FROM POM-POMS TO RACECARS
Who says you can’t have it all? Certainly not Danica Patrick, the foxiest driver ever to enter the adrenaline-fueled boys club known as professional auto racing. Growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, Patrick participated in all sorts of activities—cheerleading, volleyball, basketball, tumbling, track, choir, band. Racing was just one more thing to try, and she wound up having a preternatural knack for it.
Propelled by a love of competition and a determination to follow her gut rather than the naysaying of skeptics, she became a world go-karting champion by her mid-teens. “Nobody said, ‘You can’t do it,’” recalls Patrick. “But it was a matter of getting people to believe I could. There was a certain level of pessimism. As with anything, it’s a matter of sticking to it. Anyone trying to be good at anything has to learn: You have to keep your head down and try.”
By 2002 she began gaining notoriety in the pro racing world, and by 2005 she became the fourth woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 (where she led for 19 laps, a first for any woman in racing). She won her first pole position that year at the Kansas Speedway, and was subsequently named 2005 Rookie of the Year for the Indianapolis 500 and Izod IndyCar Series season.
In the years since, she has blazed a trail through the racing world, driving for Andretti Autosport and joining the Nascar Nationwide Series in 2010 for JR Motorsports. She considers Web domain giant godaddy.com—her enthusiastic sponsor for several years—to be “all about having fun, pushing it, being sexy, being pretty and leading the way.” (Appropriate, no?) This year, she’ll participate in part-time Nascar Nationwide races, a relatively abbreviated season for her, but a full schedule in the Izod IndyCar Series.
LIFE OUTSIDE OF NASCAR
She insists that the mental side of racing is the biggest challenge. “For me as a driver, I’m controlling this car,” she says. “I have to be brave, to jump up to the highline, to keep my foot in it when the car isn’t feeling right, to step out of my comfort zone. Sometimes you get afraid of having an accident or making a mistake and crashing into the wall.”
While Patrick thrives on that pressure, she tries to keep the rest of her life as peaceful as possible. She’s a dedicated fitness and yoga practitioner—she actually met her husband, physical therapist Paul Hospenthal, when she suffered a racing injury. “I’m two very different people,” she insists. “People see me at the racetrack, and I’m sure I look like I’m pissed off all the time. But away from the track I’m really laidback. The rest of my life is like, ‘Whatever!’ I try to be funny, though I’m not really. I enjoy being a wife. I’m very girly. I like to be made up and to shop. I love clothes.”
She and Hospenthal can regularly be found taking in the best of Chicago—something she has been doing for a long time. These days, she likes to take advantage of the city’s cultural scene. She loves The Art Institute of Chicago, The Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. But her favorite city pastime of all is dining out. “I get on my iPad Zagat to Go app and go to town,” she says. “My other best friend, Marni, and I recently went to Alinea while our husbands went to a Bulls game. It was so fun. Another one of my favorite restaurants is Graham Elliot… but there are so many to choose from.”
It’s clear that Patrick leads a delicious life and that she’s taking the inevitable stress of 2011 in stride. But she also knows when it’s time to relinquish the keys to her husband. “If we’re on the highway, I usually let him drive,” she admits. “I don’t want to get speeding tickets. I just can’t keep it under control.” Don’t you just love her for that?