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Please Explain: Danica Patrick
2007-05-29 10:35
by Scott Long

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. ( 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.

Time for you to Please Explain Danica Patrick.

2007-05-29 11:11:14
1.   D4P
I think a better comparison than Anna might be Michelle Wie, in that both she and Danica are trying to succeed alongside men. Wie has had virtually no success in men's tournaments, yet continues to get invites and continues to be the biggest story in the field when she plays.

Because she's a woman in a "man's sport", Danica would probably get a lot of attention regardless of how she looks. The fact that some people think she's beautiful only adds to her fame.

2007-05-29 11:15:17
2.   markh
Girl + pretty + "competing in a man's sport" = lots of attention. Is the the prettiest girl in the world? No. Is the prettier than 100% of the other racers on the track? Yes. Is the media that reports on racing dominated by men? Yes. Asking "why" seems kind of redundant.

But that's about all it is to me, since because car racing is all about turning left I give it about as much attention as the national checkers finals.

2007-05-29 11:57:36
3.   Ken Arneson
Ever notice those web ads for the Yahoo Dating service? Not a supermodel-type to be found in those photos, because 99% of men know they doesn't really stand a chance with someone with supermodel looks. There's a line somewhere between I-Have-A-Chance and I-Have-No-Chance, a line that those Yahoo ads are very careful to get close to, but never cross.

I mention that, because to me, Danica Patrick seems like a celebrity who lives right on that line. She's good looking, but not TOO good looking. She's successful and famous, but not TOO successful, and the thing she's famous for is guy stuff, so you might easily fantasize having stuff in common to talk about. She's exactly the type of woman you want to come up in your Yahoo Dating search, and that, I think, is her appeal.

2007-05-29 12:12:46
4.   chris in illinois
2 Bite your tongue, I'm heading to the Plaza in Las Vegas in July to watch Alex Moiseyev defend his national checkers title.

I kid, but it might be more fun than watching a race on TV, but then I'm a blue-state elitist (

2007-05-29 12:17:42
5.   gophersw
I think a part of it might be that she is a tomboy that doesn't physically resemble a boy. She's still a mere 5'2" (just looked that up on Google, could be wrong) and when she is out of her little racing getup she still looks like a cute enough girl.

Compare that to Serena Williams, who I'll admit is attractive but in a beastly she-hulk way, and Jenny Finch, who could easily be mistaken for a tranny on some days, and I think I can see Danica's appeal to some folks.

I personally don't think she's all that amazing, but that is an explanation I can understand.


2007-05-29 14:13:45
6.   Penarol1916
I completely agree with everything said in 2. I think that the has been promoting this theory for a while. Moderately attractive women in sports tend to be overrated in their looks, and Danica is the postergirl for their theory.
2007-05-29 15:04:29
7.   be2ween
Hey now!
She's easy on the eyes and scrapes paint? Probably gonna get some notice on that front.
Did you hear Newton has a track now?
Iowa Speedway? Trucks and Busch.
Plan your vay-kay sked accordingly!
2007-05-29 15:11:42
8.   D4P
Moderately attractive women in sports tend to be overrated in their looks

See: Sharapova, Maria

2007-05-29 15:49:45
9.   Ravenscar
While my great-uncle would be hard-pressed to explain any form of car-racing to me, regardless of the glands of the drivers, the attitude of this post sounds right up his alley.

"She was lucky to get 4th place, she ain't cute, she shouldn't be racing, and get the hell off my lawn you damn kids." Yikes.

2007-05-29 15:55:58
10.   King of the Hobos
I would guess that 2 has it. She's simply more attractive than racers like Sarah Fisher or Katherine Legge, and happened to be near the top of the field during an Indy. I'm also sure Tony George (the guy who owns the IRL) tries his damnest to get her in as much media as possible, to get fans to attend/watch the flailing open wheel races. I'm actually surprised CART hasn't done the same thing with Legge, who looks decent enough and has actually won a race (albeit in a feeder series, which I guess Danica never managed to win).
2007-05-29 17:37:51
11.   Scott Long
I realize that I am discussing superficial elements on Danica, but considering she has reached this level of awareness based on superficial elements, I think it's relevant.

I think the points are fair in regards to her looks, but it doesn't explain to me the rankings in Maxim or appearing in ads. Considering how invisible Indy Car racing is besides the Indy 500, I just think it's poor decision making by marketers.

I read where Danica is 5'1". Here is where I go the direction of Ken, as this is something I like. I don't need model like height.

I did hear about my former hometown (newton) getting a track. Considering the world of outlaw sprint car track is down the road in Knoxville, maybe the new track will be successful. With the shutdown of Maytag, Newton sure could use the influx of jobs.

2007-05-29 20:54:54
12.   nick
I loathe NASCAR, probably beyond all reason: eg, if I had a date with the young Marilyn Monroe and discovered that she was a NASCAR driver I would cancel our dinner reservations.....
2007-05-30 05:34:38
13.   markh
"Moderately attractive women in sports tend to be overrated in their looks

See: Sharapova, Maria"

True, I think. Sharapova is pretty (prettier than Anna, IMO), but I believe she gets so much attention because she's attractive at all, not because she's stunningly gorgeous. An attractive athlete is like a bonus, I've always thought. They're good and good looking; it's not that common.

Of course, Sharapova was #1 in the world a few years ago, and won Wimbledon and the US Open. As far as attention goes, she deserves just a bit more than Danica Patrick.

2007-05-30 05:40:53
14.   Ravenscar
Maybe the MAXIM ranking is relative. Say, compared to every other racecar driver who's ever existed. Then she's Jessica Alba, Marilyn Monroe, and Ingrid Bergman rolled into one.

I'm still not really sure I get what this PLEASE EXPLAIN is about. She's gotten a disproportionate amount of attention for being a female in a man's sport, she's definitely better than a majority of the men trying to break into the circuit (note - there are a LOT of would-be drivers out there just like there are a lot of would-be everything in every sport), and the last of her attention is that yes, she's pretty adorable - unlike all other drivers. What is there to explain? The attention she's gotten seems exactly normal and what I would have expected.

2007-05-30 06:17:15
15.   Todd S
There are some good points above, but I think a big one is missing. Imagine you work in marketing for a corporation. You're paying to put your name on sports cars to increase your brand awareness and revenue. You know the people you're reaching are only 50% of the potential market.

With Danica Patrick, all of a sudden you have a chance to speak to the other 50%, without alienating your current base. That's a huge opportunity.

My wife asked me one question about the race this past weekend: "Where did Danica finish?"

2007-05-30 07:01:12
16.   Scott Long
Please Explain is about deserving the popularity that someone has. I understand that she should get some attention, but in a sport that few care about, how is she the marketing sensation that she is? Her looks, talent, and personality don't explain it for me.
2007-05-30 07:24:08
17.   chris in illinois
15 I don't disagree that there is some validity to your point, but I wonder how many women know about open-wheel racing much less follow it. My wife only knows Danica Patrick exists because she has appeared on Letterman and Regis and Kelly.

She had no idea that there was a race in Indy last weekend.

2007-05-30 07:28:40
18.   Sushirabbit
Ya know those Andretti guys? They really are pretty good drivers. See how bad they want to win? The marketing bit is significant, because in American racing (and it's a pretty big deal internationally) the Indy 500 is still THE INDY 500.

To have a woman doing as well as she does is a big deal. This was the first race that I've seen her in that she clearly had a decent car, and it showed. In tricky conditions she drove very well and very smart. Luck is a component in every race. Franchitti had a little luck roll his way or he might not have won it. Given enough time I believe she will win races in cars like AGR provides. She came up through Karting, winning championships. Went to England for the formula ford series and did very well. That's the normal course of events for road racers, just like doing well all the way from High School to A, AA, AAA.

So, let's say the current 4th place Home Run hitter was female, and pretty decent looking? Would she be deserving of attention?

I don't know that she is supermodel attractive but as a racing fan, I think it is great to see her doing well.

2007-05-30 07:28:40
19.   JoeyP
Danica gets the Michelle Wie treatment.
She's a novelty.

However, she is much hotter than Jenny Finch (she's like 6'1 isnt she?), Serena Williams (gross).

Danica's probably the closest thing to Chris Evert, when it comes to US sports babes.

There's not much to explain. Danica's hot, she's involved in a male dominated popular sport, she's a fairly good driver, she's marketable, and people just like her.

2007-05-30 08:33:36
20.   jgpyke
OT, but "white trash Mardi Gras" is redundant. If you don't believe, go to Mardi Gras sometime. Sure, it's got plenty of hipsters, tourists, and college kids, but imagine the population that is in within easy driving distance of New Orleans and you start to get the picture.

Regarding racing, winning is extremely important, of course, but consistently finishing in the top 10 is pretty good and one can grind out a very good living out of that. As far as Danica's popularity is concerned, it shouldn't be hard to understand. The Indy 500 is dead (e.g., empty hotel rooms in Indy, unsold seats, 150K fewer at the race--not a typo, etc.), and they will take anything they can to market it. Who cares about a bunch of eurotrash racers? People want the chick who appears on Letterman.

2007-05-30 09:02:14
21.   Suffering Bruin
Danica's probably the closest thing to Chris Evert, when it comes to US sports babes.

Only if Danica suddenly became a major play-uh of the field.

2007-05-30 09:07:31
22.   misterjohnny
Danica is getting all the endorsement attention until Wie turns 18 this fall and can be exploited more easily (i.e. out from under Daddy's shadow).
2007-05-30 09:11:17
23.   chris in illinois
18 "So, let's say the current 4th place Home Run hitter was female, and pretty decent looking? Would she be deserving of attention?"

Of, course she would, but I think Scott's point is that Indy Car racing is less popular than that shitty sitcom with Jim Belushi. Baseball is still staggeringly popular as a spectator sport. Compared to baseball, the Indycar circuit is a pimple on a flea's ass in terms of attendance and TV viewership (at least in the U.S.)

Everyone has made some good points here, but can anyone even name another race that Danica races in?? I can't, I have no idea where else these people race.

When Indy-car racing is scratching to stay ahead of the WNBA and is 100 laps behind Ultimate Fighting in terms of popularity, it makes you wonder what the fuss is.

As much as NASCAR bores me, if Danica raced there, I'd understand the hype at least.

2007-05-30 09:31:41
24.   D4P
Please Explain is about deserving the popularity that someone has

Deserve's got nothing to do with it.

2007-05-30 09:32:47
25.   Scott Long
Chris took the words right off of my keyboard on a lot of things. Here's more.

Danica is the 9th best homerun hitter. THis is her ranking on the points list and considering her equipment, I'm guessing another 10 drivers in IRL would do better if given similar machines.

In IRL there are only 3 race teams that can compete every week. Of the drivers for these teams, only Marco Andretti is behind her. We all know why he got a top ride at such a young age, but even he almost won the Indy 500 last year. Danica didn't have a good car in 2006, but in 2005 the Rahal/Lettermen team was very competitive. Buddy Rice won Indy just the year before with the team.

I had considered the Danica-Evert comparison, but didn't mention it because it isn't even close.

More accomplished champ: Evert
Bigger sport: Evert (during her time, tennis was huge, more popular than golf.)
Looks: I think Evert was prettier, but let's call it a draw.
Personality: Evert has always come off much better during an interview than Danica.

The only thing I can give Patrick is she competes against men.

I'm not saying I don't think Indycar isn't doing the right thing in promoting her, as she is the only person the media has any interest in. Hopefully, Franchitti winning will give a more deserving spotlight, considering his wife is Ashley Judd and the media can jump on that one.

2007-05-30 09:39:09
26.   Scott Long
Not sure what comment 24 means. Sure many people don't deserve the fame they receive, but the concept of this post is broader than that.

Lindsay Lohan's constant media focus is pretty amazing, but at least I understand it. (good-looking, rich, moderately talented actress)

The concept of Please Explain is for others to explain to me why something has reached the level of popularity and attention that it currently receives, when I think others doing the same type of thing are not on the same radar. (Dave Matthews, Wendy's, etc.)

2007-05-30 10:30:34
27.   D4P
Not sure what comment 24 means

It's a line from "Unforgiven". It wasn't really supposed to mean anything. I fully support the Please Explain feature, and look forward to each installment.

2007-05-30 11:49:39
28.   Scott Long
Don't you hate when you put a great line out there and someone (me) whiffs on it. Sorry about that.

Thanks for your support.

2007-05-30 15:56:52
29.   underdog
Never mind Danica, please explain NASCAR's popularity. I scratch my head at the whole thing. The other day I cracked up when I turned on sports radio and heard live coverage of the 500. On the radio! How exciting...
2007-05-30 18:46:40
30.   Scott Long
I'm guessing many racing fans feel negative tboughts about baseball.

Nascar has sold the personalities of its sport. It's part pro wrestling...part college football... part....

Not my thing, but I do understand it to a certain extent.

2007-05-30 21:21:06
31.   Ken Arneson
29 That's nothing. When I lived in Sweden, I heard a live play-by-play radio broadcast of a table tennis match.

It was the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Forehandbackhandforehandbackhandbackhand

2007-05-30 21:28:27
32.   JoeyP
29--NASCAR's like a travelling concert. Its essentially a rock show, on TV.
If you ever been to a NASCAR event, thats essentially what it is. Large crowds, the drivers are like the rock stars, the track is the stage, and the cars are the instruments.

I think the same reason why people watch NASCAR, are the same motives why people go to their favorite musician's concerts year after year, even if that musician plays essentially the same type of show. People enjoy watching certain people drive cars, while others might enjoy hearing Pavarotti sing, or Billy Corgan give a solo of a song they've heard a millions times before.

Its like Scott said--its all about the personalities.

Thats what they are selling. They arent really selling the actual "sport"--driving in a circle.

2007-05-30 22:49:39
33.   jeffpico
I totally agree that Danica is overhyped BUT it is literally the only person that the mainstream media, not just sports media, has any interest in at all when it comes to the Indy 500.

I am too young to remember when Janet Guthrie or Lyn St. James first races, but at that time open wheel racing had several household names like AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, etc.

I think what we are seeing here is lazy media syndrome.

2007-05-31 05:27:12
34.   jgpyke
"...the actual 'sport' [is] driving in a circle."

I don't get why the non-fans always resort to this sort of put-down. When was the last time you drove 600 miles without getting out of the car once? Did you do it at 185 mph? Did you do it without AC, and it was 88 degrees outside? Were there 40 other people trying to do the same thing, each car creating a "wake" as they pass? Does that not take some kind of physical and mental acumen to perform?

I don't understand what criteria is being applied to distinguish between a sport and a "sport." Is golf a "sport," because it only involves walking around and swinging a stick a few times? What other "sports" should we marginalize? Is a jockey an athlete? All he does is ride a horsey in a circle. What else?

2007-05-31 06:33:24
35.   Akhilleus13
I have never heard Serena Willimas described as "curvy." Anna-Nicole Smith was curvy. "Freakishly man-muscular" would probably better describe Serena. She and her sister are off to good starts at the French Open. Check it out here:
2007-05-31 06:33:38
36.   chris in illinois
34 I agree that any sport can be reduced to a silly sentence or two that would make them seem pointless. I have never questioned the difficulty in what a driver does, my issue is that it just doesn't seem very interesting to watch. I'm sure that I'd finish dead last in any race I'd enter by 100 laps or so (if I even finished), but I also know that I wouldn't want to watch me do it.

There are any number of sports that I enjoy, but couldn't imagine watching someone else do.

The notion of racing---cars, horses, people---is very old, thousands of years most likely. Frankly it's a miracle that people are still interested in 'who can go faster'; I'm not knocking those people that enjoy races of any stripe, I just don't find such pursuits that interesting.

Baseball has a relatively simple goal: score more than your opponent. However, the variables that affect how this is accomplished are numerous enough to make the competition interesting. The 100 yard dash?? Yeah, there is some technique involved, but ulimately it comes down to 'who's fastest?'. I know NASCAR fans will throw out all sorts of intracacies of the sport that make the competetion compelling, but they aren't obvious to a casual observer and in the end, if your car isn't top notch, no amount of strategy and technique will help you win.

In the end, I think that a competition that has essentially one solution (be the fastest) will lose out to those sports that have multiple paths to victory

2007-05-31 10:20:50
37.   underdog
You guys actually did explain it to me pretty well. Seriously, I understand the popularity more now than I did. Thanks. I still don't think my interest in watching it will still be gone in 60 seconds, but at least now I sort of get it. Danica Patrick in particular I have no trouble understanding. ;-)
2007-05-31 10:21:54
38.   underdog
Excuse the double "still" above. Meant: "I still think my interest in watching it will be gone in 60 seconds..." and never mind.
2007-05-31 11:46:00
39.   JoeyP
34--I didnt mean to put the sport down. I dont think there's much 'sport' in any racing.

I dont follow track and field, horse racing, or other types of racing very much, probably bc there arent a great deal of personalities within those fields.

Maybe if track and field had more interesting personalities, it would become more popular like NASCAR is.

2007-05-31 11:47:07
40.   Penarol1916
36. You know, my name is Chris, and I live in Illinois and that explains my exact attitude about racing. I understand that it is something that is difficult to do, but just because something is difficult, does not make it even remotely interesting to watch.
2007-05-31 13:04:51
41.   markh
I'd like to hear someone's explanation for why Danica Patrick gets more attention and endorsements than Sarah Fisher.
2007-05-31 16:10:23
42.   jeffpico
Sarah Patrick has not been a regular in the IRL since 2004. She has been less succesful than Patrick except for having finished higher in a single race (2nd to Patrick's 4th) but Patrick is on a better team now and has a better chance of winning from week to week.

It also can't be overlooked that Patrick is better looking than Fisher.

2007-05-31 16:10:58
43.   jeffpico
of course I meant Sarah Fisher :)
2007-06-01 06:27:08
44.   Benaiah
I don't get all the Jenny Finch bashing. She isn't "pretty" per se, but she is definitely smoking hot. This photo is one of the hottest things I have ever seen:

2007-06-01 08:43:31
45.   Scott Long
I can see why some don't care for Jenny Finch, but I've always thought she was really hot.
2007-06-01 13:45:48
46.   George Y
As for Finch, you say she's smoking hot, but it looks to me like she's cold in that picture.

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