Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard by now that Danica Patrick has won the pole for this year’s Daytona 500 stock car race. Yes, a female drove her racecar faster than all the boys in NASCAR’s premier event at its premier level of competition. The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl. In the automotive racing world, this is a big deal.
Danica has driven in ten Sprint Cup Series races (NASCAR’s premier series) and is considered a rookie for the 2013 season. She will also become the first woman to compete in a full season of races at NASCAR’s highest level and has already established herself as the most successful female racer in Sprint Series history. Danica is not the first woman to race at this level. In 1949, Sara Christian participated in NASCAR’s inaugural race and three women drove in the second official event (Sara Christian, Ethyl Mobley and Louise Smith). However, it would take 27 years for the first professional female racer to competitively race at NASCAR’s highest level when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify and race on a superspeedway (Event: World 600). She would finish 15th.
Janet Guthrie should be considered American’s First Woman of Automotive Racing. She was the first female to qualify and compete in both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500; the worlds biggest racing events. Janet would go on to race in 33 of NASCAR’s premier events finishing as high as sixth. She also went on to compete in eleven Indy car races including three Indianapolis 500s. Between 1955 and 1976, no women competed at racing’s highest levels until Janet Guthrie reopened the door. It wasn’t easy. During the 70s, the big boys in NASCAR did not hide their opposition to female racers. For her on track accomplishments and success maneuvering the off track barriers, Janet Guthrie is a true racing pioneer.
This past weekend, I once again had the privilege of staying for a few nights in Yosemite National Park, this time returning to Tuolumne Meadows after about a 20-year absence.
The weather didn’t cooperate as well as it could have, but the trip was still really great and well worth the drive. As is typical of the Sierra Nevada in summer, a pattern of afternoon clouds, showers, and sometimes thunderstorms repeated each day, almost like clockwork. If you’re headed that way, go prepared with extra tarps and rope or some other way of constructing a little shelter at your campsite.
The beauty of Tuolumne Meadows is distinct from that found in Yosemite Valley. The valley is more visually striking, spectacular, in fact. Tuolumne Meadows is a little more gentle in its forms, even with its huge, looming rock domes scattered across its forests and meadows. It’s almost as much of a rock-climber’s paradise as is the valley, but it offers much more than the valley for the (maybe casual) hiker that wants to avoid huge gains in elevation.
What I want to write about here, though, are the people.
The people you encounter in national parks are a selective sub-breed – for the most part. They’re friendly, honest, trusting, open, and often educated and intelligent. However, not all of them are always thoughtful or considerate of others.
Campgrounds in national parks and other places are starting to resemble the infield at a NASCAR race just a little bit. Everyone comes for the beauty and atmosphere of the park, but some also come to party. In addition, some people just don’t really think about how loud their voices are or how well they carry in the morning air.
As an example, we were caught between two neighboring campsites, one with nighttime partiers and the other with a group resembling early-morning roosters. As a result, we didn’t get much sleep.
Neither of these groups was made up of “bad” people. I talked to one of the partiers at length. He and most of his group were in their early twenties and visiting from Australia. He was a really nice guy and we had a great chat. My wife pulled me away and I forgot to work into the conversation that “quiet hours” started at 10 p.m.
I didn’t talk to the morning group, but they seemed like really nice people who may have been visiting from somewhere in Latin America (they all spoke Spanish the whole time) and they were incredibly enthusiastic about getting all that they could out of there visit to the park. They ranged in age from something like 5 to 50 and they left their campsite by 7 a.m. each day and returned late at night. They also appeared to be amazingly well organized, but at 6 a.m. they were shouting and laughing loudly and didn’t seem to notice the motionless campsites nearby.
These groups had one thing in common: a lack of consideration for the other campers near them. Is this getting more common, or do I just notice it more? I got more and more annoyed as I wondered if these people ever thought of anyone but themselves.
As I resentfully pulled my pillow over my head, a memory hit me. It was in this very campground, over 20 years ago, that the inconsiderate jerks… were me and my friends. We had arrived late at the camp, started a campfire and were talking and laughing very loudly, well into the night. A nearby camper came over and, somewhat angrily, asked us to pipe down. Of course, we responded to his anger defensively at first, but we knew he was right. We quieted down after having waited 10 minutes so as not to be directly following our “orders,” and we went to sleep.
In the back of my mind, as it is almost every time I criticize anyone, is the thought that I have done the same thing, committed the same offense, been just as inconsiderate, and made a total ass of myself… and maybe even worse than those currently annoying me.
I guess this is part of getting older. I want sleep more than I want to party. I love a good beer or three, but I want to drink them calmly and then I want to stay in bed past 7:30 a.m. if at all possible.
Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.