Tuesday, April 29, 2014

1976 - Court battle brews between the sexes

Hutchinson, Kan.(April 29, 1976) - The immovable object and the irresistible force.
The two old foes pitted against each other in everything from football to tractor contests have another round scheduled Saturday night at the McCarty Speedway in Dodge City.

Jack Merrick is the immovable object, and Bonnie Brown is the irresistible force.

Brown, a Hutchinson resident, has been trying to gain entrance to the pit area at McCarty Speedway as half-owner of a car she and her husband own, and Merrick has denied her entrance to the same pit area because she is a woman.

“Women just don’t go into the pits,” Merrick said. “My insurance policy calls it a restricted area, and it’s under the control of whoever is running the races to admit whoever is qualified. She just wants in there to prove her little point.”

Brown points to Merrick’s rules which allow drivers, mechanics and owners in the pit area, and as an owner she feels that she qualifies to be eligible for entrance to the pit area.

“I had heard that Mr. Merrick didn’t allow women in the pits, and I decided to go see and find out for myself,” she said. ‘The officials wouldn’t let me in, and when I asked why they said they don’t allow women in the pits.”

“The officials said that women cause most of the fights, and that there was a lot of foul language, but I can get that going to any movie. It seems kind of ridiculous to me to let male car owners in the pit, but not to let me.”

Merrick’s rules do allow women in the pits if they are visiting dignitaries or members of the press. But he has a concession stand in the pit area and women are working in that.

“My husband and I work together all week long, and we found a hobby we can enjoy together and then he won’t let me in the pits.”

Merrick responded to the question of a woman driver gaining admittance to the pit area saying, “If she was a qualified driver and was driving in a race that night, there’s not anything I could do but let her in. At the time this all happened with her (Brown) I didn’t know her and she wasn't registered. It is just like she’s trying to get in the men's restroom.”

Although the situation at the McCarty Speedway is not unique in its stand not to allow women in the pit area according to Merrick, Brown says she has been allowed in pit areas at other tracks because she is part owner of the car.

“I’ve been in the pits at Salina, Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City and the Enid Speedway, and in all the time I’ve been in the pits, I haven’t seen any lights,” Brown said. “The first time I went to Salina I thought I’d go and sit in the stands to let it be solved legally because I had already filed the case then.”

“I talked to the owner and he said, ‘Oh, sure you can go in, just go pay your dollar and sign your name on the insurance form.’ I think I was the first woman in the pits there because one of the track officials came over and said ‘you can’t be here’ and when I told him the owner of the track let me in he ran over to his two-way walkie talkie and came back and said I just had to stay out of the way.”

The case Brown was talking about was a sex discrimination case with the Kansas Commission on Civil Rights. Both Brown and Merrick feel they are in the right, and both have vowed to go to court if that’s what it takes to prove their point.

“I haven’t received any official notice,” Brown said, “But I did hear that the Commission ruled in my favor. If they did, and he doesn’t let me in this week, I guess the courts will have to settle it.”

Merrick said, “We are still in the process of waiting for the final decision. We’ve been in conference with them (the investigators) several times this winter, and they've looked over our insurance forms and I think they will rule that the pit area is the province of whoever is running the race and admittance will be made to whoever is qualified. We’ll just have to wait and see what comes out of it. She knows about as much about race cars as I do about battleships.”

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