Saturday, June 24, 2006

Danica Patrick: America's Racing Sweetheart (Is That Sexist?)

It might be nice, sometime soon, if Danica Patrick were to actually win an Indy-style race. But there's evidence that that moment may not be all that long in coming.

She led her first Indy 500 for awhile, in 2005, as a rookie. She placed in the top five. She was no joke in this year's Indy, either. The girl has shown, to me, that she belongs among her male brethren. Kind of like the anti-Anna Kournikova, who didn't even belong in her own gender when it came to her tennis-playing ability. Though she was in the top five in looks, granted.

Patrick is an adorable young woman who likes to have pedicures, facials, and go shoe shopping. She wants to take care of her new husband because, as she told Sports Illustrated in the current issue, "He takes care of me and supports me at the track." So she seems like she has a proper, balanced personal scale as well.

And, by the way, Danica Patrick can race a car.

"I like to cook dinner with my husband and watch TV at home,"
Danica told Sports Illustrated

She's amused at comments like those from fellow driver Robby Gordon, who suggested that Patrick's lighter weight gives her an unfair advantage.

"That [weight thing] is silly and not relevant, really," she told SI. "If my weight gave me such an advantage, I would have won every race by now. I'm kind of flattered when people try to pick apart and find reasons or excuses as to why I've been successful. It means I'm doing something right."

You go, girl.

It's not just Patrick's looks, though, that pulls me toward her. It's her outlook and her toughness and the fact that she's already proving that a woman belongs in the pits. But then I had a strange, if not morbid thought.

What if, God forbid, something were to happen to her on the track? Something really bad. Something, dare I say, fatal?

What would that effect be on our psyche?

I remember when the Challenger space shuttle exploded in 1986, and the first thought many of us had was of that teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was along for the ride as a civilian. Fair or not, her life seemed more mourned than those of her trained, experienced companions. She represented any one of us, I suppose.

Danica Patrick is cute and young and recently married and vibrant, and fair or not, I believe that places her on another shelf when it comes to today's race car drivers. Which is strange, because there are a lot of male drivers who are handsome, married, and vibrant.

But Patrick is female, and despite her obvious belonging, I still think she resides on a slightly different plane among her sport. So if something were to happen, I believe that would be extra difficult to digest. Even writing those words, I wince, because it suggests her life is more important than her colleagues -- which it clearly isn't.

I'm just talking about the effect it would have on people in general -- maybe the non-racing fans, especially. But then again, maybe I'm exhibiting some subtle sexist angle by even bringing it up. She can take care of herself in a car, clearly, but why do I feel like a lot of America would like to shield and protect her?

But she's great for the sport and I'm all for her.

Go, Danica!

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