After watching Valentino Rossi battle it out with Dani Pedrosa; where in the second final lap Rossi took lead and positioned his win (Fourth podium of the year); I decided to stay tuned and observe the next televised program. It turned out to be the final AMA Superbike series race at Laguna Seca, California.
During the Supersport race a bad crash by Hayes sent out the red flag. While waiting for the situation to be cleaned up the broadcaster attempted to entertain viewers and fill in air time. One of the features hyped even before the commercial break was that Ben Bostrom (a former favourite of mine back in his Ducati World Superbike riding days) would be demonstrating the how-to skills of being an -umbrella girl.
When cameras brought us back to track side, we were at Ben Bostrom’s pit where he initiated the segment by saying not once, but three times that “not only do “umbrella girls:
(1) “look good”. Then some words…
(2) “look good”. More words…
(3) “look good and do help to keep the sun off the rider while waiting on the grid in his leathers”, added Ben Bostrom.
Here he referred to how the rider can become quite warm waiting on the start grid for the race to begin. Ben then asked his girlfriend Nicki (not pictured here) to help out and demonstrate how to hold the umbrella and shade the rider – all the while as Ben continues to narrate. The camera moves over to show us the rider Nicki is shading, who happens to be the famous romance novel cover star Fabio! I guess in California you never know who you’ll find in a race venues’ paddock.
Fabio Lanzoni, a huge muscle bound fellow is sitting on Ben’s racer while Nicki attempts to shade him from the sun. Fabio gets off the bike and Nicki attempts to keep up to him and shade him. Nicki, not an official umbrella girl, donned rather in smart stylish attire. Ben, in the concluding wrap up, stated yet again, that umbrella girls “look good”, are useful to the rider”.
As women continue to populate all levels of motorsport, they too have decided —what’s “good for the goose is good for the gander” and are now demonstrating their own version of the “umbrella girl”… a guy. I too was proudly guilty of such. I often had umbrella boys shading me before a race. In fact I called them “Pit Studs” which seemed to me, a more masculine reference.
And one woman, the only woman to ever achieve MotoGP points, Katja Poensgen did us all justice by employing an “umbrella boy” during her 2003 MotoGP race in Sachsenring Germany. And this was one race I was in attendance for. She readied herself on the grid, accompanied by (perhaps for the first time in history) a fit, handsome, umbrella boy (actually it was her dentist who filled the role. Not just a ‘pretty face”!) who most charmingly garnished her start position.
In the many race venues I’ve attended throughout Europe, UK and North America as a racer or spectator- nearly naked umbrella girls are out there, with their trusty umbrellas.
What will it take to alter not just this “look good” aspect of racing but the way women see their own roles? As we continue to liken ourselves to that of umbrella girls, the assumption remains- when an attractive woman appears within a race paddock, the furthest thought remains to that of her being the pilot of a race bike.
Yet in all reality, many women have and continue to exchange their umbrella’s for race bike handlebar grips.
Without the grid side “umbrella girl” a rider will still win races, will still enjoy good starts and still fight all elements to be on the podium. We know this because, after all, the umbrella girls exist just because- “they look good”!