Armed with beauty, charm, talent and skill for driving, Danica is truly one extraordinary woman because her actions and achievements prove that women have the same potential and capability as men. Danica is the first ever female race car driver to have won an IndyCar Series event, as evidenced by her victory in the Indy Japan 300. Not only this, but her ranking in the 2009 Indianapolis 500 (third place) is the highest finish that a woman race car driver has ever attained. Danica has received the Blimp Award for Favorite Female Athlete three times, and became the first woman to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pole.
With all that she has achieved for the female gender, what truly makes Danica extraordinary is the fact that in the midst of her victories, she remains humble and understands that respect is a privilege that requires hard work and perseverance to receive. For her, challenges make one stronger, and help someone become more respected and valued in the eyes of everyone else.
Danica talked about this when she was interviewed sometime when she was only beginning her career in racing:
“I always know I'm the underdog. I don't need to be reminded. I'm new to this series full time, and I know I'm going to have to cut my teeth and earn the respect of the people around me. It's probably more exciting than anything. I enjoy a challenge. I enjoy setting a goal and achieving it. It's just a matter of how long it's gonna take.”
A woman engaging in a sport that male athletes dominate is one reason to receive a lot of criticism, but Danica definitely handles criticism well because of her attitude towards it. For Danica, one cannot avoid getting criticized (especially when more people get to know you publicly), but what really is important is how one responds to that criticism. Danica says in an interview:
“It’s true that there are plenty of people who say really bad things about me, I hear about them or I read about them or read them on Twitter. People want me to die. At the end of the day, you just get over that kind of stuff and all you can do is trust that you’re doing a good job and that’s all that matters and the people around you believe in you.”
One time when Danica was interviewed about a fellow race car driver saying critical things against her, she simply said:
“I have no problem with people speaking their mind. I do, so why shouldn't they be able to? You don't think women should drive competitively, fine, come out and say it. I don't really care if people think I don't belong. I don't put too much thought to people giving their opinion.”
Another remarkable thing about Danica is her attitude towards her fellow drivers while on the track. Often, the race track is notorious for a lot of cheating and disrespect, but Danica never allows herself to be tempted to follow the negative trend. Respect is one thing that Danica values, and she never fails to show this to her opponents, even when her friends become her competitors on the track. She says:
“People who are respectful to you and give you some space, you give them the same thing in return. I have that relationship obviously with my teammates, with people in racing that I've developed good friendships with over time and have a good camaraderie with. We respect each other on the track. I don't see any reason for that to change.”
One of the things that has enabled Danica to keep a positive view of racing and life in general is the fact that she knows who to spend her time with. Danica knows that she will always have people who are for her and people who are against her, so she keeps surrounding herself with people who support and believe in her because they will help her improve. As Danica says in an interview:
“There are going to be people that believe in you and those that don’t. You surround yourself in people that believe in you. And that is what matters.”
Danica is not just a race car driver—she is also a philanthropist. Having lost her grandmother in a disease called ‘Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,’ Danica now puts her time, effort and resources to ensure that other people do not suffer the same thing. Danica actively supports the organization Drive4COPD.com, and spends a lot of time working with the organization to reach out to those who are affected by the disease.
When Danica was interviewed about her advocacy against COPD, she answered:
“My grandmother died from COPD. She was in a wheelchair, on oxygen 24 hours a day. She struggled to just breathe. COPD kills more people than breast cancer and diabetes combined. It’s such a sad thing, and trying to help is a way to honor her and maybe do some good.”
Early Life and Introduction to the World of Racing
Danica Patrick was born in Wisconsin to parents Terry Jose Patrick, Jr. and Beverly Ann Flaten in 1982. Her mother, Beverly Ann, was of Norwegian descent, whose family immigrated to the United States to seek for a better life. Sometime after Danica was born, her family moved to Roscoe, Illinois, where Danica and her younger sister Brooke spent their childhood years.
It seems that Danica was destined to race the moment she was born. Her parents, Terry and Beverly met each other at a snowmobile race track, where Terry raced snowmobiles, motocross and midget cars. Beverly, on the other hand, worked as a mechanic for snowmobiles, and one time went with her friend to the track to watch the races. Terry and Beverly fell in love, and soon enough got married.
Danica recalled her parents’ love story in an interview:
“My mom was a snowmobile mechanic. She had a friend who'd raced snowmobiles, and she'd go to the racetrack with her. That's actually where she met my dad. He was racing snowmobiles and she was there as a mechanic. They were set up on a blind date at a snowmobile race.”
As a young child, Danica was a very energetic and outgoing child—she had quite a passion for adventure, something that both her parents nurtured as she was growing up. As Danica matured in age, her interests started to focus more on the world of racing, because of the influence of her parents who were both racing enthusiasts. And so, at the age of ten, Danica got her first taste of racing when her parents brought her to a go-kart track at the Sugar River Raceway in Brodhead.
Danica’s first racing experience resulted in her kart crashing against a concrete building, but this did not scare her away from racing again as she found the sport very much to her liking. In fact, after she crashed into the wall, Danica’s first thoughts were to have the go-kart fixed immediately so she could try it out again! In an interview made with her many years later, Danica recalled her first experience in driving a go-kart:
“I had a lot of bruises and stuff like that. I was pretty banged up. But it wasn't nearly enough to deter me from racing again. I remember being very concerned that my dad got the cotter pin and the brake pedal from the crashed go-kart. I didn't want to lose any of the valuable parts. But no, it didn't scare me away. Obviously.”
From that time onward, Danica never stopped practicing on the track to improve her racing skills. And while she was studying at the Hononegah Community High School and was a cheerleader, Danica still continued to develop her talent in driving, so much so that in 1996, she left school and acquired a General Educational Development certification. Danica’s move was supported by her parents, who saw the great potential in their daughter and up to today still continues to manage her career.
Establishing a Name in Racing
When Danica was sixteen years old, she left the United States and moved to England to start establishing a name for herself in the racing world. Settling in Milton Keynes, Danica started participating in British national series events and racing against drivers that had more experience, including the future Formula One world champion, Jenson Button. For the next three years, Danica participated in racing events such as the Formula Vauxhall and Formula Ford, where she managed to get the second spot in the Formula Ford Festival, the highest finish that was ever made by an American race car driver.
Danica returned to the United States in 2002 and began to drive for the Rahal Letterman Racing. Making several starts in the Barber Dodge Series, Danica then moved to the next level by racing in the Toyota Atlantic Championship the following year. Although Danica consistently landed finishes in the top three (and even won one pole position), she failed to win any races and thus ranked third in the Championship. In spite of this initial disappointment, Danica did not feel discouraged and continued to improve her skills, believing that she had a great chance ahead of her to succeed.
Earning Motorola, Go Daddy and XM Radio Sponsorship
Finally, in 2005, Danica got her big break when Rahal Letterman Racing officially announced that she was going to race in that year’s IndyCar Series. And they were not wrong in their decision. As soon as she started participating in the series events, Danica set records that previous female drivers were not able to attain. Among these were Danica’s fourth starting position, which was the highest that a female driver was able to attain, and in that same race Danica became the first ever female driver to lead a race. Danica also won several pole positions at the Kansas Speedway, being the second woman to do so in the history of the event. Danica finished that year at the twelfth spot in the IndyCar series championship, and she was awarded Rookie of the Year for her impressive feats.
In 2006, Danica started the year well by qualifying third at the Toyota Indy 300; however, after her teammate Paul Dana encountered a terrible accident and crashed during the practice which killed him, Danica withdrew from the race in respect to her teammate’s sudden loss. She resumed participating in the IndyCar Series at St.Petersburg. In the races that followed, Danica showed great improvement and ended the championship series by moving three tiers up the championship ranking, resulting in her being awarded the Sportswoman of the Year by March of Dimes.
Danica started driving for the Andretti Green Racing in 2007, where she was sponsored by companies such as Motorola, Go Daddy and XM Radio. Danica encountered several victories and disappointments this year, moving as high as second place in the Bombardier Learjet 550, while finishing as low as fourteenth in her first race at Homestead. Ultimately, Danica finished the series having three career podium finishes and leading seventeen laps on the season. Danica ranked seventh in the IndyCar Series championship, which was two places better than her last year’s performance.
Breaking the Record: Danica’s First Win
The 2008 IndyCar season saw Danica improve her performance, with her finishing sixth place in the first race at Homestead. But Danica’s most spectacular performance for this season was her win at the Indy Japan 300, making her the first ever woman to win an IndyCar Series race. This victory put Danica in the ranks of female racers such as Shirley Muldowney, who became the first woman winner in the top tier of American motorsports. Danica ended her career moving one level up in the IndyCar Series Championship, finishing sixth, the highest among the American racers in that year’s season.
In 2009, Danica started off the series finishing third place at the Indianapolis 500, setting a new record for the highest finish ever made by a woman race car driver in this event. At the Honda Indy Toronto, despite racing with a tough start, Danica finished the race at sixth place, which was the best finish among her teammate in the Andretti Green team. Overall, Danica just kept moving up in the rankings, this time finishing fifth place in the Championship.
Danica’s 2010 and 2011 seasons saw her final years at the IndyCar Series Championships. During the 2010 season, Danica had a poor start due to a disappointing Indianapolis 500 performance. In spite of this initial setback, Danica focused on getting back on track and in the following races, finished as high as second place (at the Texas and Homestead events). By the end of that year’s season, Danica set a new IndyCar Series record for having the most consecutive races finished; Danica finished all of the races except the first.
It was also in this year that Danica began advocating for the Drive4COPD campaign, after witnessing the same disease kill her grandmother. Along with famous personalities such as Jim Belushi, Patty Loveless and Michael Strahan, Danica has worked with the organization to not just bring awareness of the dangers of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), but to also reach out and help those who have already been affected.
2011 became the last year that Danica participated in the IndyCar Series Championships on a full-time basis. In spite of her impressive performances in the racing events of the series (which also included several disappointing finishes), Danica decided to leave the IndyCar Series so she could start focusing on her new interest—the NASCAR series (both the nationwide and sprint cup series). Part of the reason why Danica withdrew from driving in the IndyCar Series was because of the tragedy that struck Dan Wheldon, a well-known fellow racer, and claimed his life.
2012 Onward: Moving to NASCAR
Danica started driving in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2012, where she immediately shocked the world by winning the pole for the DRIVE4COPD 300, making her the second woman in NASCAR history to have ever achieved that feat. Additionally, Danica started participating in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, driving for Stewart-Haas Racing and having Go Daddy as her sponsor.
Danica’s start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was not quite what she expected, with her having several disappointing finishes and a few crashes in various events. However, she did not allow these setbacks to keep her from continuing to participate and at the AAA Texas 500, finally held her first lead lap finish. Ultimately, in spite of Danica having a rough start at NASCAR, she did not allow her disappointments to stop her from improving her driving skills.
When she was asked if tended replay moments like these every second of the day, Danica simply answered:
“You put it behind you. It's such a big, fast track, and we're running so close together. Unfortunately you do sometimes get caught up in accidents that you can't do anything about. That's what makes this kind of racing really exciting. You never know what's going to happen out there.”
In 2013, Danica got back from her disappointments in 2012 and started that year’s season by winning a pole position for the Daytona 500, which made her the very first female race car driver to win a pole in a Sprint Cup race. This good start continued over to the next races, with her finishing the Daytona 500 in eighth place, which made her the highest placing woman driver in NASCAR history.
Danica’s charm as a race car driver not only captured the love of racing fans but also got the attention of the media, which helped make Danica a celebrity. In fact, Danica’s beauty, wit, and driving talents have not only made her very successful on the track, but also in the outside world. Danica has for several times been featured in various television talk shows such as the Late Show with David Letterman and the Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Aside from this, Danica has also been featured in magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Playboy, FHM and Travel Girl, which proves just how famous she has become all these years.
Divorced and Dating
Like her racing career, Danica’s personal life has also been a mixture of ups and downs. In 2005, Danica met Paul Edward Hospenthal, a physical therapist that took care of her when she suffered a yoga injury a year before. After a series of dates, Danica and Paul fell in love with each other and got married the same year. Their marriage, however, went through a couple of storms and in November 2012, finally ended upon the couple’s announcement to amicably divorce. Currently, Danica is dating a fellow Sprint Cup driver, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Today, Danica continues to do what she loves the most—to race. And in the midst of controversies, disappointments and discouraging criticisms, Danica remains optimistic in what she does, and constantly trains to improve herself and reach the top as she has always dreamed of.
Danica Patrick is a wonderful example of what it means to never give up, and to never let your disappointments weigh you down. Throughout her life and her career, Danica has always faced great challenges, but she did not let these challenges block her way to moving further in life.
“That's what this job is. We're driving as fast as we possibly can right next to other people who are driving as fast as they possibly can. We all know we're playing with fire.”
Organizations and Programmes Supported
Awards and Achievements
- 2008: Won the Indy Japan 300 Cup
- 2008: Received the Blimp Award for Favorite Female Athlete
- 2009: Ranked 3rd in the IndyCar Series (the highest that a woman driver has ever reached in the series)
- 2010: Ranked 2nd in the Firestone 550 Series (the highest that a woman driver has ever reached in the series)
- 2012: Received the Blimp Award for Favorite Female Athlete
- 2013: Won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pole
- 2013: Received the Blimp Award for Favorite Female Athlete
Auto Racing Daily (Pre-Race Interview With Danica Patrick at Kentucky)
Men's Health (he MH Interview: Danica Patrick)
Wikipedia (Danica Patrick)
Ask Men (Danica Patrick Daytona 500 Interview)
Biography.com (Danica Patrick biography)