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About a week ago, Erica Ortiz e-mailed me to let me know that she picked me as one of her top 5 favorite blogs for Blog Day 2008. I was honored and thanked her for reading my blog.
Interested in her career, I checked out her site, Horsepower and Heels, and was immediately impressed at her commentary as well as her unusual hobby… drag car racing. As you’ll read below, having played sports early in life, she found herself also interested in Mustangs. So she bought one, and starting racing it. The rest is history.
Erica’s story is both interesting and special, and has a feminist tone as she faces adversity in staying “girly” in a male-dominated sport. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to talk to me. I encourage everyone to check out her site and read her commentary.
1) Tell me a little bit about your career. What is your full-time job? You’re a drag car racer, correct? For those of us who are unfamiliar (including me), what exactly is drag car racing?

My day job, I am a marketing and events coordinator for a company that manufactures broadcast equipment. I do some side consulting for the motorsports industry as well. But on the weekends and every other second of my spare time, my passion is drag racing. Drag Racing is the all out acceleration from a dead stop, as fast as you can go in a 1/4 mile or 1320ft. distance. I have been racing since 1998, and turned PRO in 2006.

2) How did you become interested in drag car racing? How did your career develop professionally? Have you played any other sports in your life? If so, which ones? Have they contributed to your success?

Normally, people who race came about it through a family member that races, or some other mechanical aspect. My parents could hardly change a tire, so they find it very puzzling that I ended up having this passion for racing. I can remember being little and looking out the window of our painfully practical and all-around boring sedan at all the Mustangs and other hotrods on the road, and really being in awe of them. My favorite toys when I was little were little cars, not the Barbies my Mom wanted me to play with. When I got in my teen years, that passion for cars really grew. I was a 3 sport Varsity athlete in high school- Volleyball, Basketball, and Track. I actually had a full scholarship for Volleyball, but a severe auto accident the summer before my freshman year in college sidelined me from sports. The only release I had was to compete in cars, so after I graduated high school, I bought my first car- a Mustang GT, and started taking it out to the local track for Street Night. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Shortly after that, I started hanging out at a local speed shop with local star racer, Dennis Lugo. I ended up working there with him, and he taught me how to work on my engines, and really taught me the ropes of racing. My car progressively got faster. I started competing in a racing series, and ended up finishing #2 in my class in 2003, my first full year on the tour. I decided to move up to PRO in 2006, and finished #2 for the season in my rookie year there as well.

4) What are some challenges you face in terms of media attention and drag car racing? Is this typically a male-dominated sport?

Though more women are out there today than when I started back in 1998, Drag Racing is still very much a male-dominated sport. Because it usually is such a unique story, women racing do tend to get more media attention. For the most part, that is a very good thing. However, as we have seen with IRL driver, Danica Patrick, you also tend to be scruntized much more and criticized for your every action. What that means is that as you are going through the learning curve process, they have a microscope on you. Any mistake you make (and believe me, all drivers make mistakes- male or female) spurns all the negative criticism that you can’t “cut it as a driver”. The truth is, all rookies make mistakes, the men just don’t have the magnifying glass over them for theirs.

5) Does sponsorship play a large role in drag car racing? If so, how did you attract your sponsors? Is your gender a challenge in gaining sponsorship?

The great thing about motorsports is that its the one sport where men and women can compete evenly…. the cars know no gender. But these cars are extremely expensive, and require the help of corporate and product sponsorships as you move up the ranks. Better equipment means faster times and makes you more competitive, so obviously the better funded racer has more chances of winning. Being a woman and also hispanic, I am able to offer a very different demographic to my sponsors. Because we are so rare in the sport, women tend to get more coverage and more mainstream appeal than male counterparts. This is a big selling point to sponsors…. win or lose, their car will make the press and thus reach their audience in a big way.

Sponsorships in drag racing are some of the most beneficial marketing dollars companies can spend because it provides them with a very wide array of marketing and promotional abilities. Everything from signage on the car (viewed by spectators, TV, magazines, etc), apparel, corporate hospitality, on-site event promotion, endorsements, printed promotions and hero card handouts, etc. are used as tools to give sponsors exposure and a ROI. My team makes sure that we are very proactive in getting exposure for the companies we represent. We have been featured in countless magazine articles (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/Media/Print/Index.htm), we created our own TV Series (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/TV/index.htm), and we stay active promoting the team, and our sponsors on a daily basis. BRISK USA (http://www.briskusa.com/), my main sponsor for 2008, started off as a product sponsor in 2006 and we really worked to get them exposure for their products. They were so impressed by the results, they decided to step up in 2007 to help us bring out a more competitive car. We work very hard to make sure ALL our sponsors are getting a very worthwhile response out of their association with Horsepower & Heels.

Although it would seem that after years of competing and especially how much more marketing appeal we have, that sponsorships would be easy for female drivers. However, I found out the hard way that the glass ceiling is still strongly in place. I’ve been told before that a sponsor still feels that he isn’t sure a woman could handle “a beast of a car like that” and that they are looking for a champion and to win races. Doesn’t matter that women have proven they can win…. the mental thought is still that a man can “get the job done”. Unfortunately, its a double-edged sword. Because you rely on sponsorships to fund a competitive car, women can only be as succesful as their funding allows. Until one is given the chance with a championship budget, we’ll always be running for 2nd best.

6) Who came up with the name “Horsepower & Heels?” what is its purpose? What kind of feedback have you received on this name?

When I started racing, I very much wanted to be accepted, wanted to prove that I was able to compete with the men and be good at what I do. But after awhile, I found myself trying to “be one of the boys” to be out there competing with them. It was almost as though I was apologizing for being me… for being feminine and girly and still wanting to be a fierce competitor at the track. I didn’t like that…. and one day, when a fellow racer expressed his absolute disbelief that I wore heels to a dinner banquet it came to me: Who says Horsepower & Heels don’t mix?!? There is nothing wrong with being a fierce competitor and still being true to what I am…. I am very proud of being a woman in such a male dominated sport.

My friends laughed and really appreciated the name, and after launching my website (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/) to the public, I received comments and notes from all across the world from other women who could relate. Its allowed me to meet so many great and supportive people.

7) Why did you start a blog? What is the purpose of the blog? How long have you been in the blogosphere, and what have you learned about the community so far?

I started the blog as an experiment in March of 2005 when I launched my website. I had just heard the word “blog” and wanted to learn more about the blogosphere and to have a place to talk about things that were important to me. It started off as a journal, keeping my family and friends informed with how the racing was going, but over the years has expanded to include all things important to me. I love the open communication it allows, and though my niche tends not to be as active in the social media area and don’t comment as much as I’d like, my blog still is the highest read section of my website, and brings 10,000 unique visitors and more each month.

8. What type of audience reads your Hosepower & Heels blog? Is it mainly women? Are you able to attract male bloggers to your site? If so, how? Do you think this is important?

I have readers of all types on Horsepower & Heels: men, women, other racers, and people who don’t race at all. Men thinks its cool, and love to chat cars. Women think its empowering, and kids like to see what’s possible when you put your mind to it. All of that is important. And I try to make sure that there is something for everyone, and that its easy to understand. I also think its important to use my blog for good causes too, that’s why you’ll see a lot of special causes posts (http://www.horsepowerandheels.com/blog/labels/Special%20Causes.html) in the mix too. Its important to give back.

9) What is the Horsepower & Heels Web TV series? How did this develop, and what is its purpose?

After my rookie PRO season, my crewmate Debbie and I were laughing at all the funny things that happen behind the scenes getting to the races. Some of those stories just don’t make good blog posts, and some of them would have made me money on America’s Funniest Home Videos. So, we decided to start carrying around a camera for PNN.com and record what its like behind the scenes being to women on the road and at the races. So far, we’ve been struggling to get the car back together, but once the race season kicks back in for us, there’s sure to be hilarity to follow.

10) I love your post entitled “More than a Tomboy.” I’m interested in hearing why you think people take such interest in your image, and how being a “tomboy” either helps or hurts your career.

This goes back to what created Horsepower & Heels to begin with. People see you out there in racing t-shirts and tanks, and a firesuit, and they begin to forget that you’re still a woman and capable of being girlie and attractive. I haven’t been racing recently, and I still get the comments of awe and shock when I wear dresses and skirts, as if being a racer by default means I can’t be girlie too. Its not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes it can get a little undermining… like, do people even see me as girl anymore? Am I really that transparent? I’ve been “just one of the guys” so long that sometimes I just want someone to open a car door for me, or comment on my new outfit, and not the size of my engine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m way more comfortable in a shop getting greasy than I am in the kitchen or garden, but still.

11) I’ve seen quite a bit of objectification of women in the male sports blogosphere. They seem to only cover women’s sporting events if the girls are “hot.” What are your thoughts on this? Do you see this as a challenge for bloggers like you and me?

You always get the jerks who make rude and lude comments, that’s just part of it. But I think that as a whole, I’ve found men to be very respectful and complimentary of the actual talent of women athletes, a pretty face just is the very sweet icing on the cake. It breaks the stereotype that women who succeed in athletics are manly and ugly…. just look at Ashley Force or Danica Patrick. Beauty AND Brains AND talent to boot!

12) One of the goals of Because I Played Sports is to bring a voice to women’s sports online. I’m wondering what your opinion is on this. Do you think women’s sports are underrepresented? If so, why?

I do think that regular coverage of women sports is lacking. We are lucky in motorsports, because we’re the only sport that women and men compete together, so we already have media representatives there and grab their attention. But if it were an all-woman series, I don’t think we’d get the billing or the coverage at all, and that’s sad. Its the same for all the other sports…. womens’ basketball only is talked about when there’s a fight, etc.

13) In the fight to bring a voice to women’s sports, how important do you think corporate sponsorship is? Do you see this as a challenge for us? Compared to what it was like ten years ago, do you think we’ve made progress in generating attention for women’s sports? If so, how?

I do think its very important to show support for our female athletes, and that especially includes corporate sponsorship. By allowing them the same means to achieve in their sport, you are not only giving them the chance to be the best, but you are lending credibility to them in the eyes of people who subconsciously or even consciously view them inferior.

14) I noticed the byline of your site is “back then they burned bras… now we burn rubber.” I’m assuming this is a reference toward feminist movements. Do you believe participation in sport is an important aspect of third wave feminism? If so, how? Is it important in the “big picture”?

I don’t neccesarily consider myself a feminist, but I’m all about empowering women to achieve anything they set out to do. I believe that by not conforming to this centuries old idea of what a woman is supposed to do, act, and be, we are redefining what we are. That includes sports….

15) In your opinion, what are some necessary steps to generate attention toward female sports for the future?

Media coverage such as ….Because I Played Sports, more support from sponsors, more personalization into the lives of the women. How much more impressive is it to see these awesome athletes, and know that many of them are mothers, career women, etc. Most women athletes right now are not making their living from their sport, unlike male counterparts. That’s what makes their successes that much more impressive.

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I’d like to extend a thank-you to Erica from Horsepower and Heels for including my blog in her Top 5 post for Blog Day 2008. It’s always an honor to be included in posts such as these.

Here’s what she had to say:

…Because I Played Sports
“Because I am really passionate about supporting women in sports of all kinds, this blog caught my eye for its coverage of women in all types of sports that are competing and kicking ass. Really great scope on women’s athletics, especially during this summer’s olympic games.”

I’ve added Horsepower and Heels to my blogroll because I support her position on competition and her professional career. Erica Ortiz is a dragcar racer who does an excellent job with her Horsepower & Heels brand and Web site. Her blog has the slogan, “Who says Horsepwer & Heels Don’t Mix?!? Back then they burned bras… now we BURN RUBBER!

Here’s what it says on her site:

“As a competitive and professional female in a predominantly male dominated sport, her story is appreciated well beyond the realms of hardcore race fans.  Because of her unique image, Erica’s reach and promotional abilities extend outside the racetrack.  From regular magazine coverage, prominent community membership & interaction on the web, radio, television, interviews and personal appearances are only a few of the benefits your company would be open to as a partner.   Erica is an outspoken individual in the racing industry, also contributing with occasional journalistic talent in several pen’d articles about the sport.   HorsepowerandHeels.com averages 300,000 hits and over 10,000 new visitors per month”

Keep up the great work, Erica, and best of luck with your company and racing!

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Girls, seriously?

How about we put down the fashion magazines for just a second. We’re selling ourselves short in sports journalism, and if we don’t start coverage of our best moments on the athletic fields will disappear altogether.

I recently posted on how disappointed I was to learn that Sports Illustrated for Women was a flop. So, it was by coincidence that I came across the Sports Media and Society blog where author Marie Hardin posted that Golf for Women magazine has joined the ranks of womens sports magazines that have been discontinued.

But what she said about readership is particularly interesting.

“Golf for Women and Women’s Sports & Fitness both had respectable circulations — around 600,000, the same rate base as that of The Sporting News.

Hardin concurs with the thoughts that I originally expressed in my previous post: advertising and identity are driving this trend of lack of material. Money and power reflect what’s important in our culture, and for some reason, our sports are not deemed an important enough to invest.

She linked to HerSports Magazine, which is interesting to me. I will be following the publication closely (particularly their new blog). But on the surface, I don’t see how they can draw the readers we need and deserve, because it’s not strong enough.

I think that we need to start getting opinionated about sports, sports coverage and sports news. I’m a firm believer that we as women can find the answer to the lack of sports journalism on the Web, where there’s unlimited space, and identity can be created and crafted as we choose. Should this work, we’ll prove that advertising is not necessary for the initial (and most important) stages of information share, and the news will literally go viral.

I think that if enough of us get together in the blogosphere and start talking sports, traditional media will follow, because advertisers would want to reach our audience. Anyone with me on this? Blogs are the perfect outlet for expressing our opinions.

Regardless, when someone finally hits this one home, it should really take off. Because, as Hardin says,

“Finding the formula that will attract the ad dollar has so far proven elusive for many women’s sports titles.

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