The Grid Girl Debate

Graeme wades into motorsport's hot topic of the moment

I have deliberately not commented on anyone’s thoughts about the grid girl situation until now but I think a few people missed the point.

There was a lot of talk of women being empowered and making their own decisions and that many a relationship has been spawned due to the happy alliance of racers and pretty girls. All that will go if we get rid of grid girls from motorsport.

There is an interesting juxtaposition in all of this in relation to F1. From what I can see it’s a decision taken by a group of middle aged male executives that will affect a group of young women: is that not what we are trying to get a way from?

In motorcycle racing things are a little different from F1. Riders arrive on the grid on a race machine that has been warming up for 15 minutes or so and has just done a fairly fast lap of the circuit. They will sit for up to half an hour on top of that bike with the hot engine right by their legs, in leathers and most times in bright sunshine and temperatures that can be above 30˚C. To have someone hoist an umbrella above them to offer some shade from the sun is not only welcome but entirely necessary. If the person holding the umbrella is an attractive young girl, where is the problem?

As a number of riders, girlfriends and wives pointed out. They would never have met each other had it not been for grid and promo girls at races.

It is 2018 however and in recent months there has been a groundswell of feeling that women continue to be exploited, objectified and degraded across all aspects of society. So is there still room for the ‘brolly dolly’ in this era?

Of course there is.

As I said, motorcycle racers need to have some form of shelter when they are on the grid. The advertising genie is out of the bottle and anyone who fulfills that role will inevitably be festooned in sponsor’s logos. How they wear those logos could be an issue and it may time for sponsors to offer a choice of clothing. I work with the girls every weekend and many work in the modeling, events and promotions industries. They are entirely comfortable with their body image and indeed relish the role they play on the grid. Many use it as a means of supplementing their income for college or to further another career. However, I do agree that no one should be forced to dress in clothing that they feel uncomfortable with.

I recall a WorldSBK race in Germany when the Yamaha team were sponsored by the West tobacco brand, and the girls came on the grid for the best part naked, in body paint. I am sure it’s not what they signed up for when asked to hold an umbrella on the grid. Conversely you will see many rider’s spouses looking fabulous on the grid, wearing sponsors clothing, but never in what could be considered as being objectified. There is a way to strike a balance.

I do find myself empathizing with the debate over the need for a group of leggy models prancing along the circuit and grid like Andalusian show ponies for no other reason than to be ogled at by the thousands of men around the paddock. I find it strange when I see a bloke in the paddock give his wife/girlfriend a camera to have his picture taken beside a couple of scantily clad promo girls. Does he stick the photograph on the mantelpiece alongside his wedding photos?

Maybe it’s an age thing but to my mind, in 2018 there is little or no need to specify that promo staff must be a size 8, 180cm tall young woman. Is society really that primitive? Maybe it is.

I see that F1 has just announced that they will introduce ‘Grid Kids’ at the first Grand Prix in Melbourne and I think that is a great idea. It would be a bold move by Dorna but something similar in WorldSBK would, I think, go down a storm. Much like field sports, football, rugby,etc the teams have mascots at the start of the game. Kids from local clubs, or young fans get a once in a lifetime chance to walk on the pitch with their heroes. I did it myself as an 8 year old on a wet Saturday afternoon in Scotland. My son has done it as well at both a football match and an international track cycling event. Without replacing the riders individual umbrella ‘person’, we could have each circuit offer the chance to local kids and junior racers to come on the grid and stand next to their own heroes. What better way would there be to encourage the next generation to become enthused by our sport.

Grid girls or Brolly Dollies, however you refer to them, will never disappear from motorcycle racing but I do think it is time for a fresh approach. Lets have some new clever ideas, involve the people involved in the decision making process and lets not rely solely on high heels, a cleavage and ruby red lipstick to promote global brands anymore.

Photos by GeeBee Images