Tuesday, July 5, 2016

1979 - Area race tracks won't allow women in the pits

Dodge City, Kan. (July 5, 1979) - If Janet Guthrie ever switches to stock, hobby or super modified driving and wants to race in Kansas, she’d better steer clear of Hutchinson, Great Bend and Dodge City.

Women are involved in running the three tracks, but other women aren't allowed in the pit area at any of them.

“It's just a rule we have,” said Fern Barragree, who, along with husband Vernie, runs Salt Hawk and Great Bend Speedways. “The drivers voted on it and said they didn't want women in the pit area.”

“Besides, we don't have proper restroom facilities at either track. And at Salt Hawk, the pit area is so small it doesn't take much to get it crowded. At Great Bend, the pit area is a little larger.”

McCarty Speedway is run by Mrs. Esther Merrick, widow of Jack Merrick, long-time racing promoter. “We've always had a rule about no women or children in the pit area,” Mrs. Merrick said. “The pit area is a restricted area, and does not come under the discrimination laws. They are only applicable to public facilities, and during racing action, the pit area is not public.”

Most Hutchinson drivers agreed with the ban on women in the pit area. “At Salt Hawk, they don't have restroom facilities for women,” Ron Borecky said. “A lot of times the men just go out behind something, and we've had comments from people in the grandstands about that.”

“I'm kind of liberal, and maybe if they were smart enough to stay out of the way...”

Borecky also spoke of the ‘blue’ language frequently heard in the pit areas.

“It doesn't bother me if a woman hears me, but you never know where they're going to be,” he said. “I've heard a few comments, like someone will be griping about his car and a woman will come along and they have to shut up. Like you're standing there cussing up a storm and turn around and a woman is looking right at you.”

Stan Hazell agreed with Borecky about the foul language.

“There is foul language, and I say no (to letting women in the pit area), but other than that I see no difference,” Hazell said. “Salina is the only track I know of that does let women in. At Salt Hawk, there are a lot of spectators around in the pit area, too, but most of the people are drivers or mechanics.”

Rod Adkinson likes having his wife in the pit area at Salina. “Sometimes my wife and kids go along, but if it's just my wife and I, she goes in with me and I don't see anything wrong with that,” he said. “Most generally the people in the pit area either know someone connected with a race car, or they're just standing around in the pits.”

“Everyone, the different drivers and mechanics, kind of work together as a team. The pit area isn’t somewhere to go down and sit around. If people want to come down, pitch in and help and not just sit and watch, I think its fine.”

Retired race car driver Jack Petty is in his first season running Salina Speedway, and said the policy allowing women in the pit area is not new.

“I don't know when it started, but it doesn't make a bit of difference to me,” he said. “The insurance company says whoever runs the track has the right to allow or disallow whoever they want. I never have asked anyone and I really don't care.”

The pit restroom facilities for men are “not complete” and are non-existent for women at Salina. Pit passes allow people to go into the grandstand area where there are adequate facilities for both sexes.

“There was a track at Enid, Okla. where the women wanted to go in the pits and put up a fuss and they let them in,” Petty said. ‘The first year, they were swamped with women, but the following year there weren't as many, and the third year, there were fewer yet. They discovered they couldn't see the races as well from the pit area, and drifted back to the stands.”

Petty said the discriminating attitude also existed toward women drivers. “A lot of men race car drivers don't like for women to drive race cars,” he said. “I haven't had any women ask to drive here, but last year I was out run by a woman at a track. She took first in the A Feature and I was second. The guys razzed me about being beat by a woman, but I told them it was nothing new for me.”

“When I started out in ‘53 there was a woman driver where I was, and she was pretty good. I don’t care whether I'm driving against a man or woman - what matters is whether they can drive a race car the right way or if they're just down there.”

Petty didn't feel “foul” language was a problem at Salina. “I don't think there's been any change on it one way or another, at least not that I've heard,” he said. “If a woman goes out to the pits expecting more attention from the racers or mechanics, she'll find out it just isn't so. I can speak as a driver and it's a full-time job when you're driving or trying to make your car go. The No. 1 objective is the races, and your race car and the races are what you concentrate on when you're down there.’

Petty’s girlfriend, Mary Lou Covert, joked, “You don't get attention like that until the races are over.”

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