Retirement season is upon us. Just as Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished up his final NASCAR race on November 19th at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick announced she will leave the sport next year after competing in the Daytona 500 and the 2018 Indianapolis 500.
Patrick has been as much of a scene stealer as Earnhardt, in a way. At the age of 10, she found quick success racing go-karts and soon became a rising star in the performance racing world. Dropping out of high school to pursue a career in racing, she signed with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2002. By 2005, Patrick had entered to compete in the Indy 500. She led 19 laps, the first woman to ever do so, and finished fourth, the highest placement by a female driver in history.
Continuing her historic run, she became the first woman to win an IndyCar race in 2008 and followed that up the same year with a third place finish in the Indy 500, besting her own record. By now, NASCAR had taken notice and began its plan to pry her away from open-wheel racing. In 2010, she began her transition into the NASCAR XFINITY series. In 2013, she completed her first full season racing in the industry’s powerhouse series. That same season, she won the pole position in the Daytona 500.
Her success has not been without its detractors, many proclaiming that if she were male she would have been out of the job after her first two seasons. However, the problem some fans had with Patrick may not have been as simple as the fact that she couldn’t find the winners circle. NASCAR beat writer Andrew Lawrence has a theory; the fans who claim her relevance should be earned with more trips to victory lane are the same ones who would stop watching if she accomplished exactly that. This speaks volumes about the challenges Patrick has faced throughout her career, and the bias towards male drivers that still lingers among many fans of auto racing.
Fighting back tears during her retirement announcement, Patrick proclaimed, “I don’t care if I am remembered as a girl; I want to be remembered as a good driver.” That’s a desire few NASCAR drivers could claim not to share, and Patrick’s wish has been both helped and harmed by her position as a female star in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Even if she only wants to be remembered as a driver, she will also always be revered as a courageous woman.
Alongside the opportunity to make a name for herself as a racer, Patrick has translated her success into millions of dollars of endorsements. Through social media, she has also positioned herself as a health and fitness ambassador and has earned far more than any other woman in the industry who came before her. One thing is for sure: She’s paved the way for otherfemale drivers to pursue their dreams, and that is something no one can take away from her.
She has exhibited skill and grace in her journey and gained the respect of racers and fans alike. Fellow driver Kyle Larson said, “She has done so much for motorsports; I am excited for her and her future adventures!”