During the '70s, Vladivar vodka, amongst many others, used groups of girls to promote itself at rounds of the British championship. These weren't grid girls – they didn't dare venture onto the actual circuit, but rather loitered amongst the fans handing out free stuff to promote their product. The, when the race was completed, a select few accompanied the winning riders on a lap of the circuit in an open-top car. This idea caught on and became a common sight at race meets.
But in the late '70s all was not well on the world scene. Unbelievable as it now sounds, top riders such as Barry Sheene, Kenny Roberts and Randy Mamola were paid very little to race in GPs. And lower-order riders were often paid nothing at all. The circuits were privately owned and, while 250,000 spectators might have crammed through the turnstiles of Assen, the riders didn't see any of this cash. So how did they make their money?
This was the Catch-22. To make money you had to race in invitation races such as the Transatlantic series, Imola 200 and European street races. The problem was that you had to become a big name to attract good start money, and to do this you had to be a top GP rider. The circuits realized this and capitalized on it.
But that wasn't the only issue. The tracks were dangerous and riders were losing their lives due to poor safety. Not only this, the grids were huge, with often more than 180 riders trying to qualify for the 80 grid slots. This lead to more fatalities as riders of wildly varying skill met on track. Also, the facilities at the circuits were basic, to say the very least. Something needed to be done, and Kenny Roberts decided to enlist the help of rider power. During the 1979 season, Roberts gathered enough support to threaten the FIM with an ultimatum – sort out the safety of the riders would set up their own race series. He reasoned that TV coverage only followed the leading few riders, so why have huge grids?
The FIM realized the seriousness of the threat and cut grid sizes, improved safety and started to look at new ways of getting money into racing. But not before Sheene and Jon Ekerold blew up the toilets at Spa in a protest against their poor standard.
The First Grid GirlWhile this was going on, one lady was starting a revolution. Rather than stay at home, or watch from the pit wall, Swiss rider Thierry Fuez's rather dishy wife was helping her husband out. Joining the usual array of oily mechanics, Fuez's wife used to wander out on the grid carrying his paddock stand and other assorted bits and bobs – but she did it in style.
Obviously a lady more than comfortable with her appearance, she would walk onto the grid wearing a skimpy swimming costume should the weather be warm enough, and a bit more if it wasn't. But she was more than just a pretty face – come the start of the race she would also take car of Fuez's pit signaling and lap timing.
Not long afterward, the Italians started to copy this idea, then very soon the grids became awash with brollies as a revolution happened.
But this wasn't a revolution born through sex appeal, this was one that was brought about by another of man's vices – money.....Tag: Racing Grid-Girl Vladivar vodka Championship Barry Sheene Kenny Robberts Randy Mamola Grand-Prix History Advertising Income Sponsor GP500 FIM Television Business