Ms. Understood

One thing is for sure; Danica Patrick is a household name in America. Those outside of racing have a very basic understanding of her, but even some of the most dedicated fans I have met have only a superficial view of the GoDaddy Girl. This year, Danica announced that she will be retiring from her role as racecar driver, and decided to end her career with one last shot at Victory Lane. They dubbed it the ‘Danica Double.’ Two races: NASCAR’s Daytona 500, and the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. Here, she wanted to redeem her reputation, end the doubts of her talent and (maybe) make history. Neither of those races shook out the way she wanted them- 35th at Daytona and a 30th at Indy. As we end the chapter on her racing career, there are still countless misconceptions, false stories and heated arguments involving Danica. At the end of the day, her image is her legacy and things have spiraled out of control, Danica Patrick is gravely misunderstood.

The first thing that Danica haters bring up is the stats. In calling attention to the scoreboard, no, her record is not overwhelmingly impressive. She started her professional racing career in the Formula Atlantic series before moving up in open wheel to IndyCar. She was not the first woman to race in IndyCar, the Indy500, or even be the first female Indy500 Rookie of the Year. Patrick was, however, the first woman to win an IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan back in 2008. To those who say that she won off fuel strategy and thus does not count as a real win…Shut up! That argument is invalid. Every win in modern motorsports has something to do with strategy.

Should Danica Patrick be inducted into the motorsports-based Halls of Fame? If the criterion is based on statistical wins and poles… No. After the 2011 season with Andretti Autosport, Danica took her rising star and sponsorship money and went over to NASCAR. Here, she raced 6 seasons. In that time she scored 7 top 10’s, and 0 top 5 finishes. She is however, the first woman to win a pole in NASCAR and did so for the 2013 Daytona 500. Add that to her 3 poles, 20 top 5’s and 7 podiums in IndyCar she had a somewhat modest career. The numbers are a small blip in the Danica superstardom. As she grew bigger, so did her reputation.

As someone who has personally worked with and in proximity to Danica Patrick, I testify from my own experience that she is perfectly respectful to those around her. The stories I have heard from others say different. I take those with a grain of salt. She is blunt, honest and answers questions thoughtfully. I will say that her patience is very short, but so is her time. Think about what you are going to say to her beforehand, and furthermore, really think about if your question is worth asking. If you have to answer the same question 1,000 times in a season- you would get a little annoyed too.

Danica is also a very public sore loser. When things fall apart on the racetrack, the disappointment radiates off of her. She cares. This should not be a deciding factor in her image. There is something to say about taking defeat with grace and poise, but many great moments in racing have sprung from the heartbreak of losing. A.J. Foyt jumping out of his car on pit lane at the 1982 Indianapolis 500 and beating his Coyote with a hammer. How about later on as a team owner, backhanding Arie Luyendyk on camera after a dispute in Texas in ‘97? Tony Stewart still is not ‘graceful’ when his day goes south nor is Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch or was Mario Andretti in his hayday.

As a young fan, I will never forget the 2008 Indy500 when Ryan Briscoe took Danica out in a pit incident. Danica literally marched down the pit lane to confront her fellow driver. She had to be held back by security. Through racing’s long and heated history, one thing is for sure. Like Foyt, Stewart and countless others: hell hath no fury like an angry racecar driver. She proved to me her true grit that day.

A separation is in order. As frustrating as an on track incident is, drivers still have a role to play with the fans. There have been many a negative stories about Danica in this category as well. I have to chalk some of it up to fans not choosing their time appropriately. There is absolutely no excuse, however, for a driver to be rude to fans. I personally have seen Danica be respectful with her hoards of followers.

Something that Patrick is adamant about is her reputation as a role model. She did not ask for that spotlight. The on track novelty of being a woman in a man’s world has long since worn off. She is first and foremost a driver- that means she is an inspiration to little girls and little boys alike. If she has proved anything in her career, gender does not play a factor.

In the spirit of full-frontal feminism, Danica has harnessed the power of what she brings to the table. A mantra of hers is ‘rock what you got’ – and she has used her differences to market herself. The provocative GoDaddy commercials and racy pictures at the beginning of her career were all a means to an end. It worked. In her book Danica: Crossing the Line she notes that she was in control of her comfort level the whole time. Instead of questioning her path to household fame, maybe ask yourself why there is a demand for cheesecake pictures of her in the first place.

At the end of the day Danica Patrick is only human. She has been faced with an unfair amount of scrutiny and judgment over the years. Be reasonable your expectations. She gets tired of being asked the same regurgitated questions, being forced into a role as the token female, and fighting off the army of liquored up race fans asking for her phone number. As much as we would like to believe that the motorsports community has evolved, racing is still very much a boy’s club. Danica has helped fight that battle, even though she was unfairly drafted into that war. For that, I have the upmost respect for her. She has made her money, and she had the opportunity to do what she loved. Maybe she changed perceptions just a little. She doesn’t care what we think of her. In her last press conference after crashing out on the 68th lap of the Indianapolis 500 with a smile she leaned into the microphone and said to the media: “I will miss you- most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me a little bit.”

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