If there's one thing that annoys me more than Danica Patrick hype, it's Danica Patrick haters.
Here's a woman who, with the exception of Shirley Muldowney in drag racing, has come further than any woman before her. But like everything since the dawn of the Internet, there has to be haters, who hate for the sake of hating. I hate the PR machine that won't shut up about her--but Danica herself? Hell of a racer.
She won a bunch of championships in the World Karting Association, then jumped to European Formula Ford, where she finished second at the annual FF Festival--the highest finish for a woman ever. Then she jumped back to America to compete in Toyota Atlantics, with a pole position and consistent podiums.
At this point she was, admittedly, fast-tracked to the IRL by Rahal-Letterman--they saw not only a lot of talent, but a marketing machine that would bring the Indy Racing League to prominence. The IRL's decision, and the race team's decision. Danica, being smart enough to realize the career she was about to have, goes for it.
Although the haters complained she was too green.
She ran fastest in practice at Indy in her rookie year, led briefly, and finished 4th. In case that hasn't sunk in, I'll repeat it--she finished 4th, at what many consider the world's greatest race, in her rookie year, and as a woman.
She finished the season with two pole positions, Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, and IRL Rookie of the Year. Those, in themselves, were huge accomplishments.
Although the haters complained about her not winning.
Her second year with Rahal-Letterman was not as successful, thanks to a switch to the inferior Dallara chassis. She still managed a couple of 4th place finishes though.
Although the haters complained about her not winning, despite the crap car.
Her switch to Andretti-Green the following season proved fruitful, as she finished with 3 podiums, 4 top 5s and 11 top 10s.
Although the haters complained about her not winning, despite jumping into a new car and being forced to race against two of the best open wheelers in the world, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti.
2008 would prove to be the banner year, as she became the first woman to win a major open wheel race in history at Twin-Ring Motegi. Was it a fuel mileage win? Sure. But since when is a win not a win? Some haters would have you believe that, but the fact is, she conserved fuel well, she communicated with her team well, and she ran smoother and better than anyone else on the track. The win was well deserved.
And have you watched the IRL lately? The only way to pass ANYONE is in the pits, with FUEL MILEAGE STRATEGY. Is anyone hating on Scott Dixon for winning a few dozen races with fuel mileage?
The rest of her season was up and down but she finished 6th in points.
Although the haters complained it was a fuel mileage win and she should've won more races.
2009 was her best year statistically, as she finished 5th in points (barely missing 4th place) with a 3rd place finish at the Indy 500, beating her previous best and the best for a woman.
Although the haters complained she should've beat Penske and Ganassi and won races--even when no one else beat Penske and Ganassi either.
Now... Only one win you say? Fair enough. But have any of you watched the IRL in the last two years? It's a joke--I should write a separate post about that some day... But for now suffice to say that it's completely and utterly dominated by two teams, Chip-Ganassi and Penske, to the point of absurdity. Every race in 2009 was won by one of the two teams, with the minor exception of Justin Wilson's win at Watkins Glen (which Briscoe would've run away with had it not been for a pit road error)... And Danica finished 5th in points, the "best of the rest", as it were.
Think about that--with the exception of the two dominant, highest-budget, best-paying "super teams", Danica was the best driver on the track. She finished higher than Dan Wheldon (former Champ), higher than her teammates Tony Kanaan (former Champ) and Marco Andretti (an Andretti), higher than guys like Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal (road course aces). They call Penske, Ganassi and AGR the "BIG THREE" but to be fair, in the last TWO seasons it's really been the BIG TWO.
So, let's summarize:
- She's thrust into the lime light at a very early age with decent, but not amazing success in the lower tier racing series
- She's IRL Rookie of the year and Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, finishing the highest a woman ever has
- She becomes the first woman to win a major motorsports race (not counting rallying and NHRA)
- She finishes progressively better in the points standings every season
- With those progressively better finishes comes a progressively better attitude--still aggressive, but less of a bitch about it.
- She finishes 5th in points in 2009, the best driver NOT driving a Ganassi or Penske car
Yet the haters hate on.
They complain that she's a bimbo and doesn't care about racing because she's done a couple of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues. Seriously? So when ESPN Magazine approached Carl Edwards about doing a photo shoot with his shirt off, that was okay? Every racing driver does PR--the more popular you are, the more PR you do. She's the most successful female driver in history not named Shirley Muldowney; thus, she is popular. I guarantee she did not approach SI to do a swimsuit issue, they approached her. This was not Playboy. This was not Hustler. This was a tasteful sports magazine that would improve her marketing worth, and put the IRL in the spotlight. It was a smart business.
And she's hot.
Yet the haters hate on.
Even when she shows up at the racetrack, every weekend, with her game face on, completely different than the woman you see in front of the camera during the week. She's all business, she doesn't take shit from anyone, and she races hard. She also has respect and graciousness for her team, Andretti Autosport, as she signed a new deal with them, even though she's in an inferior car. She wants to work with it and make it better.
Yet the haters hate on.
Now she's possibly going to run a partial Nationwide and ARCA schedule to test her hand at stockcars. Can you blame her? The IRL is a dead end. With the exception of the 500, no one gives half a shit about the IRL. The racing is obscenely boring, the rules package is getting them nowhere, and if you're in a white/orange car or a white/red car, you're basically racing for 5th place. If she were to hop to NASCAR, whether full time or not, she can a) make more money b) grow her fanbase and c) probably be put in equipment capable of winning a race or two. And while she's at it, do what a lot of open wheel guys haven't been capable of--succeeding in stockcars.
Yet the haters hate on.
So I'll continue to watch her career with appreciation. She's got plenty of years ahead of her, and if she gets into equipment that can win, she will win. And that's all that really matters to her, I think.