Throughout history women have made their mark in a wide variety of ways. Each Saturday I plan to highlight one of these remarkable women. There will be no limit to the areas of history that I may include; however as a guide I will look to the month of their birth, the month of their death or the month associated with their mark in history when I select them. Is there an outstanding women in history you would like me to include? I welcome your suggestions. Would you like to guest blog one of the world’s outstanding women? Let me hear from you. You can access all the previous postings of these remarkable women from the menu at the top of my site.
Today we have a woman from the world of sports. Meet Danica Patrick.
Danica Patrick was born on March 25, 1982, in Beloit, Wisconsin. She began racing go-karts with her sister at age 10 and later dropped out of high school to advance her racing career in England.
It was there that she finished second at the Formula Ford Festival, the highest-ever finish by either a woman or an American in the event.
On May 29, 2005, 23-year-old Danica Patrick became the first female driver to take the lead in the storied Indianapolis 500. Having previously distinguished herself in the Toyota Atlantic series, Patrick had qualified fourth–another best for a woman–for the 89th Indianapolis 500, only her fifth Indy Racing League event. Patrick entered the Indy 500 in a car co-owned by Bobby Rahal, winner of the Indy 500 in 1986, and David Letterman, the late-night talk show host.
After a pit stop on the 79th lap of the 200-lap, 500-mile race, Patrick stalled her engine, falling from 4th to 16th place. She spent the next 70 laps climbing back into the top 10, then took the lead with 10 laps left in front of 300,000 screaming fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When her team took a gamble that she could make it to the end without an additional pit stop, Patrick was forced to conserve fuel. With six laps left, British driver Dan Wheldon passed her.
Patrick, meanwhile, finished in fourth place, behind Vitor Meira and Bryan Herta. Her stellar performance earned her Rookie of the Year honors and a place in the history books alongside Janet Guthrie, who exactly 28 years before–on May 29, 1977–had become the first woman to drive in the Indy 500.
Three women before Patrick had driven in a combined 15 Indy 500 events; Guthrie was the previous top finisher, coming in ninth place in 1978.
Three years after Patrick’s star-making turn at the Indy 500, she became the first woman to win an Indy Racing League event, defeating the two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves by nearly six seconds in the Indy Japan 300. Having left her previous team a year earlier, Patrick had joined the team owned by Michael Andretti, son of the legendary driver Mario Andretti and a former racer himself. In a statement honoring Patrick’s victory, fellow Indy driver Sarah Fisher linked the accomplishment with that of Guthrie and other trailblazing women:
“Today marks the celebration for all of us who have chipped away at the barriers that many women have faced in fields that are dominated by men. To finally have a female win an open-wheel race is simply a progression of what Janet Guthrie started.”
Patrick’s 2006 year began tragically when teammate Paul Dana was killed in a crash the morning of the Toyota Indy 300. Patrick had solid top ten finishes throughout her IRL campaign that year, coming in 9th place in the standings. Among many honors, she was named Female Athlete of the Year by the United States Sports Academy.
In 2008, Patrick made history when she became the first woman to win a Indy Car race. She made an impressive showing at the Indianapolis 500 the following year, coming in third in that event.
In early 2013, Patrick won the time trials at the Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to win the pole position at the famous NASCAR event, and went on to place eighth in the race.
Her status as a female race car driver, combined with her youth and good looks, has netted Patrick numerous media opportunities. She’s served as a host on Spike TV, been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and has appeared in commercials and music videos. In 2006, she published her autobiography, Danica: Crossing the Line.
Patrick married physical therapist Paul Edward Hospenthal in 2005; however in January 2013, she filed for divorce.
“I was brought up to be the fastest driver, not the fastest girl. That’s how I’ve always approached my racing career. I’ve been lucky enough to make history and be the first woman to do many things. We have a lot more history to make and we are excited to do it.”