of the choice of college majors, Porter and Serra argue that the lack of women in traditionally male fields may be attributed to the scarce number of female role models. As they write, ‘due to historical gender imbalances, it is difficult for young women to come into direct contact with successful women who have majored in male dominated fields and can inspire them to do the same’ (1). Drury et al argue that female role models in STEM fields are, in fact, effective in combating ‘stereotype threat’; i.e. negative stereotypes that cast doubt on a woman’s ability to perform. Although Mary Barra encountered incredible obstacles within the historically masculine auto industry to become its first female CEO, she remains ‘a strong advocate for encouraging more women to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated fields’ (Standley). Perhaps the most vocal promoter of female role models is former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who famously stated, ‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.’

Throughout most of its long and storied history, motorsport has been unwelcoming to women. Although motorsport is one of the few competitive sporting activities in which men and women are allowed to engage on equal footing, females are vastly underrepresented in the majority of motorsport arenas. In the United States, women comprise over 50% of licensed drivers. Yet while there is no current data on the percentage of female motorsport participation, it is estimated that women’s involvement in combined motorsport venues is less than 4%. Barriers to women’s inclusion are both numerous and complicated. Obstacles include societal factors; young girls are discouraged from engaging with ‘toys that move’ and are less likely to be introduced to motorsport at a young age than their male peers. Longstanding systemic discrimination and harassment within racing organizations and masculine motorsport cultures is also a factor. As Shackleford writes, “the rules that create race events celebrate and encourage an exclusively masculine, distinctly stratified, labor-intensive relationship between man and machine” (230). 

Display in “Driven to Win” at the Henry Ford

“More Than Equal” – a major study on female participation in motorsport – argues that while costs, inappropriate culture, and negative stereotyping of skill and ability are major barriers to women in motor racing, a significant contributor is the lack of female role models and mentors in the field. Without female representation in all levels of motorsport, the activity is off the radar for young women; they are often unaware of motor racing as something in which they can participate. Female representation in a male dominated profession such as motorsport allows girls to imagine that success is possible; when someone who looks like you breaks psychological and physical barriers it is easier to envision that you can, too. 

French rally driver Michele Mouton

Women who participate in motorsport often express admiration and appreciation for those who have paved the way. In my own research into autocross, for example, women are often encouraged by the large number of female autocrossers who have not only succeeded, but are willing to teach and mentor those new to the sport. Female racing series including the W Series have provided a platform not only for those who participate, but also for those who aspire to one day join them on the track. Retired racers – including Indy 500 Rookie of the Year winner Lyn St James and French rally driver Michele Mouton – have created organizations specifically for the development and promotion of women in motorsport. Automotive organizations, museums, and institutions that feature and promote female racers in displays and special exhibitions – including the Automotive Hall of Fame and the Henry Ford –  provide young visitors with exposure to female groundbreakers and role models.

It is unfortunate that Danica Patrick – perhaps the most visible and successful woman in the contemporary racing world – has chosen to discourage young girls from participating in motorsport by framing herself as the ‘extraordinary exception’ rather than a role model to which others may aspire. Hopefully the next female racing phenomenon – and there are a few up and coming superstars – will use their platform to encourage and promote women in racing. The future of women in motorsport depends on it.

Albright, Madeleine. “Madeleine Albright: My Undiplomatic Moment.” 12 Feb 2016.

Andrews, Shawn. “Why Women Don’t Always Support Other Women.” 21 Jan 2020.

Blackstock, Elizabeth. “Danica Patrick Really Isn’t Helping Women Get Into Motorsport.” 15 July 2023.

Drury, Benjamin J., John Oliver Siy, and Sapan Ceryan. “When Do Female Role Models BenefitWomen? The Importance of Differentiating Recruitment From Retention in STEM.” Psychological Inquiry 22 (2011): 265-269 . “‘More than Equal’ Publishes Findings from Female Motorsport Study.” 7 July 2023.

Porter, Catherine and Danila Serra. “Gender Differences in the Choice of Major: The Importance of Female Role Models.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 12(3) July 2020.

Rosvoglou, Chris. “Fans were Not Happy with Danica Patrick’s Opinion on Female Drivers.” The Spun July 2023.

Shackleford, Ben. ‘Masculinity, Hierarchy, and the Auto Racing Fraternity: ThePit Stop as a Celebration of Social Roles.’ Men and Masculinities 2(2) (1999): 180-196.

Standley, Edward. “Harnessing the Power of Female Buyers: Insights from Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors.” 18 August 2023.

A New Role – SAH VP

A few years back a fellow female automotive scholar [there are so few of us] encouraged me to join the Society of Automotive Historians. As I am not a historian, a true car enthusiast, or particularly knowledgeable about cars, my first response was to graciously decline. However, this individual pressed upon me that as the organization was overwhelmingly male in membership, it would be in the best interest of the SAH to have a greater female presence. I therefore somewhat begrudgingly joined, and spent the first couple of years reading club publications, attending a few SAH events, and getting to know some of the major players.

When this same individual was elected to the Board, she persuaded me run in the next election. Not surprisingly, I lost. But as I started getting more active in the organization, I took on a few projects so that folks could see that although I was not nearly as knowledgeable as the majority of the membership, I was hard working and serious about my commitment to the SAH.

I was elected to the Board at the following election, and over the next few years took on responsibilities as chair of the Awards Committee and Bricks and Mortar Working Group. I participated in a number of SAH sponsored conferences, wrote a couple of book reviews for the SAH Journal, and had a number of articles published in the Automotive History Review, the premier publication of the SAH. I worked especially hard on the Bricks and Mortar Working Group, securing partnerships with two institutions to house the SAH archives. However,I believe the turning point in my relationship with SAH was the publication of an article in AHR that reflected on my experiences as a woman in automotive advertising in the 1980s. This insight into an unknown and often mysterious area of the automotive industry – a business which non-ad people find fascinating – gave me some legitimacy. I finally felt like I was not an SAH interloper, but perhaps in some way deserved to belong.

About a year ago the notion of my running for SAH VP was tossed around. As it is expected that the VP will eventually be President, I was dismissive of the idea, since I do not have the personality [I am socially awkward] or organizational skills for such a position. Thus when I was officially asked to run, I declined. I thought the matter was settled, but I was so wrong. Over the course of two weeks I was contacted by a number of individuals asking me to reconsider my decision. Putting the flattery of such attention aside, I pondered long and hard as to whether I could, in fact, handle the job. I eventually accepted, and at the Annual Meeting earlier this week I was officially installed as the newly elected Vice President of the Society of Automotive Historians.

The next two years will be a challenge. But I have a lot of support, particularly from the newly elected President. He and I share a vision for the SAH which we hope to implement over the next 24 months. So here I am, a not particularly glib individual with an interest but not an expertise in automotive history presiding over an 50+ year organization with a commitment to the preservation and dissemination of automotive history for present and future generations. It’s been a fascinating journey to get here, but the real trip has only just begun. Wish me luck!

The Missing Women of Motorsport

Last weekend I attended the Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History at the legendary Watkins Glen International Media Center, hosted by the IMRRC [International Motor Racing Research Center] and SAH [Society of Automotive Historians]. It was my third time in attendance – although I was a presenter last year I was invited to attend this year in my new role as Vice President of the Society of Automotive Historians [more on that in a future blog]. The conference attracts academics and historians presenting papers on a wide variety of topics related to the history and culture of motorsport. The goal of the conference, as noted on the IMRRC website, is to provide an opportunity for scholars, researchers, and writers ‘to present their work related to the history of automotive competition and the cultural impact of motor racing to their peers and the motor racing community in general.’

‘An Overview of Motorsport Podcasts Focused on Women’ presented by Mike Stocz

Last year’s conference, which coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX, featured a number of female presenters as well as a roundtable discussion focused on the state of women in motorsport scholarship. While there were notable gaps in the conversation, the panel represented an effort by symposium organizers to consider women as both motorsport participants and researchers. However the 2023 conference reverted to past gatherings in which women were notably absent as both presenters and subjects of research. The sole female participant was a member of the contingent from MacPherson College and as an archivist spoke on the automotive resources available to students at that institution. The only presentation which addressed women in some capacity was a quantitative study on the subjects most often discussed on motorsport podcasts focused on women. While the presentation was certainly academically sound, it was numbers based, and as a study presented by a male academic, it was lacking any understanding or explanation of women’s actual experience in the motorsport arena. 

‘Cruising Through the Stacks’ presented by Kristie Sojka

As noted in the roundtable discussion held a year ago, there is a dearth of automotive scholarship focused on women in motorsport history and culture. This is not surprising; although women’s automotive histories have slowly been incorporated into the canon, there are simply not enough scholars with an interest in exploring the topic of women’s participation in various automotive cultures, including motorsport. Although I have briefly touched on the subject in my own research, motorsport is a subject in which my own knowledge is limited. However, that being said, I came away from the conference with both motivation and determination to develop a paper with women as the focus for next year’s symposium at Watkins Glen.

This is not to say the conference was a bust. The long weekend began with the screening of a number of motorsport documentaries, followed by two days of presentations on a variety of subjects from researchers and historians from all over the world. I was able to connect with a number of scholars in the field and was perhaps awarded a small modicum of respect on my new VP status. While I have a number of project in the works, I will endeavor to develop a presentation over the next year that will hopefully bring attention to women’s absence as well as participation in the masculine world of motorsport.

The Road to Cooperstown

National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum

I am not one for fancy vacations; I haven’t been out of the country [with the exception of our nearby neighbor Canada] in decades and warm weather escapes are not my thing. When I escape from everyday life for a week or two I am not seeking pricey hotels or gourmet meals; I would rather spend that time going somewhere exciting or new or fun. In my mind, the best type of vacation is the road trip; more specifically, a baseball road trip. One of my favorite pastimes is to visit ballparks in all parts of the country. Since my husband and I have been to every current [and many past] major league ballparks, we had a wonderful time this past summer heading east and stopping at seven minor league parks and the mecca of baseball fans, the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Me in my goofy “Christmas in July” cap in Erie PA

The first stop of our trip was UPMC Park in Erie, Pennsylvania, home of the Erie SeaHawks. As it happened to be ‘Christmas in July’ night, we received nifty snow hats before the game was rained out. The next day found us at Sahlen Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons. After a day off in Buffalo to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Martin House – and Niagara Falls – we made our way to Innovative Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings.

Catching the Rochester Red Wings

Our next stop was Cooperstown where we spent an immersive day in the National Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame. Our trip continued to the Maribito Stadium in Binghamton, home to the Rumble Ponies, to the Joseph Bruno Stadium to watch the Tri-City Valley Cats, to NBT Bank Stadium, home to the Syracuse Mets, and lastly to Canal Park to cheer on the Akron Rubber Ducks. With the exception of the first day, the weather was perfect and we were treated to some good baseball in minor leagues parks of all descriptions.

Road trips are not only about the destinations, but also the interesting and often fascination regional attractions along the way. In Rochester we stopped at the Eastman Photography Museum and Susan B. Anthony House. In Binghamton we took a tour of the Phelps Museum and rode on one of the many public carousels in the surrounding area. [Binghamton, as it turns out, is the country’s carousel capital. Who knew?] We went a little out of our way to Saratoga Springs to visit its impressive car museum; the Schuyler Museum and USS Slater destroyer [as well as Gannon’s Ice Cream Shoppe] were part of our Syracuse stop. While these attractions would hardly make anyone’s Top Ten list, they offer fascinating insights into an area, its history, and its people. And they are the kind of places places – a little quirky, so fun and so interesting – you can only come across on a road trip. The trip was made in our new 2023 VW GTI which was an enjoyable way to travel down small town roads as well as speedier highways. When the mood struck us we opened the sunroof and took in the summer sunlight bouncing off our heads. It was a great trip – good baseball, interesting attractions, and a great way for my husband I to spend some time together on the road to – and from – Cooperstown.

Sahlan Field, home to the Buffalo Bisons

Trade-In Time

With a couple of aging cars and an upcoming change of lifestyle, it was time to replace our modes of transport. I loved my 2015 Golf R, but as a car with little tech [not even Apple Play!] I had driven for 8 years and 45,000 miles, I was ready for something new. I had originally planned on updating it with the 2023 model but the wait time was more than I was willing to endure. Plus, as I tend to own my cars for a long time, I didn’t think it would be safe as an eventual 80-year-old to get behind the wheel of a vehicle that went 0-60 in less than 4 seconds. However, since I love German cars, particularly VWs, I opted for a 2023 VW GTI. And as we were moving to downtown Ann Arbor, with short blocks that can be rather hilly, I quashed my desire for a 6-speed manual and opted for the pretty quick [0-60 in 5.1] 7-speed DSG. With front-wheel rather than all-wheel drive, it is a different driving experience but still a very enjoyable ride. And the tech! After a few months I am still learning all of what my car can do. But most of the things I loved about my Golf R remain – the responsive steering, the compact, perfect-for-me size, the simple yet pleasing design inside and out, the surprisingly spacious cargo area, and most importantly, the elements that make it so very ‘fun to drive.’ We took it on a baseball road trip this past summer and it was comfortable but not cushy, had plenty of space for our gear, and got better gas mileage [on regular rather than premium fuel!] than the R. And since my husband and I will be sharing the car [he traded in his Audi and 2016 R] it was important that we both enjoy it. And we do.

Brand spankin’ new VW GTI

Our other trade in was more utilitarian. For the past 30 years we have owned what we affectionally called a ‘dog’ vehicle. As breeders and exhibitors of bullmastiffs, we always drove a standard van that could carry at least five very large dogs. We opted for a RAM City Wagon a few years back, but traded up for the more spacious RAM Promaster which was perhaps the best canine transportation we had owned in our 30 years of breeding and showing dogs. However, after retiring from the dog world four years ago, we were down to two dogs so desired something smaller and more easy to maneuver in the city. We originally considered a large SUV, but the high entry point and the difficulty fitting two large crates in the back made us rethink our choice. After considering all of the options, we opted for – dare I say – a minivan. We chose a KIA which, as it turns out, has easy entry and plenty of space for two large dogs. It is also way more comfortable and has way more tech than the ProMaster. And most importantly, the ‘girls’ love it.

The ‘girls’ enjoying the KIA

We have since [very recently] moved from 18 rural acres to a condo in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. With much of what we do now within walking distance, our dependence on cars has been dramatically reduced. With a carport rather than [multiple] garages, the two new vehicles are fitting well into our new and very different lifestyle.

New cars in their new home

Wisconsin: Land of Beer, Cheese, and Cars?

On a road trip to visit family in Milwaukee and Minnesota this summer, a stop was made at the Wisconsin Automobile Museum in Hartford, just northwest of Milwaukee. First opened in 1986, the museum is housed in the former Libby’s cannery, repurposed by the Kissel family to display a large collection of cars and automotive artifacts. Very much a museum of ‘place,’ the Wisconsin Automobile Museum devotes much of its space to auto manufacturers and automotive activities with significant histories in the state. The first floor is devoted primarily to automobiles manufactured in Wisconsin, specifically Nash, AMC, and Kissel. The second floor holds the Southeastern Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame, which commemorates the history of regional racing in Wisconsin. The second floor also include newer models from a variety of manufacturers, as well as a working locomotive taken out on special occasions. All of the cars in the museum were either donated or are on loan. 

Women working at Kissel

As might be expected in a museum with significant Kissel family influence, the Kissel Motor Car Company takes center stage. The company was founded by Louis Kissel and his sons in 1903. During the early auto age, the high-quality, custom built Kissel cars ‘were known to the elites of society from coast to coast’ (Savage). Besides hand-crafted automobiles, Kissel also manufactured trucks, fire trucks, cabs, and hearses until operations ceased in 1931. Of the 27,000 Kissel automobiles produced, fewer than 150 are known to exist today, of which 27 are on exhibit in the museum. While Kissel, like other automotive manufacturers of the time, was a very male dominated enterprise, there are a few cars on display that have interesting if not significant female narratives.

1904 Kissel Kar

 Silent movie actress Anita King was the first woman on record to drive a touring vehicle solo across the country. She did so in a 1904 Kissel Kar, which is now parked on the first floor of the Wisconsin museum. Referred to as ‘The Paramount Girl’ in news outlets of the day, King took 48 days to make the trip, arriving jubilantly into New York’s Times Square on October 19, 1915. Of all the Kissel cars produced, perhaps the most famous model was the two passenger Speedster, nicknamed the ‘Gold Bug.’ This bright yellow automobile was a favorite among celebrities, including Amelia Earhart, who, as noted in a collection of news clippings on display, drove the ‘Yellow Peril’ from California to Boston in 1923. Other Kissel cars with female connections on exhibit include a 1923 car owned by ‘a married woman who paid cash,’ [and kept it until 1961], as well as a 1914 touring car named ‘Annie’ after a previous owner. 

1950 Nash with 61 original miles

Nash also got its start in Wisconsin when the Thomas B. Jeffery Company was purchased by Charles Nash in 1916. One of the featured cars in the Nash collection is a bright blue 1950 model. Its claim to fame is that it was purchased by a woman with intention of learning to drive. Unfortunately, the owner never got behind the wheel; the Nash now sits at the museum with 61 original miles on the odometer.

While the museum makes an effort to feature automobiles driven or owned by women, perhaps the most noteworthy female automotive references can be found in photographs as well as promotional material intertwined with the cars on display. If one stops to look at the video of Kissel history, an old photograph of the company offices reveals two women performing administrative work. Original artwork for the ‘Kissel Kar’ calls upon illustrations of elegantly dressed women to convey style, luxury, and class.

Promotional postcards used photographs of winsome women with accompanying lines such as ‘They are good to look at’ to entice potential 1913 Kissel buyers. Wartime advertisements sponsored by Nash focus on women who have contributed to the war effort as members of the Army Nurse Corps or as brave women waiting for a loved one’s return. Post war advertising features women as Nash consumers, test driving automobiles and speaking with car dealers. Other press includes an article on the real life twins whose images promoted the Hudson ‘Twin-H-Power’ engine. And while the Short Track display does not feature any women drivers, a few future female racers can be found in a 2019 photo of the Young Racers Car Show. 

As might be expected in museums devoted to a historically masculine enterprise as the automobile, women’s participation and influence in automotive history and culture is often hidden. However, as I have discovered in many of my visits, women do have a presence in automotive museums if one makes the effort to look for them.

Serendipitous Summer

Academic publication can work in strange ways. Getting a manuscript from submission to publication – with reviews, revisions, resubmissions, and restarts – can take a considerable amount of time. It can seem like ages before something is published, then all of a sudden multiple articles are released at the same time. That is what happened this summer. Projects I started years ago, as well as those written more recently, all appeared in print or online in the past couple of months. 

The first project published was a chapter on the history of women-only racing I was asked to write for a book on the history and politics of motorsports. While I was given rather broad guidelines – women in motorsports – I was able to craft a chapter – “From Powder Puff to W Series: The Evolution of Women-Only Racing” – that traced women’s involvement in segregated racing from the early years of motorsports until the beginning of the twenty-first century. While I entered the project rather ignorant of motorsports history in general and women’s motorsports involvement in particular, the staff at the International Motor Racing Research Center [IMRRC] in Watkins Glen, New York provided both materials and assistance for which I am extremely grateful.

The second article to appear was one developed from a virtual conference – co-convened by the Society of Automotive Historians and Automotive Historians Australia –  in which I participated last fall. The instructions for this project was to explore the ways in which the Australian and North American auto industries ‘shared parts and components, staff, expertise and skills, engineering, design and studio practices, business and management structures, and advertising and trade practices.’ Although I am not well versed in automotive history on either side of the Pacific, I decided to construct a historiography of women’s automotive history from Australian and American scholars. “Women & Automobiles Across Two Continents: An [Unfortunately] Brief Historiography of Women’s Automotive Scholarship in Australia and America” turned out to be an interesting endeavor, and provided me with the opportunity to put the skills I learned in graduate school – a shout out to BGSU professor of history Andy Schocket – to good use. I was contacted by the editor of the Automotive History Review to rework the presentation into a paper suitable for inclusion, to which I eagerly and gratefully consented.

The third project to reach fruition was “Pink Power: The Barbie Car and Female Automobility”. This project had a long and interesting journey from conception to publication. The idea was originally presented at the Popular Culture Association [PCA] virtual conference in 2020 during COVID. It was developed into a paper and submitted to an academic journal for consideration. It languished at the journal for months. I was asked to revise and resubmit, after which I waited another few months before being told that the article just wasn’t a good fit for the publication. The rejection turned out to be fortuitous. I resubmitted to The Journal of American Culture, and after making the recommended revisions, the article was published online just one week after the release of the Barbie film. Talk about perfect timing! This publication capped an incredible summer of published scholarship of which I am excited and proud.

I won’t experience another flurry of academic publishing activity for perhaps a year or two. I currently have two projects in process – in the writing and research stages, respectively. As I continue on these projects, I will take a moment to enjoy this serendipitous moment when all of the academic publishing gods collided.