Thirteen years ago, Danica Patrick was named the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, claims her highlighted biography on the Stewart-Haas Racing website. A collaborative effort between her mentor and racing legend in his own right, Tony Stewart, and a man of equal stature found in businessman Gene Haas, the Stewart-Haas team will be looking for another driver after Patrick’s result today at the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. She was preceded in this endeavour to broaden interest in the sport for female drivers by Janet Guthrie, the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in 1977.
Officially retiring today after crashing her car during the 68th lap of the Indy 500, NPR reports that Patrick was able to get herself clear of the wreckage and walk it off unassisted. After a brief medical evaluation that cleared her as fit, the veteran IndyCar performer had a few words for her fans.
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“I mean, today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want from your last race, but I’m grateful for all of it,” Patrick said. “I just wish I could have finished stronger.”
Danica’s ride has not always been easy. While remaining competitive throughout most of her career, she was able to clinch only a single victory at the Twin Ring Motegi course for the IndyCar 300 held in 2008 in Motegi, Japan. She has been the target of many critics, alleging that she reached the heights of fame due to her sex and not due to her talent – an aspersion that champion racer and frequent partner Tony Stewart found most unpalatable, according to a disagreement between him and Hall of Famer Richard Petty as reported by ESPN.
No matter what the critics say, Danica always remains as motivated as ever to be a positive role model for anyone, particularly young women, looking to get involved in the racing scene.
“I really don’t care,” Patrick said at Kentucky Speedway last year. “There’s going to be people who believe in you and people who don’t. Plenty of people say bad things about me. I see it on Twitter. Some people want me to die. But at the end of the day, you get over that stuff and trust you’re doing a good job for the people who believe in you.”
With nearly 2 million Twitter followers and 1.4 million Facebook followers, Patrick is already a figure for the history books, whether from a feminist perspective or simply from the list of achievements and high-figure finishes she accrued across her career. Under her list of accomplishments, she can comfortably say that she became the first woman to capture a Cup Series pole when she qualified with the fastest time for the 55th running of the Daytona 500, and finished in a respectable eighth place during the race proper. Patrick also placed in the top 10 in six out of eight total appearances at the Indianapolis 500, stalking the winner in almost every appearance; she was a force to be reckoned with and respected.
Strong-willed, passionate, and a racer with experience and grit, it has been a pleasure for auto racing fans to watch Danica Patrick rev up the motor and spin those slicks one last time.