While other sports hurry to establish professional women's leagues and ensure gender equity, there is one professional sport where men and women compete alongside one another in an equal environment – Top Fuel drag racing.
There is no program established to increase the amount of women drivers involved, nor subsidising of drivers financially. The women at the pro level of Top Fuel drag racing are there simply because, like their male counterparts, they are the best drag racers in the country, capable of the reactions and driving feel needed to handle 10,000 horsepower nitro-fuelled engines.
All of the drivers are popular with fans, all attract the same amount of spectators and all enjoy the same media coverage. When it comes to Top Fuel drag racing, a woman racing isn't a cause for a national PR push or special treatment – they race on their merits and skill.
Women make up almost 50% of the Top Fuel field that will compete this Saturday at Sydney Dragway's Nitro Thunder event.
There's Victorian team owner Rachelle Splatt, driving the Gulf Western Oil dragster, who has found herself returning to the sport after a decade away. She began racing in Top Fuel at just 23 years of age after watching her father drive and has competed in the USA, most famously becoming the first Australian to exceed 300mph on a drag strip, as well as the first woman in the world to accomplish the feat.
There's Queenslander Kelly Bettes, who is in second place in the championship and fighting to take over the lead this weekend. Driving for Lamattina Top Fuel Racing, Bettes was nine years old when she first took to the track in the Junior Dragster category, a motorsport nursery that has seen many new talents emerge. The daughter of drag racing promoter Steve Bettes, Kelly has earned a reputation for being able to drive the wheels off nearly anything.
And then there's Californian Ashley Sanford. While she wins praise for her close interaction with fans, she's also one of the most capable drivers on the track, rarely making mistakes and gaining the experience to hopefully make a shot at a full time ride in the USA's NHRA Mello Yello Series, the world's biggest drag racing competition.
Speaking of the USA, it just so happens that the reigning Top Fuel champion there is Brittany Force – but she's not even the first woman to own that title. A woman in Top Fuel is just another racer on perhaps the most even playing field in professional sport.
When championship leader Damien Harris races Kelly Bettes he does not see a woman in the dragster opposite him, he sees a rival in the points chase. When Wayne Newby races Ashley Sanford, he sees a stablemate with exactly the same goals as his – do the team proud. When Terry Sainty races Rachelle Splatt, he sees another independent team owner doing it tough just like him.
When the Top Fuel dragsters light up the track this Saturday at Sydney Dragway it's not a case of women versus men. It's simply eight of the most talented drivers from around the world doing what they do best.
- Top Fuel Australia Media Release