After she burst onto the motor-racing scene in 2005, Danica Patrick became not only the most famous woman driving a race car but one who assiduously promoted herself and her brand. “Danica” became a household name.
In doing so, Patrick, 37, said it was not about blazing a trail for other female racers or fulfilling some type of responsibility to her countless numbers of female fans.
“I don’t have a message for women, I have a message for people,” she says. “As human beings, we shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into a one-dimensional thing. I thought my strongest message was just do what you love to do and be yourself.”
Patrick stunned the sports world when she nearly won the legendary Indianapolis 500 in 2005, and she spent the next 13 years driving in IndyCar and NASCAR’s stock-car series.
In 2008, she won her only IndyCar race, in Japan, becoming the first woman to win a major race in an open-wheel series. The next year, she finished third in the Indy 500, still the highest finish for a woman in the race.
After moving to NASCAR, Patrick became the only woman to win the pole position for the Daytona 500, in 2013, and the only woman to lead laps in that race. She retired from racing in 2018.
Along the way, she leveraged her sex appeal and celebrity status, routinely posing in magazine pictorials, appearing in sexually edgy commercials and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issues, and cultivating multiple endorsement deals.
“I wanted to accomplish great things yet still be myself, which did include sometimes things that were not quite so PC or universally accepted,” Patrick says. “You might not agree with the things I do, but at least you can respect my honesty. I’m just me.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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