The term “Race Queen” has been coined in Japan to describe the female models and pit crew who support their teams both on and off the track. Generally dressed and made up to be as attractive as the cars they represent, it is not hard to spot them from afar. Although first impressions might write them off as eye-candy, their knowledge of racing and automobiles would put your average otaku to the test. Much like everything interesting out of Japan, race queen’s have a unique history of their own that goes back well over 40 years.
Also known internationally as “Campaign Girls”, “Paddocks” and “Pit Girls,” the idea of the race queen has been popular all over the world wherever motor sports are conducted. However, it is only in Japan where the profession continues to gain momentum even after the queens leave the track. Fitting perfectly into the “idol” culture, many race queens continue or start their careers as gravure idols, cosplayers, and recently, net idols. With such backgrounds and the understanding of a fan base, the communications skills they have on both analog and digital levels are crucial to their success. Knowing this, it is almost a standard that along with maintaining their character, the average race queen will also keep a daily blog and update fans on their teams progress. Even though social media has a great impact on this modern profession, its roots go much farther back.
The 1960′s Era
Often described as the first race queen, actress and model Rosa Ogawa launched the craze between fashion model and automobiles with Cosmo Oil Co., Ltd.’s 1969 ad campaign for their high octane fuel. The poster advertisements featured Rosa jumping up in a Marilyn Monroe-esque pose with the campaign slogan plastered above. Although she spent little time standing around a car, the imagery would stick around to inspire future models.
The late 80′s saw the Japanese economy peaking during its bubble period, and with it came large advertising budgets with less than conservative ideologies. As motorsports racing began to become increasingly popular, racing queens began to become a staple complement to rising brands. Amongst the most popular models of this generation were Okamoto Natsuki and Iijima Naoko who set the trend for swimsuit-clad, umbrella-holding beauties.
The 1990′s – Present
The evolution of the race queen profession quickly moved from simple one-off modeling jobs, to full out careers as media and fans alike showed increasing interest in the models. More than happy to support a growing fan base in the racing industry, sponsors have continued to place a great deal of their brand identity in the investment of the event companions.
In 1999, under the Equal Employment Act, the term “Race Queen” was officially replaced to a more subtle title of “Circuit Lady”, and the job was only allowed for those over 18 years of age. With this came the organization of the models through mass-media companies and agencies. By representing the circuit ladies through a managerial-hiring process, the employment and safety standards have dramatically improved over the years. The most coveted top ten lists for popular race queens are usually in Japanese magazines for the modelling profession such as “Gals Paradise” and “Top Queen” with some of the current most popular stars being Yukino Hashimoto, Hana Uneme, and Sayuri Kawahara.
In an industry full of oil leaks, burning rubber, and over-compensation, Race Queens continue to add the much needed feminine element to the sport. Next time you find yourself in the company of these hard-working professionals, be sure to appreciate the legacy of their trade before asking politely for a picture.