Danica Patrick is a name that has become quite common in American households, including those that do not even celebrate race cars or racing in general. Why is this? Well for one thing she is simply stunning to look at but for another, she has been driven (no pun intended) to prove herself worthy time and time again. Anytime a woman takes on what is generally a man’s role, especially if she is drop dead gorgeous to boot, she is going to have to work double time to show everyone that she is much more than just a pretty face.
More Than Meets the Eye?
During the 6 year period in which Danica was without any significant victories, there was a lot of speculation about her and whether or not she had risen to fame simply because she had “curb appeal, “or because she was truly a good driver. Images of the Wisconsin born- Illinois raised beauty were circulating everywhere and some of them in some very provocative poses. She was quickly becoming a sex symbol but when she was asked the difficult question as to whether or not she was the real thing and not just another bit of eye candy, she answered with much more than words. She showed everyone what she was made of by pressing her foot hard to the metal and displaying her raw courage and competitive nature.
Danica Is As Real As They Come
Today there aren’t many people who would argue that Danica doesn’t have the skills to match her looks. In fact, she has broken a number of records and has accomplished things that even some men have never come close to. For Danica, it was never really a choice. It seems almost as though she was born to race. Danica had a competitive spirit from a very early age. It is believed that she got this from her parents Bev and TJ Patrick who met during the winter of 1978 when they were set up for a blind date in North Dakota at a snowmobile race. At the time TJ was a championship-winning race car driver and Bev worked as a mechanic for a woman racer. They were later married and had two daughters, Danica first and then Brooke.
Racing Was in Danica’s Cards
Danica, who was born to TJ and Bev Patrick on March 25th, 1982 began racing as a young child. Her first racing experience was racing go karts against her sister Brooke. Of course it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at least one of the Patrick girls would wind up in racing, what with TJ’s affinity to racing and his wife’s mechanical interest. The thing that is so amazing is not that Danica became a racer; it is the spectacular racer she became that leaves people in awe of her. It’s not common to see a petite girl such as Danica in such a powerful position. Another trait Danica inherited from her mother is a hot temper that goes well with racing. She has a no-nonsense attitude and does not back away from any challenge.
Danica Develops a Love for Racing
Danica lived with her family in Roscoe, Illinois where her father TJ owned a coffee shop and plate glass business. Her mom and dad both had attributes that would help make Danica the person she is today. Her father was extremely competitive and her mom had a strong sense of determination, as well as slightly short fuse and hot temper. These two aspects combined created a very small girl with a whole lot of gusto. Danica often talks about how much she loved watching her father race around the track on his snowmobile. From a young age she can remember wishing she were on it with him. Brooke, Danica’s little sister also enjoyed the races and wanted to try her hand at it. Bev and TJ decided to purchase Brooke a go kart and this is where it all started.
Danica Begins Learning From Her Father
After only a few crashes while racing her sister Danica, Brooke gave up on the idea, but Danica didn’t. Danica started signing up for organizations at the very young age of 10. TJ was Danica’s crew chief and was quite the expert at preparing engines, clutches and carburetors for races. In no time at all, TJ had Danica flying around the track at extreme speeds, always offering her his expertise on racing. He told her to keep her eyes looking forward and never look back and the race was happening in front of her, not behind. He told her that one of the things that give drivers the edge they need to win. However, Danica believes the single most important thing she learned from her dad was sheer honestly. He never lied to her about her performance. If he thought she was driving badly he told her the truth, without holding back.
Danica’s Early Racing Career
Many of Danica’s early victories took place at the Sugar River Raceway located in Brodhead, Wisconsin. Just a few months after taking up racing she was annihilating track records there. However, that was not the only place Danica was racing. She was winning titles and races across the region. One of her big wins was the World Karting Association Great Lakes Sprint Series. By the time she was just 12 years old Danica had taken her first-time Grand National Championship. At 14 she conquered the competition, taking the win in thirty eight of the forty nine feature races she was entered in.
Danica’s First Hero – Lyn St James
Lyn St. James who had combined her knowledge of physics and math to help supplement what she lacked in strength and stature was one of Danica’s very first heroes. Lyn had competed in all sorts of racing and at many different levels. She had even raced in the Indy 500. St James had a driving school that Danica attended. Lyn saw the excellent potential Danica had and it wasn’t long before she began introducing her to a lot of really prominent people in the world of racing. In 1997 St James took 15 year old Danica to the Indy 500.
Further Studies in England
Just 12 months after Danica attended the Indy 500 with St. James, the Patricks made a decision to send her overseas to the UK to advance her open-wheel racing career. They had been told about a league in its developmental stages in England and were convinced that Danica had a future in much more than just go-kart racing. Danica resided in the UK and competed there for over 3 years. During this time she often drew the fury of fellow drivers and fans alike as they seemed to see her as a Yankee imposter. Danica was only 16 and was already leaving much of her competition in the dust.
Danica Breaks Her First Record
Danica’s first full season overseas occurred in 1999 and she finished 9th in the Formula Vauxhall where she grabbed a 2nd place finish in this well-known Formula Ford Series. It went down in history as being the highest finish to date for any American driver, both male and female. Bobby Rahal, who was heading up Jaguar’s Formula One team for 2001 spotted Danica and was simply blown away by her tough attitude and pure talent. It wasn’t everyday a woman racing in a foreign country was up to facing the obstacles involved. This small girl with a huge spirit seemed ready for each and every challenge that came her way.
Danica’s Time Served in the UK Intensified Her Competitive Nature
By the time she had spent those years competing in the UK, Danica had indeed become a cold competitor. She openly admits that the time she spent racing overseas had helped bring out her natural completive side and amplify it. Even her friends and family could see a visible change in Danica whenever she would come home to visit. While Danica had to go through a lot racing against European competitors, mostly men, while overseas, she is thankful for the education she received there and for the extra edge it gave her. It is clear that whatever it is Danica did in the UK worked to her advantage as she came back with a new sense of courage that her parents had never seen before, at least not on that level.
Danica’s Career Advance and Halt
Danica was signed by Bobby Rahal to a multiple year contract. Rahal and team co-owner David Letterman put her in a US developmental racing series and watched in delight for three seasons as she fought her way up the open wheel ladder. In 2001, Danica drove Toyota Atlantic series open-wheel cars, midget cars and Le Mans sports cars. The following year Danica tested a NASCAR Busch series stock car when she ran in the Barber Dodge Pro Series. However, the best part of her year was the victory she took in Long Beach, CA at the Grand Prix event. At this time Danica would have no way of knowing that six years would come and go without another victory.
From Toyota Series to Indy 500
In 2003 the 21 year old Danica established a place in the Toyota series and made history by becoming the very first female to record a podium close when she crossed the line in 3rd place during a race that took place in Monterrey, Mexico. She placed 3rd in the Toyota Atlantic Championship only one year later. During the same year, Rahal decided to have her race an IndyCar at Kentucky and Homestead. He was so happy with the results that he felt she deserved a shot to drive at the summit of her sport, the Indy Racing League for the 2005 season. When Danica heard the announcement she says she was so shocked that she almost fell over with delight and excitement. This is where she had been trying to go for years and it was finally here.
Look-Out Indianapolis Motor Speedway -Here Comes Danica
Danica’s first four races went pretty well for her in what would be an awesome season for her. She was able to lead 4 events before a problem with her gears almost ended her day. Fortunately, she was strong and managed to keep it together subsequently resulting in a 4th place finish that day. From here she was headed straight for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place at one time Danica might have only dreamed she’d race. At this point in time Danica was the first person of the female gender to ever show up at Indy with an experienced support team and top-notch equipment. Janet Guthrie, a racing pioneer stated to reporters that Danica’s talent alone, in spite of the fact that she didn’t have a lot of experience, could offer her a shot at the win, provided she got a few breaks.
All Eyes on Danica
It seemed to come out of left field but out of nowhere reporters from all over were storming Danica. Everyone wanted an interview with her, the media was inciting a sort of craze and America had focused its attention on this petite, beautiful racer. Little did they know then that she was much more than met the eye. Sure, people knew that she was pretty good but at this point she hadn’t quite proved herself yet. Danica had been anticipating this race since the young age of 10 and during the weeks before the race she remained serious and well focused. She was determined that she would place well. Her off-tack craziness was kept where it belonged, off-track.
Let the Races Begin
When the race was finally underway, Danica amazed everyone by being one of the fastest drivers on the race track, consistency. When it came to qualifying, she was recorded as having the 4th fastest time, allowing her into the 2nd row on the inside position. It is very possible she could have won the pole; however, out of nowhere her car wobbled while she was going into her very first turn of the run that qualified her. Many of the other drivers seemed to be quite impressed, not only with how Danica seems to keep her head and steer away from trouble but also because of the way she seemed to push th3e media attention off her and onto the other drivers and of course the IRL as a whole.
Danica’s Lead and Ultimate Defeat
With such a large number of insiders being worried about what they felt was a subpar performance for Danica, she wound up running an awesome Indy 500. She was able to overcome two pretty serious problems. For one she had a stall midway through the race, in the pits and for another she experienced a spinout which caused damage to the front wing of the car she was driving. However, after all this she recovered well and took the lead 3 different times for 19 whole laps. In fact, Danica was actually in first place until Dan Wheldon passed her with just six laps left in the race. She wound up finishing 4th just after teammate Vitor Meira and Bryan Herta flew past her. Of course, this defeat wasn’t a total loss for Danica and she made the record of the highest finish to ever occur for a woman driver at the Indy. She took a consolation price of $378,000, including a $25,000 bonus as rookie with the highest finish.
Did Danica Have an Advantage Because of Her Weight?
Once the race was over, former IRL driver who had opted to leave in favor of driver for NASCAR made it a point to announce he thought Danica had an unfair advantage. His position was that she weighed in at only 100 pounds, making her car lighter. Obviously, the lighter the car is the faster it is going to go, at least according to him. Gordon made a suggestion that the IRL devise a rule stating that every car should weigh no less than 1,525 pounds. There were many experts that later joined in a participated in these talks but in the end the general consensus was that Danica had only had a very slight advantage because of her low weight, if any advantage at all. The same year in July Danica Patrick won her very first pole position for the IRL. This occurred at the Kansas Speedway. She then took her second in August at the Kentucky Speedway. She later made it a perfect trifecta, typing with the rookie record that was set by Tomas Scheckter at the Chicago Speedway.
Danica Handled Media Well
By the time the end of the year rolled around Danica who had wound up in 12th place in points because the face of a Indy Racing League. She didn’t let the attention go to her head and really handled it very well. Additionally, the attention that was being placed on this gorgeous but excellent race car driver did not seem to be stirring up and jealously from any of her associate drivers. They all seemed really glad to have the league receive so much publicity. Danica’s family helped to keep her well grounded, as did her fiancée whom she met after injuring herself while practicing yoga in 2002. He was a physical therapists who mostly worked with PGA golfers and baseball players. Shortly after meeting, fiancée Paul Hospenthal and Danica tied the knot.
Danica Did Not Suffer a Lot of Jealously From Fellow Drivers
Most of the people in the IRL gave Danica as much support as her family. It is important to keep in mind that a lot of these fellows had known her since way back in her kart racing days, as well as during her time spent racing in England. Of course there were some who did consider her a threat as is natural with any sport. However, even those people realized that she was working just as hard as anyone else and certainly paying her fair share of dues. No one denied that her ability is what earned her a place in the series. Most people saw her as an excellent driver and not just a trophy for the IRL or a media monger. Danica was doing very well and just about everyone who knew her was impressed by her remarkable talent and determination.
Tragedy Kicks off 2006
Quite unfortunately, tragedy struck during the beginning of the 2006 season when Paul Dana, one of Danica;s teammates was killed during a practice run when his car crashed. She and one other teammate, Buddy Rice, felt they had no choice but to withdraw from that race. That same season Rahal-Letterman went head to head with the Panoz chassis. All of the teams drivers, Danica included struggled to record Top five finished. However, she did make a pretty good showing at the Indy 500 when she qualified 10th and finished 8th. The very first weekend in July at the Kansas Motor Speedway, Danica recorded a twelfth place finish. It seemed to stand out that once the race was over not one reporter requested an interview with Danica which of course had not been common place in earlier races. It appeared she was no longer the phenomenon but instead just one of the drivers.
Media Focus on Danica Once Again
Danica didn’t enjoy very much time out of the media spotlight. Once again the petite race car driver became the latest headlines after someone spied her parents speaking to the people at NASCAT during a Chicago race. Rumors flew all through July regarding Danica’s future and what her next move would be. However, these rumors didn’t last long as Danica spoke up, putting the fire out by announcing that she intended to stay with open wheel racing. She also stated that she had plans to switch from the Rahal-Letternan team to Michael Andretti’s Green team in the future. This was a very smart move on Danica’s part as it was going to be a clear upgrade. She felt that she had a better chance to win with Andretti Green. Mostly this was due to the fact that Green won both the 2004 and 2005 Indy Racing League championships.
Danica and Teammates Performance Improves Mid-Year
During the 2nd half of the year both Danica’s and her teammates performance improved slightly. Letterman-Rahal engineers made upgrades to their chassis and altered the set up of the cars they were using. Danica finished in 4th place in July, not only in Nashville but also in Milwaukee. This marked the beginning of her ascend in overall rankings. While Danica Patrick wound up 9th in terms of points among the drivers. She did not win a race at all in her 2nd IRL campaign. She stated that every time she finished at the end she would ask herself if she could or would ever win. This was one of the times Danica found herself most discouraged during her time in the IRL.
The Negative Perceptions Begin
Danica made her 33rd start toward the latter part of 2006. This seemed to be quite significant as it represented the typical number of races it usually took for any IRL driver to finally notch for a win. From that point in time on it seemed as though each and every non-victory for Danica gave power to the theory that she really may just be a below average driver. Worse yet were the people comparing her to the Anna Kournikova of racing, beautiful, sexy and charming but lacking a championship trophy to show for her skills.
Danica Finally Shows Them What She is Made Of
For Danica, the 2006 season started with a bang when her very first race for Andretti Green came to an end with a wreck. This occurred at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Luckily she was fine and did go on to record many Top 10 finished in the months to follow. Included in these was an 8th place showing at Indy. Danica actually ran in as high a position as 2nd in the race but sadly fell behind after pitting as a result of a rain delay. Just when she thought she was working back toward the leaders officials called the race because of the nasty weather. While she was still very much in demand for magazine lay-outs and television interviews, Danica was really just one of the guys at this particular point in time.
Danica Shows Her Temper
Danica is a hot tempered young lady with courage that is hard to match. She made her point when she ran after Dan Wheldon after a race in which he had bumped her car. While fights and arguments are not unheard of after races, this one ended with slightly cooler heads. Nonetheless, people got an idea of who Danica was and were able to see that she wasn’t one to lay down and just take it from other drivers. Because of her adrenaline, probably still being pumped due to her anger, she made a magnificent showing during her subsequent race, the LearJet550 that took place in Texas. She fought with a vengeance for the lead throughout the day and wound up ending in 3rd place, going past the finish line not even one second behind the the victor, Sam Hornish Jr.
Bad Luck Plagues Danica
That first victory basically flew over her head and she didn’t quite grasp the gravity of it. For the rest of the year Danica seemed destined for bad luck to follow her. She was involved in a series of fender benders, spin-outs and of course, let’s not forget the blown tires. All of these things hindered her from placing where she wanted to, in victory lane. Nonetheless when her luck was good she did amazingly well. She finished the year ranked in the 7th spot among IRL drivers, a victory in itself.
Luck Changes for the Better
In 2008, Danica opened with 2 Top 10 finishes. In her 3rd race which was the Japan 300 she broke through at last. Horrid weather had moved the race from Saturday to Sunday. Danica was feeling great to start, full of confidence and running well . Throughout the race she remained neck in neck with the leaders for the entire day. With just fivbe more laps to go and Danica holding 5th, the leader, Scott Dixon was forced to pit. This moved her up to 4th place and only one lap later she advanced to 2nd as a result of a splash and dash from teammate Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon.
The Suspense Grows
Now, with just two more laps to go in the race, Danica flew passed pole winner and leader Helio Castroneves. Danica and Helio both knew that at this point the fuel was going to be the determining factor. Danica had a fuller tank and she finished in 1st place after Helio tipped his hat to her and she came in for a 5.8 second win. Danica’s victory in this race had come at her 50th start and went down in history and the very first ITL win by a woman. Now that Danica had finally accomplished a real victory she gained more of something she already had a lot of and that was respect from people who are all about car racing. However, it also earned her respect from people who at this point never knew a thing about racing! She had finally proven that her pretty face was not what made her as people realized now that she was in fact the real McCoy!
Top Notch Racer
Today when other drivers look into Danica’s beautiful eyes they see a powerfully intensive athlete. When someone shakes hands with her they feel her fierce grip. This is something she learned very early from her father when he instilled in her that whenever you meet a competitor, you always show your strength. Danica is a born athlete who never backs away from a challenge. Very few drivers have the guts to play chicken with this driver. In addition, Danica is self confident and when she makes a decision she sticks with it. If she wants to pass during a race, you better believe she is going to put the petal to the metal and pass. She possesses as much or maybe even more technical knowledge than other IRL drivers and has definitely earned her place in the racing world.