promo_danicaFrom the moment she was announced as a part of the roster for Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, the addition of NASCAR racer Danica Patrick has been met with plenty of outrage and contempt. Promotional considerations and assurances that no SEGA characters were cut to make room for her aside, the loudest lamentation from the masses was that “she doesn’t fit” with the SEGA elite.

Recently, it was reported that the forthcoming Japanese version of the game (which is surprisingly late compared to its western release in winter 2012, and now has Mario Kart 8 to contend with as well) would not include the personification of Ms. Patrick, which of course stirred the pot once more– albeit with more relief this time. At least until that story was more recently retracted, anyway.

Speaking as someone who is largely indifferent to NASCAR (and as such, one who doesn’t follow Patrick’s exploits much, either), I have to stand apart from these voices and say that I have not only long disagreed with the assertion that she doesn’t belong, but I’m actually glad she is featured in the game. To me, she represents a key part of SEGA’s history– particularly in North America.

If you’ve read this article (among numerous others I’ve written), then you know it’s no secret that I basically grew up with Nintendo, but I still caught faceful after faceful of SEGA advertising. Particularly for a little system known as the Genesis, which ran with this commercial early in its lifespan:

“Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” was the battle cry, but there was more going on there than that. Note the titles involved:

Tommy Lasorda Baseball. Pat Riley Basketball. Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf. Joe Montana Football. James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing. Notice a trend here?

Early on in the life of the SEGA Genesis, the company banked on the big name value of numerous sports superstars to add a little extra “oomph” to their marketing push, to say nothing of other celebrities in general, such as in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. There were several variations of the “Genesis Does” commercials to capitalize on this, including one for a promotion in which purchasing the system would get you a free game. In addition to Columns and Super Monaco GP, what were your main choices? “Get Joe Montana free, Pat Riley free, Buster Douglas free…”

For all intents and purposes, Danica Patrick’s presence in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed feels like a contemporary nod back to that important time in SEGA’s history. Beyond that, it’s hardly SEGA’s first brush with NASCAR in general.

It’s for these reasons I feel that Patrick is not only a suitable but a welcome addition to the Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed roster. I mean, to represent that part of their history from a quarter-century ago, their only real alternative would be to chase down an athlete whose star has long since faded and would likely be unrecognizable to a good chunk of their target audience. Granted, that’s a risk they take by including such characters as Alex Kidd or Gilius Thunderhead, but at least those don’t bring to bear the same financial risk inherent in trying to put Joe Montana behind the wheel of a transforming vehicle (to say nothing of the fact he was a football player, not a race car driver).

wreckitralphasrtOn a related note, fans went a little easier on Wreck-It Ralph, whose presence was seen as tit for tat following Sonic and Eggman’s appearances in his eponymous major motion picture. But looking beyond that, I see Ralph in a similar vein as Patrick; a contemporary reference to a significant part of SEGA’s history.

Wreck-It Ralph’s place on the roster serves to remind us of something we caught a greater glimpse of through the recent digital release of Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse: The fact that SEGA published some of the most renowned Disney video games around, including Castle of Illusion and its sequels, QuackShot: Starring Donald Duck and other titles starring the foul-mouthed waterfowl, and of course, what many consider to be the superior version of Aladdin.

Granted, Mickey or Donald might have been a more suitable candidate for that spot, but again, Sonic was in Ralph’s movie; you can’t help but imagine that everything came up around the same time during negotiations. Plus, let’s face it: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is about a group of (mostly) video game stars racing together, and Wreck-It Ralph’s entire schtick is that he’s supposed to be a video game star, too, so he works (though I won’t argue with anyone who says that his vehicle should probably have been from “Sugar Rush”).

So there you have it: The next time you see Danica Patrick or Wreck-It Ralph when starting up a game of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, don’t think of how out of place they seem, because they really aren’t. Instead, think of how they fit the bigger picture of SEGA’s history.