When I am asked where I’m from I usually reply that I’m a resident of the United States. This response is not because I’m some kind of Lee Greenwood-type lackey, but because I’m on the road so much with my stand-up comedy schedule. My legal residence is in the Indianapolis area, which has been the case since 1990.
I bring this background up because over the Memorial Day weekend every year, the largest sporting event in the world is held here. While I don’t have a hometown loyalty to the city, I have been to the Indy 500 a few times and recommend even to the biggest haters of car racing that they should attend it once in their lives. The sheer speed and volume of sound the cars produce cannot be understood, unless you are there to see it in person. Plus, it’s like visiting a huge white trash Mardi Gras or Jerry Springer without the fake scripts.
During the early 90’s, I used to work at the biggest car racing bar in the city. This was still a time when there was still an argument between Indy Car and NASCAR in popularity. There was no argument, though, on what single race was most important to win. It was the 500 mile brickyard race run at 16th and Georgetown.
At this bar, I used to regularly wait on the biggest names in racing. Foyt, Mears, Rutherford, and lots of Unser’s and Andretti’s were just some of the names in the sport that I came in contact with. I can’t think of another sport where this many hall of famers would frequent the same place Only some tavern like Toots Shor or maybe the Gold Club in Atlanta could compete for having all-time greats walk through its door, as the place I worked at then.
What I quickly learned was that many of the drivers I met were glorified Jiffy Lube mechanics. I’m sure it’s not much different in meeting athletes of other sports. This is not to say that it doesn’t take special talents to become a champion racer, with having the nerve to drive over 200 miles surrounded by other cars being at the top of the qualifications. The safety of the sport has evolved greatly in the past 15 years, as to be a race car driver up until the past decade you had to demonstrate the daredevil attitude of a cast member on Jackass. (Come to think of it, Johnny Knoxville is the most perfect NASCAR driver name I can imagine and that includes Ricky Bobby.)
So don’t put me in the category of people who think it’s just about making a continuous left turn for a few hours. Put me down as being more knowledgeable than the average Joe about car racing, but probably not as knowledgeable as the average Jethro. So with this behind us, let me get to my Please Explain subject, Danica Patrick.
Patrick is by far the biggest name in Indy Racing. According to Sporting News she finished third in a name recognition survey among all car drivers, behind only Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Danica brings in millions each year in sponsorship money, including being the only non-football player to appear in a Super Bowl ad. (Go.Daddy.com) It’s hard to say that there is a current female athlete who is more famous in the sports world than Patrick.
Now is where I get to the point of needing some kind of explanation. Danica Patrick has never won an IRL race. This is despite having other team members of Patrick winning races. Her equipment is good. The achievement that put her on the map was finishing 4th in her initial Indy 500 run (2005). It was an impressive achievement, but with a little more background on her day there arises some question on how great of a day she really had.
Patrick overcame two crucial blunders to finish fourth in the race, the same position in which she started. Her car stalled in the pits about halfway through the 500-mile race, dropping her to the middle of the field. Shortly after reclaiming a spot in the top 10, Patrick spun on a caution period just before an intended green flag, that caused a four car accident. The accident caused damage that was fortunately limited to the nose and front wing of her car. Her competitors behind her did not fare as well even though she caused the accident. Her pit crew promptly made repairs, and due to the subsequent yellow, was able to rejoin having lost only one place. When the leaders pitted for fuel on lap 172, the timing was perfect for Patrick to stay out and take the lead. Later, she lost it on lap 184, and then regained it on a restart with 11 laps to go. However, as she had not pitted for fuel, Patrick needed one more long yellow in order to reach the finish without having to refuel. On lap 194, eventual race winner and 2005 series champion Dan Wheldon passed her as she was forced to slow in order to conserve fuel, and she was quickly passed by both Bryan Herta and her teammate Vitor Meira. (from Wikipedia)
It was a fluke that Patrick finished 4th that day. She made a lot of rookie mistakes, but lady luck put her in postition to be marketed as more than just a pretty face.
This is not to say that her being a media sensation has mainly been based on her looks. I would agree that she is attractive, but in comparison to the wives of most car drivers, she is Miss Congeniality at the beauty contest. Maxim and FHM put her in their Top 100 Sexiest Women list and I guess I just don’t see it. Each time I hear her interviewed, her snotty attitude and clipped voice conveys all the sexuality of Hilary Clinton. Outside of her beautiful hair, which is suitable for a shampoo ad, I just don’t see the hoopla about Danica’s physical beauty.
I know advertisers are desperate for the next American golden girl, but currently the sports world doesn’t really have one. Jenny Finch plays softball, which has less TV time than the National Spelling Bee. Serena Williams’ combination of having a crazy Daddy and being so curvy has hurt her endorsement deals. Do I need to even mention the WNBA…Nah.
So in the vacuum sits Danica. Great one word name. Girl next door pretty. I mean I sort of got it initially, but the time has come that her multi-million dollars contracts should really be questioned. I know some are beginning to compare her to Anna Kournikova, but I think that is too simple. Danica is nowhere close to being as physically hot as Anna, and Anna at least won a few Grand Slam double titles.