The most successful woman in the history of Indy car racing
"Danica Patrick is an American professional racing driver, model, and advertising spokeswoman. She is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing—her victory in the 2008 Indy Japan 300 is the only female win in a IndyCar Series race. Considered to be a pioneer for women in motorsports by the media, Patrick's achievements allowed her to break the gender barrier in an industry that is predominately male, and have been influential to many women who have taken up a career in auto racing.
Born to a working-class family in Beloit, Wisconsin, Patrick began karting at the age of ten and achieved early success by winning her class in the World Karting Association Grand National Championship three times in the mid-1990s. She dropped out of high school with her parents' permission in 1998, and moved to the United Kingdom to further her career. Patrick competed in Formula Vauxhall and Formula Ford before returning to the United States in 2001 due to a lack of funding. For 2002, she competed in five Barber Dodge Pro Series races for Rahal Letterman Racing. Patrick later raced in the Toyota Atlantic Series for the next two years. Her best effort was third in the championship standings for the 2004 season where she became the first woman to win a pole position in the series.
She first drove in the IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2005, and took three pole positions, equaling Tomas Scheckter's record of poles in a rookie season. She was named the Rookie of the Year for both the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and the 2005 IndyCar Series. She improved over the next two years with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2006 and later Andretti Green Racing in 2007. In 2008, Patrick followed up her first victory to place sixth overall in the drivers' standings. She improved on this to secure fifth the following season, which saw her finish a career-high third at the Indianapolis 500, the best performance by any woman at the race. Patrick's overall form declined during 2010, but she still managed two second-places at oval tracks before stepping away from IndyCar after the 2011 season to focus full-time on stock car racing.
Patrick began racing stock cars in 2010 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) with her best result coming in the form of a fourth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011. She placed a career-high tenth in the 2012 season standings, and was the second woman to clinch a pole position in the Nationwide Series since Shawna Robinson in 1994. Patrick started in the Sprint Cup Series (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) in 2012. She became the first woman to win a Cup Series pole position by setting the fastest lap in qualifying for the 2013 Daytona 500, finishing eighth. Patrick bested Janet Guthrie's record for the most top-ten finishes by a woman in the Sprint Cup Series in 2015. She announced her intention to step away from full-time racing after the 2017 season, but competed at the 2018 Daytona 500 and will compete at the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Patrick drove the No. 7 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Premium Motorsports at the former…
In a 2017 article for The Guardian, Andrew Lawrence described Patrick as "an anti-Mulan" who infiltrated and thrived in an exclusively male environment while accentuating every part of her womanhood. He also said she is "an instrument of male and female fantasy, the sports pinup who grinds harder for feminism, day-to-day, than the great Billie Jean King ever could." Henry Hutton of the Independent Tribune noted that when Patrick entered IndyCar in 2005, she rapidly became a pop culture icon largely due to her gender and modelling, and her driver profile depreciated by being affected with car problems, getting involved in accidents, and uncompetitiveness. She is known for being outspoken, and has a quick-tempered but self-depreciating personality. Nevertheless, Patrick is considered to be one of the most globally recognizable sports athletes, and is often identified solely by a singular name.
She has made several appearances on the cover of various magazines, such as FHM and Sports Illustrated, and ranks high in several beauty listings of female athletes. People magazine named her one of the most beautiful people in the world in 2006. The following year, Patrick was voted the sexiest athlete in the Victoria's Secret What is Sexy list.She also was voted No. 42 in 2006 and No. 85 in 2007 in FHM's 100 sexiest women in the world. In an interview with Fox News in 2012, Patrick spoke of her objection to being labelled a "sex symbol": "People don't know how to describe women in a pretty way. Do you call Blake Griffin a sex symbol because he was on the cover of Men’s Health with his shirt off? People just don't know what to call women who look attractive." She changed her view five years later, saying she felt "awesome" about her status as a sex symbol: "The exposure that was generated because of being female and using my attributes — it works."
Patrick has featured in various power and popularity listings. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked her the 50th and 88th most powerful person in the world of sports in 2008 and 2010. Time magazine named her a candidate for the 100 most influential people in the world in 2009 and 2010. She has been regularly ranked high up the Davie-Brown Index listings for several years, and peaked at number eight among all female athletes in 2010. Patrick came first in the Harris Poll's favorite female athletes in 2008; she placed second behind tennis player Serena Williams in 2007, and again from 2013 to 2015. Between 2007 and 2013, she appeared on Forbes' annual list of the 100 highest paid celebrities four times, ranking among the bottom twenty-five each time, and was 93rd on the magazine's The World's 100 Most Powerful Women list in 2010…
She has a strong fan base, and has been voted the IndyCar Series Most Popular Driver from 2005 to 2010, and the NASCAR Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver in 2012. Patrick was voted the Favorite Female Athlete at the Kids Choice Award in 2008, 2012 and 2013. Increasing attendance figures at auto racing events, and improved television ratings, have been attributed to Patrick by scholars and the press. She has been influential in helping many young girls to become interested in motorsports, leading them to race competitively. Some have credited her with preventing the dissolution of the IndyCar Series, and for strengthening support for NASCAR. Some in the media have named Patrick as a trailblazer or pioneer for women in auto racing, and they agree her achievements have allowed gender barriers to be broken in an industry that is predominately male.
Patrick has come under constant scrutiny from the media and fans throughout her career. Patrick has on occasion been called either a "gimmick" or a "publicity stunt" by some fans for her lack of decent results. Some critics have compared her to former tennis player Anna Kournikova for her lack of on track success and for her apparent tendency to be promoted for her looks, though some of the similarities have been queried by others. Prior to her 2008 Indy Japan 300 triumph, Patrick was criticized by some commentators and fans who claimed her low body weight (around 100 pounds (45 kg)) constituted an unfair advantage. However, Indy Racing League president Brian Barnhart later said her weight "had a virtually minimal effect on the competition." In June 2013, former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty called Patrick a "marketing machine" and asserted that she was not a race car driver. In February 2014, during an appearance at the eighth annual Canadian Motorsports Expo, Kyle's father, Richard Petty, also criticized her for not winning races outright often enough." (1)