Academic journal article Sport Marketing Quarterly

Advertising Portrayals of Indy's Female Drivers: A Perspective on the Succession from Guthrie to Patrick

Academic journal article Sport Marketing Quarterly

Advertising Portrayals of Indy's Female Drivers: A Perspective on the Succession from Guthrie to Patrick

Article excerpt


This study presents a perspective on advertisements featuring female drivers that appeared in the official Indianapolis 500 programs from 1977 to 2006. Specifically, content analysis was used to track the succession of female drivers' depictions in the programs over the 29-year period from Janet Guthrie's rookie year to Danica Patrick's second race appearance. Ads were analyzed for pose, connotation, role portrayal, and camera angle. Descriptive statistics indicated that prior to 2003, the drivers' (Guthrie, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, and Patrick) ad depictions were most often strong and athletic or displaying athleticism, and their photographs were shot from straight, even planes. A transition began in 2003, when an ad featuring Fisher was somewhat sexually suggestive in her role portrayal. The advent of Patrick, however, substantially changed all aspects, particularly portrayals, as she was often photographed in sexually suggestive manners. Thus, Patrick's arrival essentially changed the treatment of females appearing in the official program ads, when she was objectified as compared with Guthrie, St. James, and the majority of Fisher's ad portrayals.

Advertising Portrayals of Indy's Female Drivers: A Perspective On The Succession From Guthrie To Patrick


The Indianapolis 500 is one of sports' most glamorous spectacles. In fact, long before society's current interest in motor sports peaked to make NASCAR and Indy Racing League series races popular as choice tourist destinations and television viewing staples, the Indy 500 had already earned an enduring place as a hallmark event in American culture. The Indy 500 drew an in-person, radio, and TV audience that could well be described as a cross-section of America, with fans of each gender, all ages, and all socio-economic levels watching and listening to the race in their homes or sitting in the stands. On the actual racetrack itself, however, there was a different social order, as only males were permitted to drive in the Indy 500 race. Females could be car owners, sponsors, and fans, but they could not drive at Indy for the first 60 years of the race. There were even parts of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway grounds where women could not step foot, on race day or any day, because Indy was essentially a male-only venue.

Indy's gender barriers were broken when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to drive in the 1977 race. Later, Lyn St. James, Sarah Fisher, and Danica Patrick followed Guthrie and each made her own mark on the event. Guthrie, St. James, and Fisher each had niche followings and, although limited as compared to male drivers, sponsorship and endorsement opportunities for the women grew in progression. However, beginning with the 2005 race, it was a female driver, Patrick, who overshadowed the male drivers in media coverage and fan interest. As a result, Patrick's endorsement opportunities grew quickly, particularly when compared to her female predecessors' prospects. This study presents a perspective on the manner in which the female drivers' endorsers featured them in their advertising. More specifically, this study analyzes the female drivers' treatment in advertisements that appeared in the official Indianapolis 500 program from Guthrie's first appearance in 1977 to Patrick's phenomenal second-year appearance in 2006. The development and "maleness" of Indy is detailed, the introduction of women to the event is explained, the trend of using celebrities in ads is highlighted, characteristics of females appearing in sport-related advertising is explained, and ads featuring Guthrie, St. James, Fisher, and Patrick are scrutinized and evaluated.

Indy As A Male Terrain

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1906 to provide automobile manufacturers with a safe place to test their cars for speed and performance at an off-road facility. Because the track had long straight-aways and wide, sweeping turns, speedway developer Carl Graham Fisher thought the track would be perfect for both testing as well as competitive races for the different makes of cars (Indianapolis Star, 2006). …

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