If you blinked last week, you may have missed the announcement from the World Endurance Championship that they will discontinue the age-old tradition of “grid girls” in 2015. For those unaware, grid girls are essentially young females dressed in attractive outfits, often scantily clad, who stand next to a racing car as it “grids” before a race begins. It’s a common tradition in motorsports, found in Formula 1, MotoGP, Pirelli World Challenge, and beyond.
One series who will not be on this list, however, is the premier category for sportscar racing, the World Endurance Championship. After carrying this tradition since the series began, in an effort to be more “progressive” the organizers have elected to drop the practice.
It has sparked some debate within the social media spheres, with some fans resisting the larger issue of political correctness, and other fans, most notably professionals clinging for relevance, who use this as an opportunity to grandstand on sexism in the sport.
With all of this being said, the issue has largely been ignored by the racing scene as a whole, and most likely for good reason: no one cares.
If we look at empirical data, research from every major series has shown a variety of “interest factors” in the sport, everything from the character of the drivers to the innovation in the vehicles… yet no fan mentions “grid girls” as their primary reason for coming.
In other words, it’s a non-issue. It’s hard to imagine fans won’t attend because there aren’t grid girls.
So if no one cares, then why abandon it?
Simply put, in a sport where female presence is becoming a larger and larger role in all forms of motorsport, the practice is simply antiquated. Within the last decade, we’ve seen: notable female drivers in every major form of motorsport, a number of female engineers and mechanics in a number of top of sportscar and NASCAR programs, but perhaps most notably, we’re seeing more and more C-level female executives within the top brands. Both Audi and Dodge/SRT have had their programs helmed by noteworthy female leaders, and even in Formula One we see a Female CEO running one of the longest-running teams in the sport. In the year 2015, it’s a tough practice to justify in front of decision makers such as these, and with no tangible influence on the fans, it doesn’t make sense to continue.
Beyond that, however, grid girls are actually a significant expense. In the Pirelli World Challenge, teams are required to foot the bill and arrangements for their grid girls. A traditional contract with local modeling agencies can often range between $200-400, not to mention the administrative and logistical processes to make it happen, and while this is a relative drop-in-the-bucket for most racing budgets, teams are in an era where they have to watch every dime… and this is an expense that is tough to justify.
That being said, it’s hard to believe that trackside models are going away entirely. Several entities within racing, most notably tire manufacturers and individual race teams, consider these models part of their brand, and within that it’s tough to imagine that series will outright ban this, they simply must move away from a series-required practice.
It’s a decision that seems inevitable and necessary, and likely something that won’t even be noticed once the WEC season kicks off this weekend.