An inspiration to all: How setbacks led to success for Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel car racing. She won the Indy Japan 3000 in 2008 at Motegi and is the only woman to do so. In fact, she’s the only woman to win an IndyCar series race and she has had a profound impact on the lives of other women through her inspirational motorsport journey.
She holds a special place in the heart of Females in Motorsport. Not only is she an exceptional inspiration as a racing driver, but her journey to success is just as motivating. She faced, and overcame, struggles because of her gender, and has openly talked about this in the past. When speaking to The Spun, Danica said, ‘I definitely didn’t feel like I was as welcome in England as a girl’.
But, she didn’t let this stop her, and we admire her for that.
Born in Wisconsin on March 25, 1982, Danica grew up surrounded by motorsport; her father was a driver and her mother was a mechanic. At the age of ten, she began karting. After winning regional and national titles in different championships, Danica left America for the UK. Her move was funded by John Mecom Jr., who was introduced to Danica by former racing driver Lyn St James.
In 1999, Danica competed in the Formula Vauxhall Championship and finished ninth in the standings. Then, at the 2000 Formula Ford Festival, Danica finished second behind her team-mate Anthony Davidson. Her result in a dramatic race at Brands Hatch led to a Formula 3 test with Carlin in 2001, a team known for the young drivers they’ve helped progress to Formula 1.
During her time in junior formula series, Danica found great opportunities, although her chance to take part in a second test, organised by Bobby Rahal (Jaguar Racing Team Principal at the time), was cancelled halfway through 2001 when Niki Lauda fired Rahal. Despite this, in the same year, Danica was awarded the Gorsline Scholarship Award, which rewards ‘those who display exceptional talent and respect for motorsports’. Her international open-wheel racing experience was one of the factors which helped her win.
Unfortunately, Danica’s funding ran out in 2002, leaving her with no choice but to move back to America to continue her campaign. This began with the fundraising event – the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race – in which she defeated Tommy Kendall to win the professional class. After this, Danica travelled to race tracks each weekend with her father, with the hope of being signed by a team owner. She’d already proved her talent and skill, and all that was left to do was sign a contract for a race seat. At the Milwaukee Mile, Wisconsin, Rahal signed her to a three-year contract.
Patrick competed in a range of series under Rahal, from five races in the Barber Dodge Pro Series to the Toyota Atlantic Series in 2003, in which she was the first woman to finish on the podium at the opening race in Monterrey. She finished sixth in the team standings for Team Rahal, with 109 points. Her sports car debut came in June 2003, at the Grand Prix of Atlanta, part of the American Le Mans series. In the following year, Danica continued with Team Rahal/Letterman in the Atlantic Championship and, at the Portland International Speedway in June, she was the first woman to achieve pole in the series’ history. She finished the season in P3.
At the end of 2004, Rahal Letterman Racing found the resources to run a third car in the IndyCar Series and signed Patrick for the upcoming season. Her debut came at the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, after an accident, Danica was hospitalised with a mild concussion. This didn’t limit her success in the following races. At the Indy Japan 300, her fourth race in the series, Danica started P2, led 32 laps, and achieved her best finish of P4. She was named the Rookie of the Year for the Indy500 and IndyCar series in 2005, as well as being the first woman to lead the Indy500 race. She continued with Rahal Letterman Racing for the 2006 IndyCar Series.
In November 2006, Danica Patrick was awarded Sportswoman of the Year by March of Dimes, to celebrate her dedication and success.
Patrick moved to Andretti Green Racing in 2007 to continue her IndyCar campaign. She achieved her best Indy career finish of P3 at the Bombardier Learjet 500, but she improved on this at the penultimate race; she achieved P2 at the Detroit Indy GP at the Belle Isle Street Circuit. Danica finished seventh in the standings with 424 points.
April 20th 2008 will remain a special day for Danica, for her fans, and for women in the motorsport industry. Many fans may not have been there to witness the moment, but it’s still one that cannot be forgotten.
Danica claimed her first international victory at the Indy Japan 300. She found herself in P1 with three laps remaining, becoming the first woman to win a top-level sanctioned open-wheel car racing event. She beat Hélio Castroneves – a two-time Indy Champion at the time. When asked about her win on reflection by FTW Racing, Danica said, ‘it was a finally moment’, and an exciting moment for others - anyone can do it. If you work hard enough, you will be rewarded.
Her best career finish at the Indy500 came in 2009 with Andretti Green Racing – she finished third – and set a brand-new record for the highest finish by a female. She continued racing in IndyCar during the 2010 and 2011 series, however, her final Indy race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway was abandoned after a fatal accident that killed Dan Wheldon.
Patrick was linked to Formula 1 throughout her career, having scheduled a test with Honda in 2008, but it was called off when Honda left the sport. At-the-time chief executive of F1, Bernie Ecclestone, said that having ‘someone like Danica Patrick in F1 would be a perfect advert’ (The Front Wing) when the sport returned to America.
In 2015, she said she had no plans to move to Formula 1.
Danica’s final ever race was the Indy500 in 2018.
After her racing career ended, Danica found herself in the media more and more. As well as taking on a variety of voice roles, Danica has written a number of books. Her autobiography, Danica: Crossing the Line was released in 2006. Her second book, Pretty Intense, a diet book, was released in 2017 and from 2019, she began a weekly podcast of the same name. A documentary – Danica – about her personal and professional life was also released in 2017 on Epix.
Since retiring, Danica has offered insightful race commentary in Indy500 broadcasts. Most recently, Danica joined the Sky Sports F1 presenting team for the 2021 US Grand Prix, which saw record numbers of spectators in attendance. During the weekend, she offered her insight into the on-track action, while also taking Sky Sports presenter Simon Lazenby for a lap (or two) around the Circuit of the Americas.
A natural fit into the Sky presentation team, her role totally inspired us and we were delighted to see this representation of a female racing driver on our televisions.
Danica’s influence on motorsport has been and continues to be, absolutely monumental. She’s a key figure for women, young and old, whether that be as a racer or not.
She is a true inspiration, and she will hold that title for the rest of her life and beyond.