Motor Racing

Danica Patrick: What’s the big deal?

Danica Patrick- What's the big deal?

First of all, let me set the record straight here, I like Danica.

I met her in Homestead. She wasn’t snobbish or bigheaded. I was around her for several interviews and she’s very “normal.” Whenever I’ve seen her interviewed on TV, she’s been down-to-earth, again “normal”. I’ve neither seen nor heard of her making any big deal about herself.

Personally, I think whoever advised her to get into a bikini and drape herself over those cars in pre-season should be fired. It degraded her and the sport. She’s young and she’s inevitably going to make mistakes, but I’m sure she won’t do that again! So…

What’s the big deal about Danica Patrick?

Why are the media so hung up on her?

There are two drivers named Patrick turning left in the Indy Racing League. One (Patrick Carpentier) is a proven winner. The other is average. Yet the average driver is the one getting all the attention!

Danica is an average driver in very good car, on a very strong team – Rahal/Letterman Racing. The other Patrick is driving for Red Bull Cheever Racing (affectionately referred to by some as the “Blue Turtles”). It could be worse; he could be driving for Ethanol-5 Laps Down-Racing.

At Nashville “the other Patrick” (Carpentier) finished 3rd, but the media wanted to know what his opinion was of the 7th place finisher!

Why should he care what she did or didn’t do?

He got a “turtle” to finish at the front (yet again)!! That’s the real story of the Nashville race – not Danica finishing where she almost always finishes mid-pack.

Dario Franchitti won the race. And again, all the media wanted to know was what he thought of Danica!

What’s he going to say? “Yeah, she finally finished a race without causing an accident” (oops did I say that out loud?).

Accidents. She’s been involved in a few – yet conveniently it’s overlooked by the media. I was at Homestead. I saw her cause the 8-car wipeout that took out the leader.

When interviewed, all the other drivers said ‘some driver’ caused the carnage. That’s amazing. They ALL know who is responsible whenever an incident or accident occurs. They know who to blame right away, but at Homestead, they all conveniently had a bad case of amnesia.

Danica was involved in one at the Indy 500 too, but once again Danica-amnesia struck.

By being involved I’m not saying she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” like Bruno Junqueira. She was the problem!

Yes, she’s a rookie, and she’ll make rookie mistakes, but what other drivers in any series would be been given such latitude?

Again. What’s the big deal about Danica Patrick?

She didn’t win a single race in the Toyota Atlantic Series – the feeder series for Champ Car, and the IRL. She certainly didn’t win the championship. So why all the fuss?!

She got on the podium five times in two seasons – three seasons if you include the Barber Dodge series. Champ Car’s Oriol Servia has four podiums in only five races this season – where’s the media frenzy?

Indianapolis 500 winner, Dan Wheldon, won four out of five races this year – does the media care now that Danica’s on the scene?

Everyone is quick to point out that Danica is qualifying near, or at the front in most races. They fail to mention that she’s at least 50 pounds lighter than any other driver. Besides that, she only does two things in qualifying: foot to the floor, turn left. She doesn’t have to deal with other cars during qualifying.

Everyone knows that other than aerodynamics, weight is a huge factor in speed. The lighter the car, the faster it goes. Of course she qualifies at the front! She’d better. There’s no excuse otherwise!

Okay, so Danica starts at the front of the field of every race. Then what happens? She “gets into her groove and gets comfortable” (as her team is quoted saying at every race).

But where is she comfortable?

She’s settled in and is comfortable mid-pack! She’s the only driver I’ve ever seen that is complimented for going BACKWARDS in a race!!

At the Indy 500 she went quickly from the front to 10th, and last week from second to eighth within six laps.

And this is a good thing?

It must be. The media reports say it often enough!

I thought the ESPN gang were going to have coronaries when she was in the lead (under yellow) at Nashville. Even though she still had to make a pit stop, she was SO close to winning according to them.

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades people!

Again, I ask you… What’s the big deal about Danica Patrick!?

There was never any doubt that she was going to be the first woman to lead the Indy 500. That was in the plans since the first day the media circus learned about her. Come hell or high water – she was going to lead the race at some point. And using an alternate fuel strategy was the perfect way to ‘arrange’ it.

Heck, I’ll even stick my neck out further, and I’ll say this. She WILL win a
race this year. Nope, it won’t be her “talent” that’ll get her the win. It will be one of those NASCAR-storybook finishes.

If she were leading at Nashville instead of “the other Patrick”, the race would have been called for rain. THAT you can take to the bank! The headlines have already been written; it’s just where she’ll win that’s to be inserted.

But I continue to be amazed at all of the attention. Articles are written and interviews are given, yet no matter the subject or driver being discussed, it somehow always reverts to Danica Patrick!


“Congratulations Dan (Wheldon) on winning the Indy 500 – how about Danica – didn’t she do well?” What the…? Why would someone ask that question? I’m pretty sure Dan wasn’t crossing the finish line with “How’d Danica do?” running through his mind!

Why does everything have to be about her? Her fellow drivers have behaved like perfect gentlemen. No bad words – “she’s great for the series” they remark, but they will eventually get sick and tired of sharing the spotlight with an average driver grabbing all the attention (if they aren’t already).

America is all about winners – why is she considered a winner – SHE HASN’T WON ANYTHING yet!

Do I hate Danica? No of course not. She’s cute, and she’s well-grounded.

It’s the media frenzy that’s beyond a joke. At what point is the fourth (or seventh or eighth etc) place finisher more important than the winner?

Quick. Who came in 3rd at the Indy 500? Let’s see… Wheldon won it. Was it Meira that came in second? …. Third place was… I don’t know! They didn’t tell us who came in third. Though, every week they tell us every week who came in fourth.

The media and the IRL are quick to point out that the TV ratings have been up anywhere from 49 – 150% based on Danica’s arrival.

Here’s a thought … could the increases be attributed to other drivers? Why give Danica all the credit? Patrick Carpentier has a huge following in Canada and the US. Canadians love their racing and there are a LOT of Canadians faithfully following Pat. There could be a lot of new viewers this year simply out of curiosity.

Until this season I had never watched more than 10 minutes of an IRL race. I can assure you I didn’t tune in to see Danica and I resent the assumption that my interest in the IRL is based on her.

Ryan Briscoe is a rookie from Australia – could he have brought new attention to the series? What about A.J. Foyt IV? There are plenty of reasons the IRL is seeing more viewers and an increase in attendance at the races, but PLEASE don’t give Danica all the credit.

The story for the IRL this year is all Danica. Symbolism over substance. There’s nothing else to talk about.

Until Danica came along the IRL was on it’s knees. No one was watching on TV and no one was attending the races – until now. Bringing up the re-unification debate was previously one of the best ways IRL could drum up some press coverage.

Now they plan on forging ahead alone – “We don’t need Champ Car and re-unification – We’ve got DANICA!”

I can’t blame the IRL here … thanks to the media, Danica’s been their chance to get people interested in the series and hopefully retain those that tune in out of curiosity.

Seize the opportunity, but don’t make the entire thing about Danica! There are other truly great drivers in this series.

On many motorsport forums it’s becoming evident that people are sick of hearing about Danica. She is NOT considered a good driver by anyone but the media and her team-mates. People in the forums feel that all this media attention is unwarranted. And, based on the information above, I firmly agree.

I can see a backlash coming soon, and it won’t be Danica’s fault.

What happens when her 15 minutes of fame expire? No doubt we’ll be constantly reminded she came in fourth at Indy. But again – who came in 3rd?

So, what is it we want here guys and girls? … a good race car driver or a good looking girl? I think true motorsport fans are interested in good drivers, not good looks.

Granted, she’ll be a role model for young girls and some eye candy for drooling men, but the media needs to ask themselves: What’s this really all about? What is my job?

To report on motorsports.

Now guys … let’s get this story right this weekend at Milwaukee! Leave the sensationalism to the National Enquirer.

Copyright © 2005 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Image: Iain Shankland

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