News stories are like children: You prepare them as best you can before you push them out into the cold, hard world, but then they’re on their own. Much as you hope for the best, you cannot predict how they’ll be received.
Take Jason Johnson’s recent story, “180 MPH! Bull Claims Fastest Woman in Shootout History.” What Johnson believed would be a feel-good story celebrating one woman’s achievement on the final day of last month’s Lake of the Ozarks Shootout sparked all kinds of debate and controversy, with comments on the OffshoreOnly.com message boards and Facebook ranging from congratulatory to derogatory.
Why report the story of one woman’s accomplishment in a sport dominated by men? The answer, of course, is in the question. Sure, women are all over the high-performance powerboat world. They’re everywhere—except, for the most part, behind the wheel. That’s why stories such as those of California’s Summer Richardson, who does it all herself and can outdrive most men in her DCB catamaran and Missouri’s Tristan Collins, who by all accounts has extraordinary go-fast boat-driving skills, are newsworthy.
And it’s also why the story of Debbie Bull running 180 mph is newsworthy. That she did it with Randy Scism, a multi-time offshore racing world champion and the founder of Marine Technology Inc., handling the throttles in her husband’s 52-foot CMS team MTI cat is irrelevant. Last I looked, having a throttleman during the Shootout didn’t break any rules. Driver Myrick Coil had Mystic Powerboats founder and multi-time Top Gun John Cosker as his throttleman in American Ethanol—this year’s Shootout Top Gun winner—just as Sheikh Hassan Jabor Al-Thani had Steve Curtis last year, just as Bill Tomlinson had Ken Kehoe the year before. The list goes on and on.
And yet when Debbie Bull has a throttleman, her achievement is somehow less than? It’s hard to see that as anything other than a double standard based on gender. True, there is no “Woman’s Top Gun Trophy” at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout. But her accomplishment stands tall, and if you dismiss it as just “holding the steering wheel straight” at 180 mph as has been suggested, you dismiss the achievements of every Shootout Top Gun driver—such as Dave Scott who happens to be in the event’s Hall of Fame—in history.
Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix