Danica Patrick is known for her swimsuit model looks and becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar racing event. However, Patrick, the petite, 5-foot-2, 100-pounder, hopes to one day be known for more than just her good looks and being one of a few women to ever drive on the Indy Racing League circuit.
"I hope the first thing that people will think of when they think of me: 'She was a great driver,'•" said Patrick, during a brief meeting with the local media yesterday at SeaGate Centre.
Patrick was the guest speaker at the Italian-American Sports Club's Annual Scholarship Dinner, coming off one of her most successful years racing in the IRL. She finished sixth in the point standings.
Patrick's message to the crowd - in particular, the student- athletes - was to pursue your dreams, whether it's becoming a lawyer or doctor or even a race car driver.
Patrick, 26, grew up in Beloit, Wisc. It became clear to her when she was 10 that racing cars was her passion and was what she wanted to do for a career. She has been living that dream of racing cars professionally for the past decade.
Patrick's standing as a racer was fully established in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 when became the first female driver to ever lead that most prestigious race. She held the lead for 19 laps before she was eventually passed and had to settle for a fourth place effort - the best finish for a woman in the Indy 500.
Patrick acknowledges that performance raised her exposure as a racer to new heights.
"I think that it did," she said. "[But] I didn't change as a driver."
Yet, every racer that sits behind a steering wheel has the same goal for every race - cross the finish line first.
Patrick, who experienced plenty of success at the lower levels of the racing circuit, finally received the checkered flag in an IRL event when she won the Twin Ring Motegi in the Indy
Japan 300 last April. It was the first time a woman won an IndyCar event.
Recognized as the premiere female driver, she is in high demand to attend plenty of events like the Italian American Sports Club event. But she spends her time focused on the IRL schedule during the season.
During the offseason is when she takes time out to pursue other interests such as making appearances at fund-raising events or taking part in photo shoots like the 2008 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Unlike most IRL racers, Patrick also is in demand for television shows and promoting products. She served as a host on the Spike TV series PowerBlock TV" which was a two-hour racing show.
She recently taped a couple of commercials for GoDaddy.com that are scheduled to air during this year's Super Bowl on Feb. 1.
Patrick, one of only three female drivers listed on the
IndyCar series circuit, admits she doesn't spend all of her time consumed with racing. She likes "girly things" like "shoes, purses and clothes."
She has even thought about opening a restaurant or an animal shelter after retiring from the track.
But retirement from racing is not something Patrick is considering anytime soon.
Driving at speeds well over 200 mph is something she still appreciates.
When asked what career would she be in today if she had never pursued her passion of becoming a race car driver, Patrick made it clear what has driven her life the past 16 years.
"I really don't know," she said.
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