Friday, April 27, 2012

Not All Horsepower Addicts Are Men

Tamara Wong with Mustang, Photo: aol

Whoever said that only men have the need for speed?

Not Tracey Richardson of Lexington, Kentucky, who drives a 2010 Corvette Grand Sport with a 6.2-liter V8 engine that rides herd over 430 ponies. And not Tamara Wong of Dublin, California, who gets her motoring kicks behind the wheel of a 2006 Dodge Charger SRT8, which is powered by a 6.1-liter V8 that delivers 425 horsepower.

It’s true that the majority of muscle-car owners are men, but Richardson and Wong are only two of the many women in America who are out there tearing up the road in their Corvettes, Chargers, Mustangs, and Camaros – not to mention luxury speed demons like Porsche 911s and AMG Mercedes models. Indeed, this is a very big country, one that includes millions of horsepower freaks. So even though females may be in the minority in this category, there are still a lot of them putting the pedal to the muscle-car metal.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of Owners

Chrysler reports that, for the 2009 and 2010 model years, about 26 percent of Dodge Charger R/T and Charger SRT8 buyers were women. General Motors estimates that about 10 percent of Corvette owners are women, adding that the company has sold about 1.5 million ’Vettes since it was launched in 1953.

“I understand why there are more men than women who are into muscle cars,” says Wong. “Men tend to be more into mechanical things. You don’t see as many women as men who know about what’s under the hood, but I think that’s institutionalized, from the way girls were brought up back then,” she adds, meaning in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. “I think a lot of girls were brought up thinking they weren’t expected to know about any of that stuff, or that it was okay not to be any good at mechanical things.”

But Wong was an exception. “When I was nine or 10 years old, I was out in the garage, helping my step-dad when he was tinkering under the engine,” she recalls. “I’ve never been a girly-girl. And I grew up in the South, so that also might have something to do with it.”
Like Wong, Richardson also knew, from an early age, that her interest in cars set her apart from the other girls. Most of her friends were boys, she recalls. “I was the tomboy type,” says Richardson. “These boys would get heir motorbikes, and I’d say, ‘Bring it over, let’s see what it can do.’ Dolls and those kinds of things weren’t in my vocabulary. I was out there with the guys looking for the dirt trails.”
Richardson has a long-standing joke she unfurls whenever asked about her passion for muscle cars. “I just tell people that it’s my parents’ fault, when they named me: If you take the name ‘Tracey,’ and drop off the first and last letters, you have the word ‘race.’”
On Richardson’s desk is a photo that she says is “priceless” to her. “It’s of me, at age three, sitting in one of those little toy pedal cars, with flames on the hood. It’s the kind of present that, in most cases, parents would give to a little boy. So, I guess knew even then that there was something special about my personality,” she says with a laugh.
Photo: aol

True Love
Over the years, Richardson has owned a Z06, and three convertibles, until she realized she prefers the lines of the coupe. Her current 2010 model is the ninth Corvette she’s owned over the last 20 years. “I’ve just always been intrigued with that feeling of being behind the wheel of the ’Vette, that feeling of being in control of so much power, with my foot on the pedal, knowing I could make it do whatever it needs to do.”
“This Charger is just a blast to drive,” Wong effuses. “It’s everything I could want or love in a car. Having that much power, and knowing that it’s there when I need it, that’s just an awesome feeling. I also put an aftermarket exhaust system on it, so I could really hear it rumble. It’s not really a muscle car if it sounds like an air conditioner. I mean it’s got a Hemi, so I want to hear it.”
Richardson is a member of the same sisterhood as Wong – in more ways than one. The aftermarket exhaust system on her Corvette has a remote control to let the driver choose between “mild” and “wild” settings, which controls the volume of the engine roar. “I have mine set to ‘wild,’” Richardson. “I want it to sound more throaty. I don’t want something that sounds like a powder puff. When you’ve got it wide open, it makes that distinctive sound, and everyone knows you’re coming.”
Richardson notes that she may also “be sort of an oddball in the world of Corvettes, being a woman, especially when I used to participate in high-performance driving events. I guess a lot of women wouldn’t want to take that chance, to be out on the track, taking a turn at 90 miles an hour.
"But I really liked the feeling of passing a man out there on the track,” she adds, laughing again, this time just a tad more devilishly.
Wong also likes to get her Charger out on a track. “One track I love is the Willow Springs International Raceway, out near the Mojave,” she says. “It’s got one of the longest front straightaways in the country, so you can really open it up. I got a few tickets when I first got the Charger, so that slowed me down, at least out on the freeway. But out on the track, there’s no cops, and no little old ladies, so you can really run it hard without getting into trouble.”
Tracy Richardson with her 2008 Chevy Corvette, Photo:aol

Sign Of The Times
So, can it be said, then, that women who drive high-powered muscle cars are perhaps “more in touch with their masculine side?”
“Well, in my case, perhaps it would be more in touch with the daring, competitive side, when you consider those driving events,” ponders Richardson.
Wong is not sure about that characterization, either. “I know some women who have Chargers with Hemi’s, and they paint them pink, which is pretty feminine,” she says drolly. “But I guess I do feel like I have a masculine brain in some respects.”
Let’s ponder this notion, then: Is a female who loves driving a high-performance car more likely to be employed in a traditionally male field – like technical or manufacturing -- as opposed to being, say, an English teacher or social worker?
Turns out that Richardson and Wong are two examples that could support such a theory: Richardson is a lean-manufacturing consultant who has also worked as a line supervisor at an auto manufacturing plant. And while Wong is presently a stay-at-home-mom with a two-year-old daughter, she previously worked in database management, and is currently completing her degree in information technology.
“So, yes, I suppose there might be something to that notion,” says Richardson. “There are a lot more women in manufacturing these days, but for a long time, it was very much a male-oriented profession.”