The 21st century has seen welcome and plentiful advances for women in racing. Female drivers have increased their profile in the sport, led laps, won races and poles, and even scraped out a championship or two.
For 2015, we'd like to see more of everything -- more women competing, more women winning and maybe even a woman in command of the pit box.
Things like the following:
1. Danica Patrick wins a race
It's time for Danica Patrick to take a big step forward in terms of racing numbers and results. Considering that this will be her third full season in Sprint Cup, that she has started 82 races in the series and that her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick won the 2014 Cup championship in equipment that is, theoretically, similar to hers, that step seems to be within reach.
It should come in the form of a victory -- or two -- or consistent top-10 finishes. Both should be the goal. One or the other would make 2015 a more interesting season for the sport, its fans and Patrick's career.
2. Erica Enders-Stevens reaps sponsorship rewards
As the winner of the 2014 NHRA Pro Stock championship, Erica Enders-Stevens now has the big trophy. Wouldn't it be nice if she didn't have to worry about sponsorship and the financial ability to race a full schedule? Last season, because of economics and the cost of travel, her Elite Motorsports team had to skip two races -- the final two of the popular Western Swing.
There's just something wrong with that picture. But wrong would become very wrong should Enders-Stevens have to endure similar circumstances in an attempt to go back-to-back.
3. A woman wins the Funny Car championship
There remains one NHRA drag racing series that has yet to produce a female champion. It is, perhaps, the most popular category -- Funny Car. A couple of women took serious swings at it last season. Courtney Force won four national events and finished fourth in points, and Alexis DeJoria won three races and finished seventh. In 2009, Ashley Force Hood finished second in Funny Car points.
A Funny Car championship won by a woman in 2015 would further secure the NHRA's standing as the most diverse American workplace for drivers.
4. Simona de Silvestro gets another crack At F1
The Formula One driver's club has been male-dominated ever since Lella Lombardi last raced -- that would be 1976. It's time for a change.
A year ago, Simona de Silvestro appeared to be headed for a career in Formula One, the pinnacle of world-wide automobile racing. She was hired as an "affiliated driver" by the Sauber team. She tested with Sauber and looked to be in line for receiving her super license. But in October, Sauber terminated de Silvestro's testing program, citing "financial reasons" on the part of the driver. De Silvestro, 26, parted with her management afterward but the damage was done. The hope is that another team saw enough to be interested in continuing de Silvestro's ascension to an F1 cockpit.
5. A woman gets chance as NASCAR crew chief
Women have made key inroads in race shops, garages and paddocks over the years. A few have climbed higher than that. Leena Gade, for example, is chief engineer for an Audi sports car program that has won Le Mans. In that capacity, Gade makes key race-day decisions, and many have been winners.
But to date, no woman has staked out the big seat on top of a NASCAR pit box. People around the sport will tell you it's just a matter of time before a NASCAR team elevates a woman to the position of crew chief. This would be a great time to get started by putting a qualified woman in the position on one of NASCAR's three premier touring series.
6. Johanna Long gets real NASCAR shot
Johanna Long arrived in NASCAR in 2010 with a very respectable résumé, capped by a victory in the prestigious Snowball Derby, an offseason super late model race in Florida that annually attracts some of the best drivers in the world -- including drivers from Sprint Cup.
In NASCAR, Long entered 24 Camping World Truck Series races in 2010-11 and 41 Nationwide Series races in 2012-13 -- all for less than wonderfully funded teams. She qualified in all but one of her 65 attempts and earned the respect of her peers. But her Nationwide team folded prior to the 2014 season, and she was forced to sit out the entire year. The way it looks now, she also will spend at least the start of the 2015 season courting deals instead of driving cars or trucks. Meanwhile, people whom some consider to be of lesser talents will compete. There's still time to give Long a shot. A real shot.
7. Sarah Fisher shines at Indy again -- as co-owner
Sarah Fisher was immensely popular during her days as an IndyCar driver and competed in nine Indianapolis 500 races, the most number of starts for a woman. Now co-owner of the Sarah Fisher Hartman IndyCar Series team, she has a chance to shine again. In the offseason her team merged with Ed Carpenter's. Both have won races in the past and both have very competent drivers. Combined into a multi-driver team, winning the Indy 500 becomes more of a possibility.
8. Lesa France Kennedy steps into spotlight
NASCAR would benefit greatly by increasing the public presence of Lesa France Kennedy. The daughter of the late Bill France Jr., there are few other people in racing who have the intelligence and savvy of this woman.
Officially, her current highest-profile gig is as CEO of International Speedway Corporation, the branch of the France family-owned business that deals with race tracks. But the Duke grad is also on the NASCAR board and a quiet behind-the-scenes force in NASCAR. Moving more to the front of the scene would send a terrific message and result in positive change.
9. Female drivers return to Indy 500 in numbers
During an interview at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2013, Ana Beatriz predicted there would always be women racing in the Indianapolis 500. And why wouldn't she? In 2010, 2011 and 2013 there were four women drivers on the starting grid. Danica Patrick, Simona de Silvestro, Katherine Legge, Pippa Mann and Beatriz had made multiple starts. Not only that, the women were having success. In seven starts, Patrick had six top-10 finishes.
But last year, the number of women earning rides in the 500 slipped to just one -- Mann. At this moment, IndyCar Series teams are making plans for this year's 500. Good rides with good teams will become available as the series moves to fill the 33-car field. There is no shortage of highly qualified women drivers out there who deserve shots at those jobs. That's "jobs," plural.
10. D4D makes breakthrough with female driver
Two women were named to NASCAR's Drive for Diversity class for 2015 -- Kenzie Ruston and Natalie Decker. But it is essential that the D4D program make more forward movement. The program has shown well in recent years thanks to rising stars such as Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Daniel Suarez, but it has yet to produce a breakthrough woman driver. Until it does, it will remain open to the criticism of not being fully successful. And NASCAR will be open to criticism that it is not fully committed.