SPORTS

Danica Patrick Has a Calcium Craving

5/5/2006

It's less than a month away. Get Indy Fever Now! Belt out “Back Home in Indiana” in the shower and chug a jug of milk to get you in the racing mood.



It's less than a month away. Get Indy Fever Now! Belt out “Back Home in Indiana” in the shower and chug a jug of milk to get you in the racing mood.

The Indianapolis 500 has got its motor humming again. The Indy went through a rough patch in the mid-nineties following the split between CART (which went bankrupt in 2004 and was reborn as Champ Car) and IRL. The rift between the two racing series divided fans forcing them to choose between the Indy 500 and the CART alternative, the U.S. 500 which ran on the same day at the Michigan Motor Speedway from 1996-1999.

In the early 2000s the bad blood between the competing racing series began to abate and CART teams started to return to Indianapolis vastly improving the field of competition. Victories by international sensations Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002), and Gil De Ferran (2003) helped with the healing process as did an injection of American star power thanks to NASCAR drivers like Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon taking part. The stock car drivers treated the Indy as part one of an 1100 mile racing marathon, flying to North Carolina when it was done in time to get to the starting line of the Coca-Cola 600, a race that by 2002 was attracting more viewers than the Indy.

"Lady and Gentlemen, Start your Engines!"

Salvation came in the form a five-foot two100lb driver who has taken the testosterone-fueled sport and flipped it on its rear bumper. In 2004 Danica Mania began with a sputter as motorheads took double and triple takes whenever she removed her helmet. The petite pedal-masher from Roscoe, Illinois posted ten top-five finishes in her sophomore season on the Toyota Atlantic circuit to take third place in the drivers’ standings, the highest finish by a women in the series’ 30-year history. Off the track exposure as the host of Spike T.V.’s Zero to Sixty segments and a sexy pictorial in FHM helped put Danica on the public’s radar but when she made her IRL debut with Rahal-Letterman in March of 2005 Danica became the face of her sport.

At the Toyota Indy 300 Danica started ninth and hung steady with the top ten until lap 158 when she was caught in an eight-car wreck and was knocked out of the contest. It didn’t matter that she didn’t finish. Danica had proven she could contend with the men.

The Coronation of Indy’s Queen

In the week leading up to the 89th Indy 500 Danica’s merchandise accounted for 54% of all IRL sales. Placing fourth (the top finish for a woman in the race’s history) not to mention leading the race for 19 laps something no woman had ever accomplished, put Danica in the same barrier busting stratosphere as jockey Julie Krone who rode Colonial Affair to victory in the 1993 Belmont Stakes. Thanks to Danica Patrick, Indy ratings jumped 40% and the race took back its Memorial Day weekend crown from the Coca-Cola 600.

Detractors (many of whom can’t get over her XX chromosomes) view Danica more as a
pretty face than a race car driver and won’t stop picking on her until she wins the Indianapolis 500. That is of course one of the things on her to-do list and guys are going to have to get used to getting beat by girls because the racing world is changing. A whole new generation of youngsters are being turned onto motorsports thanks to hot young drivers like Danica Patrick and Katherine Legge , a rookie with Champ Car’s PKV Racing Team.

Driving is an equalizer. Big muscles don’t give you an edge. It’s all about courage and risk taking and women can handle dangerous curves just as well as men. Sometime in the not too distant future we won’t be awed when ladies finish first.

This article first ran in the May 2006 issue of Bell T.V. Magazine


Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2006

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