In my professional career I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to surround myself with strong females, in a very male-dominated profession it’s not the easiest thing to do. I’ve received criticism for being “too aggressive” in the way I questioned a witness and was told that as a woman I can’t be that aggressive it will not endear me to the fact finder (I practiced in a very specific section of litigation that doesn’t have juries…that’s not important). So perhaps as you read this you’ll think I’m being overly sensitive to this situation, when in actuality I know it because I’ve been there.
That’s right, this is about Danica Patrick.
The hard figures first. Dania Patrick did well in IndyCar. Her lowest rank was twelfth, during her first year. Though, during her first year she obtained three poles – as a rookie. Every other year she finished in the top ten of the standings. This year she’s entering in the Indy500 as a one-off, and despite the boos and jeers – as a whole she’s done very well at the Indy500. In 2009 she podiumed with a third-place finish and holds the record as the highest finishing female in the race and the first female to lead laps at the 500 (2005). Danica also holds the most important record of being the first female in IndyCar history to win a race. Numbers only, she had a good run in IndyCar. Sure she made the bad decision to go to NASCAR, but she did really well with IndyCar (she did okay in NASCAR too and was the first woman to earn the pole at Daytona).
There is an immeasurable factor that needs to be discussed. Danica is, and was, a role model to countless young girls who want to get involved in motorsports. Like her or not, motorsports, specifically open-wheel racing, needs women racers like Danica. When the sport, in general, still uses women simply as trophy or sign holders: any woman who can boast top-ten finishes, poles, and a lengthy career is a role model. Yes she has shown a tempestuous spirit, but speaking candidly, that’s what young girls need when they’re entering a male-dominated arena.
There’s a school of thought that little girls can set high goals if they see someone else in the position. Looking at sports, seeing another women actively compete helps the young girls at the track with their families go “I could do this”. For my generation it was Lyn St. James, for my nieces it was Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick. Girls right now have many women they can look up to if they want to be drivers – Danica is included. It’s a step in the right direction.
If you’re male and reading this, I’m sorry but you don’t understand what it’s like to be in a male-dominated occupation. It’s one of the few times I’ll ever say something like that because really all opinions are valuable. As a woman if you’re too aggressive, if you truly say what you’re thinking and it’s not this soft answer, you’ll hear about it. When I started this piece, the internet exploded because Danica said that she felt NASCAR was easier to drive then IndyCar. No one thought to see what the context was (that IndyCar is a more physical drive) instead it was instant pitchforks.
She brings publicity to the event. Remember back to Fernando mania? (it’s been reported ticket sales are all ready on pace to exceed last year, and I’m not saying it’s solely because of Danica but I do know people who are going to see Danica race)
Danica has been judged by her past actions, which yes as a young driver her personality may have grated people. If you don’t like her because of her personality as a younger driver okay, but really none of us want to be judged by our past. Danica has achieved a level of maturity and clarity these past few years. I believe she credits a lot of it to a focused physical routine of cross-fit-esque work outs, meditation, and a very structured diet (full disclosure I do own her book). During the press conference after the veteran refresher she indicated relief it was over and a want to move forward and really start working on getting the car to the way she wants it and trimmed to go as fast as she wants. She’s done well at Indy, she’ll do well at Indy.
We have to acknowledge the impact Danica has had on our sport. We absolutely have to. To close your eyes and pretend her records don’t exist, or that she was a woman in a very male dominated sport, or that she didn’t bend to the “be a good girl” that a lot of us in male dominated areas are told – is impressive. You don’t have to like Danica (though this health-conscious Danica seems pretty cool). You don’t have to cheer for Danica (I will be). But you can’t ignore her impact. She chose to end her career in the sport she started in, and at the most spectacular event of that sport. She knows this is important. Good Luck Danica!