I try to remain emotionally unattached when I watch NASCAR races. It’s usually easy for me to do.
But this season I find it excruciatingly difficult to cast my personal feelings aside when I watch Danica Patrick on the track.
The bottom line is, as a woman, I want to see her succeed. I’ve written about how her marketability does not bother me – it still doesn’t – and her beauty and use of her looks does not offend me.
But no matter how unbiased and supportive I try to be I find myself yelling at the television when she crashes out, goes laps down, or suffers another lackluster appearance at the track.
I’ve suffered this season trying to watch Patrick win or earn, at least, a top five. I am exhausted by my efforts.
And then I met and interviewed a driver who completely changed my perspective.
Kathy Jarvis is a Late Model dirt track racer who just completed her first “Hell Tour,” a competition that visits 29 venues in 32 days.
This woman who is, to date, the only female who has ever tried to tackle this literally hellacious series, fascinated me.
Jarvis did not come to racing like others. She didn’t start as a child in go-karts and then come up through the ranks. She found racing through a different avenue.
Fearless is a word to describe this racer who told me that as a child her mother, a single mom to four children, never told her to not do something.
It was never, “Be careful you might get hurt!” Jarvis was told to do whatever she wanted but warned, “You know that you might get hurt and I can’t afford to get you fixed!”
And fearless Jarvis is. She admits she tries to do everything of which she is afraid – so she won’t fear it any longer.
She’s carved out a successful job as a Hollywood stuntwoman for the last 17 years.
When, as a guest at a race a few years ago, the opportunity arose for Jarvis to get into a Late Model dirt car Jarvis, being the woman she is, simply said, “Yes, because you neversay no!” And thus started Jarvis’ career as a racer.
When Jarvis was asked if she wanted to compete in the “Hell Tour,” and be the only woman to do so, she said yes again.
And it is hell. Out of the 29 races, Jarvis made 21 of them – one was cancelled due to hot weather and she missed seven nights in a search for parts or car repairs.
Through the entire tour Jarvis faced a lot of adversity. At one point she lost her team. She had to call her husband to come work for her, something he swore, in frustration, he’d never do.
She struggled with the process, questioned her perceived lack of success and, ultimately, was mired in the difficulty of it all.
Frustration gave way to feelings of being overwhelmed. But fans continually reached out to support her, lift her spirits and thank her for being out there and never giving up.
Jarvis refused to compare her situation to that of Patrick or Johanna Long, but instead insisted on speaking solely about her own experiences and strengths.
She does not dwell on the sights set by others – fans or critics. Jarvis says her success is based on her own feelings.
“If I did the best I could, and I feel really well, then that is a success for me,” Jarvis, for example, explained about a 15th-place finish.
This brings Patrick’s scenario into focus for me. I’d been caught up in what the detractors complain about her.
I had the idea that this season had to be more about wins for Patrick, even though we’re told weekly that it’s about “seat time and logging laps.”
Well, Patrick is doing that. That’s all she needs to do at this point. Success for her may be more along the lines of what Jarvis understands as a personal one. Who am I to judge harshly?
Instead of tearing down I will be concentrating more on progress.
I’ll still watch Patrick run the Nationwide races as well as the few Sprint Cup races she has left on her 2012 schedule.
I’ll be silently rooting for her and calmly accept every small victory – even if it’s one not accompanied by a checkered flag.
But, I’ll also follow closely the career of Kathy Jarvis, who inspires me greatly and impresses me even more.