Danica Patrick Has Her Sights Set on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Win
Danica Patrick has broken records around the world, as the first woman to win an Indy car race (she took first at the Indy Japan 500), and the highest-ranking woman in the Indianapolis 500. The 33-year-old athlete knows what it means to be a leader on the track and off. Let's face it, it's not uncommon to see little girls carrying Danica gear at the races, and the champion driver recently signed an associate sponsorship with Aspen Dental, a national organization that promotes female leadership in dentistry. At a dinner in conjunction with the Auto Club 400 race in Fontana, California, Danica spoke to the company's female employees. She shared some of the same perspectives on success and perseverance with MAKERS:
You've said before that being one of the only women in a male-dominated sport is actually a good thing, because you're seen as different and special. How do you encourage other women to see it that way, rather than feeling isolated?
I think that comes through time and confidence. There's no reason you should feel different around other people other than confidence. But that takes time. For me, I've been racing with only guys since I was 10 years old, so part of [my confidence] was ignorance, because I didn't know any different and that's just the way it was for me. But it definitely takes time to grow that.
When you consider your career, do you have a message or philosophy that keeps you going or keeps you pushing to be even better?
Philosophy-wise, just to work really hard and leave no excuse as to why you wish you would've done more or something different. Big picture: You really have to do something you love to do or you're not going to work hard at it. Find what you really love to do and go for that -- then work really hard. And don't worry if you mess up, because what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Are there any young female athletes coming up today that make you hopeful for the future of women in sports?
It seems like there's always a ton of young athletes coming up. I went to my old go-kart track and I would say 40 percent of entries were girls. So there's definitely a shift, but I wouldn't say I have boots on the ground to see how it's going all the time.
What's your ultimate goal?
I want to win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. A lot would be great, a little would be awesome, and once or twice would be great. It's very hard to win, and once you get there you'll probably find a way to get there again.
You've said that it's easier to get sponsorships as a woman. Do you ever think about using that access to start your own business?
There's a lot of things that I enjoy doing outside of racing that I've thought about going into deeper and trying out. Racing takes up a tremendous amount of time at this point so I'm really using this time to set the groundwork and wait for the right opportunity to follow through. I'm not going to race until I'm 65, so I'm going to have time to do other things if I would like.
Using the platform I have now, it's a good idea to think about things now so I can hit the ground running when I want to. Can't just sit around, that's boring!
Many women still struggle with the idea of "having it all" when it comes to work/life balance. Are there any tactics you've developed to help you manage it all?
It's important to say no. I think you have to know where to draw the line. You're not going to get it right the first time or the second time or for the first couple of years, maybe, but just try not to please everybody. I think that I definitely do that; that's something that's helpful.
Also it's about who you surround yourself with. The difference between positive attitude versus a negative one means one is a bad day and it's very taxing, and the other is fun. So surrounding yourself with people who get you there is really important.
What legacy do you hope to leave?
I just want people to remember me as a great driver, and that I was a girl. I hope that they can say that, 'She was really good. She wasn't just good for a girl. She was a good driver.' And that I'm a good person. I just hope people have a positive attitude about me when it's all said and done, and respect me as a driver.
Qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2011
Danica Patrick presenting at the Aspen Dental dinner.
At the 2014 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014
A young fan writes words of encouragement for Danica Patrick (not pictured), driver of the #10 Aspen Dental Chevrolet, on the pit wall before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400.
With Blake Shelton during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CampingWorld.com 500.
In full gear during practice.
With some of the women of Aspen Dental.
Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing, and is one of the most famous and recognized female athletes in the world. She is the only woman to ever win in the IndyCar series as well as holding the highest finish by a woman (3rd place) at the Indianapolis 500. Growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, Patrick started go-kart racing at the age of ten, and became a world go-karting champion by her mid-teens. She left high school at the age of 16 to move to England to train for and race in the British national series, where she earned a second-place in Britain's Formula Ford Festival, the highest finish ever by an American. After returning to the States, Patrick started driving for Rahal Letterman Racing, and in 2005 she became only the fourth woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500. She led the race for 19 laps, a first for any woman in racing. Patrick was subsequently named Rookie of the Year for both the 2005 Indianapolis 500 and the 2005 IndyCar Series season. She continued to make history with her first place finish at the Indy Japan 300 on April 20, 2008, becoming the first woman ever to win an Indy car race. She later placed 3rd in the 2009 Indianapolis 500, which was both a personal best for her at the track, and the highest finish by a woman in the event's history. Patrick holds the IRL record for most consecutive races running at the finish. In 2010, Patrick began racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, and in 2012, Patrick left the IndyCar series to compete full-time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports and part-time in the Sprint Cup Series for Stewart-Haas Racing. She continues to set records for women in racing, and remains a sought-after advertising spokesperson and model.