IRL: On to Texas for Danica Patrick

IRL: On to Texas for Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick's whirlwind life continues unabated since her two fourth place finishes in the most recent Indy Racing League IndyCar Series events at Twin Ring Motegi and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Danica Patrick. Photo by Shawn...

Danica Patrick's whirlwind life continues unabated since her two fourth place finishes in the most recent Indy Racing League IndyCar Series events at Twin Ring Motegi and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Danica Patrick.
Photo by Shawn Payne - IRL.
The driver of the #16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz/Honda/Firestone machine has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, has appeared on many varied television shows and has been cited as a primary reason for the huge uptick in ratings for the 89th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. "I'm most impressed by that cover shot but I hope to do more great things and make the cover again," she related.

It's quite a lot to have on your just-over-five-feet, around 100-pound, 23- year-old shoulders, but the Beloit, WI native appears to be handling the pressures off the track about as well as she's adjusted to the big Indy cars she's piloting in a tremendous rookie season.

While Patrick is "not actively trying to do anything" as a role model to young women she's accomplishing just that feat. "I think it's so early in my career to be considered in that manner that I'm caught a bit off-guard, so if being myself is enough to be a role model, so be it."

Patrick was the fastest driver of all during the month of May, topping the speed charts at 229.880mph in the final practice before MBNA qualifying on the 15th. Her car was quick from the get-go and she stayed at the sharp end of the speed charts throughout the race meeting on the 2.5- mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

As a result, this petite dynamo goes into the meet of the 17-race IndyCar Series season lying ninth in points. Can she unwind and focus on the rest of the season? "Unwind, no, not until the season is over, I don't think, but focus, yes, that's my job after all.

"This Texas race [the Bombardier Learjet 500K on Saturday] is my first Texas race and my first night race so I have to take the lessons I've learned from Indy on to Texas. I've learned that patience is very beneficial and that mistakes are very detrimental. I think," Patrick reflected, "that I'm learning to stay calm in all situations and take it as it comes."

Earning the respect of fellow drivers is something Patrick hopes to achieve as she applies the lessons learned at Indy to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway. "I want to earn their respect and that's an individual thing with drivers."

Coming up through the ranks, from the time she was 13 and realized this was her calling, Patrick discovered there was a good deal of finger-pointing by men in the business.

When she was racing in the United Kingdom shortly after her 16th birthday, Patrick discovered the other drivers were looking at her first as a "girl driver, then as a fast girl driver. I wasn't included in anything because they didn't want a girl in their group; it was a social thing," she countered.

Danica Patrick.
Photo by Michael C. Johnson.
Her immediate success in the Indy Racing League, currently conducting its tenth season of competition has certainly brought more fans into the open wheel arena in general and Indy racing in particular. "It's my job as a driver to promote the series and its sponsors (as well as her own). It's important to make sure we all have jobs so it's not just for me," Patrick explained. "It's beneficial for everyone in the series."

After setting goals of finishing every race on the calendar, expectations for Patrick's 2005 season have been raised incrementally by her immediate success. Having the spotlight clearly thrust upon her, Patrick knew that "good, big things would happen. As long as I keep doing well, it'll keep happening."

Although she failed to finish the Homestead-Miami Speedway contest and wasn't terribly competitive at either Phoenix International Raceway or St. Petersburg, "We can't lower our expectations now. We're keeping up with what goes on," Patrick explained.

Receiving compliments from those she looks up to, such as team co-owner Bobby Rahal was quite unexpected, but moving toward the front of the IndyCar Series' extremely competitive regular 22-car field "means more than anything."

Patrick realizes the records she's breaking as a woman in this male- dominated sport "is good story for everybody." And does she intend to change anything she's doing to keep that success coming? No, of course not. "As a driver and as a team, we've earned all of these results through hard, hard work. I expect," Patrick contemplated, "that we'll have some good and some bad races as the season goes along.

"We're definitely good on the big ovals but we've struggled as a team on short ovals. The track are all different and some demand experience that I don't have, so I probably won't do as well on those tracks. I do know I just have to learn and I don't know everything by all means. I do think," she said, "that I am a fast learner and I expect over time to learn how to be consistently at the front of the field."

The best aspects of her makeup as a driver are that Patrick can "feel the limits of the car pretty well. I'm learning to know the feeling of the car, learning to trust the car and deal with the different conditions. I will need to work on my driving in traffic and on my pit stops," two areas where Patrick had difficulties at Indianapolis. She stalled on her second stop and instigated a pileup on a restart when traffic wasn't moving as quickly as she expected.

Former Indy drivers with great talent like Johnny Rutherford and mentor Lyn St James have stated that Patrick has great reflexes but she rejects that argument. "All drivers have that kind of ability," Patrick noted. "I hope I'm better than anyone else though, because that's how you go faster."

Responding to former Indy driver Robby Gordon's declaration that Patrick succeeds because she has a weight advantage, the lady declared, "In racing it's all about balance. The team's engineers said Buddy won [the 2004 Indianapolis 500] with the fattest car in the field," she recalled. "I can't control my size and frankly, I don't think it matters."

Now it's time for Patrick to get back to what she does best, get off the media merry-go-round and go racing at night on the 24-degree Texas banked oval. To prepare, she'll do all those things she normally does, including her daily two-hour workout that includes cardiovascular preparation and every-other-day weight training.

Since Indy, she's talked on the phone with her team in Hilliard, OH but hasn't been to visit with such a busy schedule. "I need to get away and relax; I need to properly train for the next race" and not bother her team's work. "My mind adjusts to racing at 227mph and I can't stop to think about it. I have to let it flow naturally, otherwise it's distracting."

Like many another driver, Danica Patrick has to focus on her job and let those "reflexive reactions" take over. That is when she performs at her best.

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Series INDYCAR