Danica Patrick just made history. Last Sunday, she became the first woman ever to win an IndyCar race when she finished No.1 in the Japan 300. In her 50th career start, Patrick finally got what she wanted since her debut back in 2005: first place.
Patrick poses with her trophy at Twin Ring Motegi in Motegi, Japan, on April 20, 2008
And it’s been a long, long ride since she first got on the road. Patrick was usually tormented with “When are you going to win something?” questions and with comparisons with Anna Kournikova, the tennis player who never won anything but became famous for being good-looking. But Patrick’s no Kournikova. Not anymore.
“I’m not going to lie," she said. "I was getting frustrated. I believed in myself. It was just a matter of when it was going to happen. I’ve been asked so many times when I’m going to win my first race — finally no more of those questions.”
Patrick is one of the Indy’s biggest stars, but she has always been known more for her good looks than her abilities. In 2005 in Indianapolis, she took fourth place — her best result prior to her win in Japan — and that was enough to get her more attention than the race’s winner, Dan Wheldon. She was even named Rookie of the Year for her 2005 IndyCar Series without ever having won anything. So it always came back to haunt her: Was she famous for being good or good-looking?
Patrick arrives at the 2007 ESPY Awards in Hollywood
Over the years, she even had to put up with a whole bundle of sexist remarks. Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1’s CEO, told Patrick that “women [drivers] should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.”
Robby Gordon, another Indy Racing League driver, said he would refuse to race with her because of her weight advantage: “Right off the bat, a guy my size is spotting her 105 pounds”; “That’s the reason she’s so much faster,” he said.
Ed Carpenter, a Nascar driver, even referred to her PMS: “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.” He later said it was just a joke. Funny, huh?
In spite of all the criticism and controversy, Patrick kept going. And now everything’s different, because she’s finally achieved something. As of April 20, Patrick can start getting attention for the right reasons: She’s actually a good (female) race car driver, not just a hot driver. She’s now up there with other female race car pioneers such as Maria Teresa de Filippis, Michèle Mouton, Janet Guthrie or Jutta Kleinschmidt. Congratulations, Danica!