Erin Gibson, a host of Throwing Shade, has often stated that “the Future is Female,” a phrase chanted by feminists over the last four decades. As we progress as a society, women are becoming more and more commonplace in male-dominated industries. On a seemingly regular basis, we see women breaking into fields like aerospace, military, and business. For example, for the first time ever, we have a woman, Mary Barra, at the helm of General Motors.
One hurdle that women have often had a difficult time breaking through, though, is the world of racing. Though Danica Patrick wasn't the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 or to race in NASCAR, she's arguably the best-known female racer of all time. Though she's very accomplished as a driver, she may be better known for her appearances outside of the racing world. She's infamous for her seductive GoDaddy.com advertisements and for making appearances in music videos and TV shows. Through the ups and downs of her career, we've seen her go from a young twenty-something hot-headed girl chasing her Indianapolis 500 dreams to the slightly less hot-headed woman who shoots around NASCAR circuits like a rocket. Some see her as an inspiration, having shattered the glass ceiling of racing and making her way to the top, while at the same time, others see her as a woman who's used sex appeal to advance her own career by appearing in many scandalous photo shoots and advertisements, not to mention the rollercoaster of dating and marriage in her personal life. Everybody is welcome to their own opinion, but the fact remains that Danica Patrick is a force to be reckoned with.
20 She Dropped Out Of High School!
When Danica Patrick was 16, she began showing real talent and promise as a driver. She dropped out of high school to move to England to really pursue her racing career. Moving to a foreign country can be a daunting task for anybody, let alone a 16-year-old girl from a small midwest town. But, Patrick has always been determined, to say the least. Dropping out of high school really shows her absolute love and devotion for racing. She put herself and her future on the line for the sake of the sport. Seeing how much talent and potential their daughter had, her parents did give permission for her to leave school and chase her dream of becoming a professional driver. In the United States, racing isn't as big of an event as it is in the United Kingdom. Racing in the United Kingdom is as a part of their culture and lifestyle as hockey is in Minnesota or surfing is in Hawaii. It isn’t uncommon for many young racers like Patrick to be seen competing in racing events around the county. For several years, she raced in the Formula Vauxhall and the Formula Ford racing circuits. She took second place at the 2000 Formula Ford Festival, making her the best-placing American ever to compete at the event.
19 She Raced for David Letterman!
David Letterman is a well-known petrolhead. Between Letterman and Jay Leno, it seems that a love for all things automotive runs through the blood of late night comedians. Letterman is particularly fond of his 1996 V8-powered Volvo. Letterman was also named one of Jalopnik’s “Coolest Celebrity Car Collectors” in 2015 with other enthusiasts like Tim Allen, Paul Walker, and Ralph Lauren. It’s also well known that Letterman has an incredible love for racing. In fact, he’s a part owner of the Rahal-Letterman racing team.
In 2002, Patrick returned to the United States due to the financial constraints of racing in the United Kingdom. She quickly signed on with Rahal-Letterman Racing once back in the States.
It was while racing for this team that Patrick really started to make a name for herself. Though still considered a rookie at this time, Patrick showed that she had the skill necessary to help carry her team to racing victory in the Indycar circuit. According to Racing Reference, Patrick’s time racing for Rahal-Letterman was very up and down, but that’s not uncommon for a rookie. She had several near-podium finishes mixed with several crashes—still not quite a champion, but to say the least, not a bad rookie season either.
18 Sports Illustrated Alumni
Sports Illustrated has always been a place for the women of sports to show off the pinnacle of the female form. Danica Patrick has always been considered a “sex symbol” of sorts. But in 2008, she earned official sex-symbol status by appearing in Sports Illustrated’s coveted swimsuit edition. Teenage boys all over the world collectively became much more interested in racing. Patrick graced Sports Illustrated again in 2009 as she featured in yet another scandalous bikini shoot. Patrick has said that she doesn't like the word “sexy” to refer to female athletes. She told ESPN magazine, “If there is a pretty girl, [people] don't know how to describe a pretty girl other than being 'sexy,' and it has such a negative connotation to it. You don't say those kinds of things to frame it like that for a guy or even sometimes talk about it, but it seems like with female athletes, if they are pretty, they only know how to describe them in a sexual way.” I think the entire world collectively rolled their eyes when Patrick said that she doesn't like to be called sexy while appearing in Sports Illustrated. She's always been seen as a role model for young women around the world. More than likely, Patrick sees her appearance in the magazine as more of an act of empowerment than anything else. You go, girl!
17 Her Boyfriend, Aaron Rodgers!
Being such a notable female celebrity, Danica Patrick’s personal life has always been under the microscope. So, when she began to be seen with Aaron Rodgers, it didn’t take long for people to start to wonder whether or not Patrick and one of the most respected quarterbacks in the NFL were dating. Patrick told E! Entertainment that the couple had met in 2012 at an ESPY event. At the time of the ESPY event, Patrick was still married to her now-ex-husband Paul Hospenthal. Between the time Patrick and Rodgers started dating, Patrick divorced her husband and entered a five-year relationship with NASCAR driver Richard Stenhouse Jr. while Rodgers dated actress Olivia Munn. Both relationships lasted for several years before the couples each called it quits. According to TheList.com, it didn’t take long after Patrick had ended her relationship with Stenhouse until she and Rodgers started seeing each other. Rodgers is currently playing for the Green Bay Packers, while Patrick, being an Illinois native, cheers for the Chicago Bears. Patrick told the Associated Press that she's always cheered for Rodgers. She also added, “Now, I am probably going to cheer for the whole team. Take out the word ‘probably.’ Now I’m going to cheer for the whole team.”
16 Body-Shaming Victim
As we're all well aware, it's difficult for women to make waves in male-dominated industries. Racing has proven to be no exception for Danica Patrick, being not only a woman but also a petite woman on top of that.
Patrick has regularly been criticized for her size. Patrick stands at 5’2’’ and a whopping 100 lbs. Her small stature, however, is really the ideal build for a racecar driver.
The smaller and lighter drivers are, the less impact they have on their car’s performance, especially since racing is calculated to the last ounce of weight. Driver Robby Gordon has publicly made statements blaming Patrick’s weight for her advantage on the racetrack. According to the Associated Press, Gordon said in an interview, “The lighter the car, the faster it goes. Do the math. Put her in the car at her weight, then put me or Tony Stewart in the car at 200 pounds, and our car is at least 100 pounds heavier.” He then went on to complain about how he was ready to boycott racing against her unless something was done about her “unfair advantage.” It seems that Gordon was willing to blame just about anything for his poor performance except his own driving abilities.
15 Her Parents Were Petrolheads!
According to ESPN magazine, Danica Patrick is the spitting image of her mother. But her love for racing and all things mechanical comes directly from her father. Since the day she was able to turn a wrench, she was at her father’s side, assisting him in fixing and prepping go-carts and snowmobiles for racing. Racing is always something that's played an important role in the Patrick family. JockBio.com says that her parents actually met at a racing event in Grand Forks, ND. They were set up on a blind date during the event. He was racing champion, and she was a mechanic for one of the opposing female racers. The rest is history. Danica has fond memories of going to her father’s snowmobile racing events. She distinctly remembers freezing in the cold weather and standing alongside the track, her mother standing next to her while wrapped in a huge fur coat. Danica says that she always enjoyed going to the events, but even at a young age, she preferred to be on the track, where all the action was, than spectate on the sidelines. It’s said that Danica got her racing spirit from her father but her determination and temper from her mother.
14 She Was A Cheerleader!
According to the Danica Patrick’s website, she was involved in many extracurricular activities in high school. Her hometown of Roscoe, Illinois was a small community consisting of around 11,000 residents. Some graduating classes at Patrick’s high school were as small as 38 students in an entire graduating year. Since the school was so small, it was important for students to be involved in as many activities as they could; otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough kids to make a team.
Though Patrick competed in many different extracurricular activities, cheer was one she enjoyed the most (outside of racing, of course).
Patrick attempted to make cheer a part of her life while, at the same time, working towards her racing goals. Eventually, the two hobbies couldn’t coexist in her life any longer. Patrick skipped cheering at a football game in order to compete in a go-cart race in France. Due to her absence at the football game, Patrick was cut from the cheer team. It was well known in the community that she had racing ambitions. I guess the cheer coach didn’t think traveling to Europe to compete in a race was a good enough excuse to skip cheering at a football game.
13 She’s an Indy 500 Legend!
Racing has stereotypically been a man’s world, to say the least. The racing industry is a very difficult place for women to make their mark. But Danica Patrick has never let something like her gender keep her from achieving her dreams!
Patrick is one of just a handful of women to have competed in the Indianapolis 500 in the entire history of the race, though Patrick was a few decades late in claiming the title as the first woman ever to compete in the race.
That title was claimed by Janet Guthrie in 1977. Patrick didn’t leave Indy without breaking a handful of records. According to the Indianapolis 500 website, Patrick holds several records. She holds the record for having the highest starting place of any woman, the highest finishing place of any woman, more laps completed in a single race than any other woman, more laps completed in her career than any other woman, most laps led in a single race than any other woman, more laps led in her career than any other woman, more races finished running than any other woman, and more winnings than any other woman that has competed in the race.
12 She’s a NASCAR Goddess!
Surprisingly, women have played a role in NASCAR racing for the last 70 years even though NASCAR is better known for being a “man’s world.” According to ESPN, the stock-car glass ceiling was shattered by Louise Smith back in 1949. Smith had eleven starts from 1949-1954. Since then, the history of NASCAR has been littered with many female drivers, each varying in her own talent, rank, and success. Danica Patrick, though not the very first trailblazer, has been a trailblazer by shattering nearly every record set by other women in NASCAR. In 2017, she broke the record for the most top ten starts of any female driver in the history of NASCAR. Despite the difficulty stock-car racing presents for women, Danica Patrick will most likely be the most memorable woman to compete in the sport. Her NASCAR racing career hasn't been without its ups and down, though. Still, most drivers respect Patrick and her driving abilities. The transition from Indy to NASCAR was a difficult one for Patrick, but she rose above the competition and came out on top of her game, just like we've come to expect from her.
11 Award Winner!
Danica Patrick has been the recipient of many different awards over the years. In 2006, she was awarded “Female Athlete of the Year” by the US Sports Academy. The academy noted her history-making pole position at the Indy 500 as one of the many reasons she deserved the award. According to motorsport.com, the same year Patrick won the award, Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was “Male Athlete of the Year.” Both Patrick and Armstrong have been controversial figures in sports over the years. The award is based on an online voting poll and also on accomplishments of athletes throughout the previous year. The US Sports Academy is a nonprofit organization that specializes in helping young professionals find work in the sports industry. The academy was founded in the 1970s to meet the ever-growing demand for professionals in the sports industry. They're an accredited institution offering bachelor’s, master's’, and even doctorate degrees in sports-related careers. Since then, many coaches, athletic directors, and even people specializing in sports marketing have attended their courses. The academy’s work has helped shape the professional sports industry into the giant that it is today.
10 Pop-Culture Icon!
As Danica Patrick began to become more and more well known, opportunities for her to expand her fame became more available. She's made numerous appearances on a variety of different TV shows. She's made cameos on everything from the Simpsons to CSI: New York. When Patrick guest starred on CSI: New York, she played—surprise!— a racecar driver. In it, her character was suspected of killing a rival racecar driver by rigging his car to burst into flames. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, so if you want to find out if she did it, you’ll have to watch the show. Patrick has regularly made the rounds on daytime television and late night shows as well. She's been interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Oz, and Bonnie Hunt and was even a co-host on The View. She's even made cameos in a variety of different music videos. According to ESPN, she starred alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr in Jay-Z’s music video for “Show Me What You Got.” The video features Patrick in a Pagani Zonda, racing Earnheart who drives a Ferrari with Jay-Z in the passenger seat. Patrick also starred as a getaway driver in the Miranda Lambert video for “Fastest Girl In Town,” which featured Patrick driving a classic Chevrolet Camaro.
9 Divorce Drama!
When Danica met her now-ex-husband Paul Hospenthal, he was working as her physical therapist. She was just twenty years old, and he was seventeen years older than her. After dating for a few years, they decided to get married. But there was one small problem: Paul was a devout Catholic. So, Patrick decided to convert to Catholicism for the sake of their relationship. Though her racing career continued to shoot her fame into the stratosphere, the two were rarely seen together. Other than at a few red carpet events, the two publicly spent their time apart. In 2013, the two filed for divorce. According to People magazine, Danica stated that her marriage was “irretrievably broken” and that there was “no hope of reconciliation.” Neither sought out alimony. Besides, prenuptial agreements were signed before their marriage. A short time after she announced her divorce, Danica began dating fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse. Almost instantly, rumors began to swirl that Danica had been unfaithful during her marriage and that the divorce had been the result of her cheating on Hospenthal. Neither Patrick nor her ex-husband ever acknowledged the rumors. Maybe the two just drifted apart over the years, making the divorce inevitable.
8 Temper Tantrums Galore!
It's well known that Danica Patrick doesn't have a good temper. Between confrontations with other drivers and even fans in the stand, Patrick has been known for quickly and violently losing her temper. Patrick has admitted that she can be a little quick to anger. But when you’re arguably one of the most competitive women in sports, it’s bound to happen.
It's well documented that when Patrick doesn’t get her way, she stomps her feet, throws her middle finger in the air, and cusses out whoever she believes to be at fault for things not going her way.
Many commentators, rivals, and journalists have complained that her unsportsmanlike conduct is unbecoming of any professional athlete, especially one who's widely considered a role model for young women aspiring to become professional drivers. Patrick has admitted that her temper is a huge issue. She's gained better control of her temper over the years. She told ESPN magazine, “I've gotten a lot more mature over the years. I'm a lot better about not letting it get the best of me. And what I learned a long time ago is when I get upset, I really don't care what people think or say about me. But it creates a lot of drama, and there's a lot of cleanup work you have to do... Sometimes, it's easier to just bite your tongue. But I think that's knowledge that comes with age. It's age and maturity.”
7 Marketing Genius!
Danica Patrick is very well known for her many marketing campaigns. She's endorsed everything from granola bars to dentists. She's probably most famous for her racy GoDaddy.com commercials. She's been the spokesperson for the online hosting company for over a decade. Not only has their logo graced her race cars, but she's also appeared in numerous Super Bowl commercials over the years, some of the ads being pulled from the air due to racy content. This seemingly endless number of promotions hasn’t gone without notice and criticism. Rival Kyle Petty once said to ESPN, “I’ve said it from the very beginning, she is an incredibly talented driver. Can this be huge for her and for NASCAR? Yes, it can... They took her and that marketing machine that she is, and they went there.” Petty isn’t the only one to have openly criticized Patrick on her marketing for sponsors. Bleacher Report even went as far as saying that she's using her marketing campaigns to cover up her own failed driving career. Whether or not you agree, you have to admit that Patrick will be as well known for her marketing skill as she is for her driving skills.
6 She Froze Her Eggs!
Danica Patrick’s life has been busy, to say the least. One thing that she hasn't had the chance to take time off for is starting a family. Though she was married for thirteen years, she and her husband never had any children. I suppose it would be difficult for her to fit behind the wheel of a racecar with a baby bump. Given Patrick’s small size, you know that bump would be enormous!
At age 35, Patrick underwent the hormone treatments necessary to extract and freeze her eggs.
Patrick opened up to ABC News about the treatment. She stated that she had wanted to “create options for herself.” She also stated that the reason for her deciding to do this was because she had wanted to make sure that she had an opportunity to be a mom, even if the present wasn’t quite the right time for her. Patrick credited the gruelling physical demands required to undergo the hormone treatments as inspiration for her lifestyle book “Pretty Intense: The 90 Day Mind, Body and Food Plan.” Though she's always worked hard to create a healthy lifestyle for herself, the physical requirements to create optimum conditions for her treatment really pushed her to the next level of physical fitness.
5 Her Onion Article!
There are several different way people measure the level of fame reached by celebrities. One of the best ways to know that you've reached a high level of fame is being featured in an article in the parody newspaper The Onion. In 2013, Danica Patrick reached that level and was featured in an article that poked fun at her. Saying she had shattered the glass ceiling for “beautiful women everywhere,” the article stated, “Danica Patrick reportedly has drawn universal praise for smashing social barriers on behalf of stunningly beautiful women everywhere. In reaching this latest milestone, Danica has once more shown that no challenge is too great for a young, gorgeous female.” The article held nothing back, poking fun of not only Patrick but fellow racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. as well by stating, “If Patrick takes the checkered flag at Daytona, it would be the most significant symbolic victory since 2004, when Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win at the race proved once and for all that privileged white men who come from NASCAR families can do anything.” In a separate article, the parody news outlet featured a picture of Patrick’s green NASCAR race car racing on a horse racing track, with the attached statement: “Danica Patrick Takes Last Place In Preakness Stakes.”
4 Petty Family Feud
Even though Danica Patrick is one of the most accomplished female racers of all time, she still has plenty of critics. One of her loudest critics is the Petty family. Like his son Kyle, NASCAR Hall of Fame member Richard Petty has been very outspoken against Patrick. According to ESPN, Richard Petty has been quoted as saying, “This is a female deal that's driving her. There's nothing wrong with that because that's good PR for me. More fans come out; people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport." It isn't exactly clear what Petty meant by “a female thing,” but I’m sure it isn’t a compliment. He's also been quoted by ESPN as saying, “She can go fast, but she can't race. I think she's come a long way, but she's still not a racecar driver. And I don't think she's ever going to be a racecar driver." Patrick usually just shrugs off critics like the Petty family. She sees it as a form of her own success. The fact that the Pettys bring up the fact that she's a woman as the reason for a success just shows that they live up to their own name: “Petty.”
3 Sponsor Lawsuits
In 2015, Patrick’s racing team entered into a contract with Nature’s Bakery, making them the main sponsor of the NASCAR team. One year into the three-year contract, Nature’s Bakery pulled out of the sponsorship. They claimed that Patrick had violated the terms of the sponsorship because she had endorsed a rival product. The contract that the team signed with the sponsor didn’t specifically state whether or not the individual drivers could appear in other advertisements or endorse other products while under contract with Nature’s Bakery. The “rival product” in question was Six Star Pro Nutrition Protein Powder. Nature’s Bakery makes organic granola bars, fig bars, and brownies. It’s difficult to see how they could see a company that manufactures a sports supplement as a rival company. Nature’s Bakery also stated that they felt that they had been misled by Patrick’s team, which stated that Nature’s Bakery could quadruple their investment with the exposure that they could give them in NASCAR. However, you really have to wonder why they were even sponsoring a NASCAR team, especially given the stereotypical NASCAR fan’s love for fried food and beer. According to ESPN, earlier this year, Patrick’s team settled with Nature’s Bakery for $31 million, the remainder of their three-year, $15.5-million-per-year contract.
2 Head Injury Fears
As medical science has become more and more advanced, the more it has started to look at professional sports as a real danger for head injuries. Organizations like the NFL have infamously ignored much of the science that's been presented to them by the medical community, especially when it comes to head injuries despite a mountain of negative press surrounding players with an increasing number of mental illness. Most of these psychological conditions can be traced back to head injuries brought on by their careers in professional sports. NASCAR and other professional racing groups are no exception to these dangers.
When you think about the number of crashes that take place in the average stock-car race, it makes you think about what kind of trauma racers' bodies endure when they hit a wall at over 150 MPH.
ESPN states that Patrick estimates that she’s had about a dozen concussions over her entire career and reveals that she's been told by doctors that she's at risk if she gets into another serious crash. ESPN has quoted her as saying, "I think that we'd like to sweep it all under the rug as drivers like we feel fine and nothing is wrong," Patrick has noted the risk of serious head injury as one of the reasons she's looking to retire from racing.
1 An Overrated Athlete
Danica Patrick is a polarizing figure, to say the least. Despite her accomplishments in the Indianapolis 500, she's never quite lived up to the hype in NASCAR. She's never had a podium finish for any of her NASCAR events. Though this doesn't keep her from still being considered one of stock-car racing’s best-known drivers, it makes a few eyes roll that she continues to rake in endorsement deals from many different companies. Yes, many consider her a role model for young women, especially those who want to make their mark in the male-dominated racing world. But at the same time, those who believe that are conflicted by her appearances in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions and her continuing appearances in very sexualized GoDaddy.com commercials. It’s easy to see how people can begin to see her as an overrated celebrity. When Kyle Petty said that she's a “marketing machine,” he was right. She's one of the most recognized racecar drivers in the history of the sport. Whether or not she's actually better than the other drivers seems to have no effect on her fame. Is she an overrated driver? Probably. But when all is said and done and when the history books are written, Danica Patrick will be described more as a cultural icon than an exceptional driver.
Sources: ESPN.com, thefamouspeople.com, latintimes.com, biography.com