Thursday, April 20, 2017

Role Model: Danica Patrick and her advice for living an adventurous life

"Give yourself permission to shoot for something that seems totally beyond your grasp. You may be surprised at your capabilities."
Danica Patrick has certainly lived her life by that advice, continually aiming for racing goals that might seem too far out of her reach. It's this kind of drive and determination that makes her a great Self-Rescuing Princess Society Role Model. Throughout her career, she has been a fierce competitor. She's won a couple of races and finished high in more than few others. And along the way made a place for herself in the history books.

She started her racing career at the tender age of 10, speeding around the go-kart track at the Sugar River Raceway. A few years later, while still a teenager, she was introduced to Lyn St. James, the first woman to win the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year award in 1992. St. James invited Danica to be her guest at the 1997 Indy 500, where she was introduced to John Mecom, Jr., a former Indy 500 team owner. That meeting changed the course of her life.

Mecom sent her to the UK where she raced Formula Fords. She was only 16, but she was already working on her racing career; and already shooting for the stars. She stayed there for several years, honing her racing skills. In 2002 she moved back the US, and started driving for a team co-owned by David Letterman. In 2004, they put her on the roster for their IndyCar Series team for 2005.

In 2005 Danica Patrick joined a short, but impressive, list of women IndyCar drivers, including the remarkable Janet Guthrie who, in 1977, became the first woman to drive in the Indy 500. Danica performed exceptionally well in her debut Indy 500, even leading race for more than 20 laps. When other racers stopped to refuel, Danica stayed on the track, taking over the lead. It was a gutsy gamble that unfortunately didn't pay off for her this time. The leaders eventually caught up to her, and because Danica had to slow her pace a bit to conserve gas, they were able to race past her. Despite losing the lead, she still made history when she finished in fourth place, the highest finish for a female driver in the Indy 500.

In 2006 and 2007, she continued driving in IndyCar events and finishing in respectable positions. All the while she continued to push herself to get better. On April 20, 2008, at the Indy Japan 300, she found herself in a similar situation where the leaders stopped to refuel, and again she grabbed the lead. Only now she had more experience and knew how to hold the lead. Her gamble paid off and she drove herself into the history books again, this time as the first woman to win an IndyCar race.

Danica Patrick signs an autograph for a young fan at RIR Toyota Owners 400
Danica Patrick signs an autograph for a young fan

Since then she has continued to race, even placing third in the 2009 Indy 500. But in the last few years she has transitioned from a full-time IndyCar racer to a NASCAR driver. And it's been a great change, for her and for the racing world in general. NASCAR offered her more opportunities to race, and more sponsors. And few would dispute the fact that she has had a positive effect on NASCAR popularity. Her presence on the circuit sparked a huge following of new fans, mostly women and girls excited to finally see someone like them on the track.

Over the last two decades, she's had an impressive career as a race car driver. And while her racing successes may have waned a bit in the last year or so, that probably just means she's looking for the next thing to set her sights on. Since the first time she took the wheel of car (or cart) she has continually surprised everyone around her with her capability to keep on pushing. She might not have met all her goals but she doesn't seem to mind too much. Maybe she's just enjoying the ride.

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