Love It Or Hate It...Danica Patrick’s Big Win
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent
This past weekend, Danica Patrick finally quieted all the naysayers by nabbing the checkered flag at the Japan 300.
After four full seasons of racing, Patrick finally took first, making her the only female ever to win an IndyCar race.
The 26-year-old Wisconsin native was relieved to get No. 1 under her belt, saying: "I don't let people dictate how I'm supposed to feel or what I'm supposed to do, but it's nice not to have to answer any questions about when and how and why it hasn't happened."
Patrick's had to answer a lot of those questions throughout her career.
Her rise to popularity has been largely due to the near non-existence of female racers — both in the NASCAR and IndyCar series. The novelty of a competitive woman driver's added both intrigue and controversy to a sometimes overlooked sport. Patrick's successes, including a fourth place finish at the Indianapolis 500 that helped earn her Rookie of the Year in 2005, paired with her sex appeal, have put her in the spotlight since Day 1.
The petite, pretty brunette has often drawn comparisons to Anna Kournikova — a winner in the media, but never on the court. Many have complained that Patrick's spread in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and racy GoDaddy.com ads have taken focus off her sub-par racing career. Others claim her good looks and marketability have afforded her more attention than her talent deserves.
The truth is, if Patrick were masculine and unattractive she would get just as much flak - or worse, be ignored entirely. Her good looks and media savvy have helped her get sponsors that might have otherwise rejected the idea of taking on a female driver. At the same time, she's had to work to get skeptics to see the competitor behind the glamor.
Women athletes are derided for showing intensity and competitiveness and often ridiculed for the strength and athleticism for which male athletes are praised. If you're pretty, you're soft. If you're butch, you're hard to market. Patrick has a rare combination of skill and beauty — enough to win a man's race on the track and win his heart off it. For some, this combination is threatening.
In 2005, Formula 1 President Bernie Ecclestone famously told the media (and then Patrick herself) "I've got one of these wonderful ideas that women should be all dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances."
Fellow driver Ed Carpenter also took the low road early in Patrick's career, commenting: "I think Danica's pretty aggressive in our cars. I mean, you know, especially if you catch her at the right time of the month, she might be trading plenty of paint out there."
Patrick's largely ignored sexist commentary, knowing that angry reactions to people like Ecclestone and Carpenter would only result in even more unfair negativity. Mainly, being labeled the "B" word.
When Patrick got in the face of opponent Dan Wheldon after a race last year, members of the media and the general public alike all jumped to label her whiny and bitchy. When male racers come to blows after a collision or an assumed indiscretion, they're generally seen as passionate and intense. When she got involved, many viewed her complaints as a silly outburst by a sore loser.
Despite it all, Patrick's finally gotten that elusive first win and will most likely find herself back in the winner's circle again soon.
Late Saturday night, Patrick was again faced with the challenge of revealing her femininity in a male-dominated inustry. Before she got out of the car to celebrate, she first wondered whether to show the world her joyful, relieved tears.
"I didn't expect to get emotional, but that's what was lying underneath and how much blood, sweat and tears has gone into getting that first win out of the way," she said. "I was embarrassed with all the photographers there and took the helmet off to cover my face. Then I said, 'Screw it, this is how I feel, and this is what sports are all about.' Crap, that's history, dude!"
Danica Patrick beatin' up on the boys and looking good doing it … Do you Love It or Hate It?