Amid some exciting baseball games and the beginning of the NBA playoffs, a historic sporting event took place on the other side of the world this weekend when Danica Patrick became the first woman ever to win a Indy Racing League event. The victory came at the Japan 300 in Patrick's 50th career start, the current peak in a career that has generated loads of attention for the struggling circuit thanks to both Patrick's racing ability and, yeah, her striking good looks and her willingness to market (exploit?) the same. But Patrick's career also has created controversy because of her appearances in skimpy swimsuit and provocative ads - combined with her lack of a victory so far. Some commentators, such as Yahoo Sports' Bob Margolis, have gone as far as to compare Patrick to Anna Kournikova, stating that her presence in IRL wasn't worth the attention until she actually took the checkered flag once. So you would think that Patrick's win would turn the tide and finally shut up her critics, right? Not in the case of Margolis, whom within 24 hours took great pains to marginalize her achievement.
Among other things, Margolis called Patrick's victory "a triumph (more) in public relations than auto racing" and noted out that she won in Japan based on a fuel management strategy - an outcome that is far from unusual in IndyCar racing - rather than an exciting wheel-to-wheel finish that "many close observers of the sport feel she will never win". ("Now Patrick can focus on scoring a more “traditional” victory," Margolis oozed.) He also so helpfully pointed out that the Japan 300 starting pack was smaller than usual - only 18 cars - and that only seven of them were in the lead lap at the end. He even uses other women, such as drag racing legend Shirley Muldowney, to water down Patrick's milestone - forgetting the very obvious fact that while Muldowney indeed did plenty to shatter the motorsports gender barrier, she never had to make a left turn going nearly 200 miles per hour, something that a lot of drivers with penises (including, I'm just guessing, Bob Margolis) would have great difficulty accomplishing without sending themselves into a wall.
In the end, Margolis writes that Patrick's victory "leaves itself subject to scrutiny." But the only thing that deserves scrutiny is Margolis' objectivity. It's a far cry to compare Patrick - a former IRL Rookie of the Year whose has steadily gone up in the circuit's standings year after year, including a seventh-place finish in 2007 - to Jackie Robinson for a myriad of reasons, including the fact that Patrick isn't the first or only woman in open-wheel racing. But it's easier to compare Margolis to the (possibly) racist naysayers in the press box who looked down upon Robinson when he broke baseball's color line 61 years ago. He is, to be blunt, a Neanderthal who lets his obvious contempt for Patrick get in the way of his alleged expertise about the sport he is paid to cover.