The Misunderstood Career of Danica Patrick

The Misunderstood Career of Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick completed her racing career yesterday at the Indy 500, which she had announced earlier would be her last race.  Many before her have made the decision to retire and then changed their minds later – usually with dismal or disastrous results. In any case, she lost control of her race car and spun into the wall, ending her race and career. Probably.

Today there are comments arising in the great public forum that is Facebook criticizing her for her lack of success yesterday and going further to state she was never very good and yadayadaya.  Of course, in equal equipment at almost any venue Ms. Patrick could whomp her critics by many seconds a lap, because she is a professional driver and has impressive skills far beyond the capability or even understanding of most. 

Further, most of her critics choose to ignore that several male drivers had their race end in almost identical fashion – losing the rear end going into Turn 3 and rotating into the wall. Among them was a former winner of the race.  This year’s cars, by regulation, have vastly decreased levels of down force. This has made the cars much more difficult to drive, especially at high speeds.  The driver’s seem united in their delight with these harder to drive cars, and the racing is spectacular, which leads to bigger crowds and more enthusiasm, and more money. 

And that is where the criticism of Ms. Patrick crashes into a misconception.  Many people believe that professional race drivers are paid to win.  This is categorically false.  They are not paid to win, but to make money.  Winning certainly helps a driver to make money, but it is not the only tool that can be used.

Car and motorcycle racing is now primarily an entertainment business, while still retaining the mantle of sport.  Racing is expensive, and the vehicles used are now, almost entirely, sponsored by large companies – either commercial entities or manufacturers.  A sponsored driver’s main task is to create a return on the considerable financial investment in marketing and sales success.  A successful driver needs to be attractive and well spoken, and able to master emotions that might be crushing when a microphone is stuck in his or her face and the cameras are on, which is almost all of the time.

At the Formula 1 level, most of the drivers got to that height by bringing with them shipping crates full of money, either from their wealthy families or from companies that have chosen to back them in hopes of a return.  There is a question now if Formula 1 drivers are really the best in the world, or merely very good drivers with almost bottomless pockets of financial support.

As for Danica, she walks away from the sport hale in mind and body, and joins a limited selection of women who have been successful in racing.  I think Lynn St. James was a better driver, and you can dredge up several others. Angelle Sampey, Courtney and Brittany Force and Erica Enders Stevens in drag racing, which has led the way in allowing women to succeed in the sport.  My friend Mary McGee in off-road and pavement car and motorcycle racing. Several women from the 1920’s to 1940s.  And many others.  Some won a lot, some won at times, but the definition of success has changed over the decades. 

Danica’s skills can be debated, but success, oh yes.  She made a lot of money for Go Daddy and her other sponsors, and also for herself.  She took her talent, and recognized that her looks could be used to her advantage.  She learned how to talk to media personnel, and how to create or avoid controversy. At the end of the day, she walks away with mind and body intact, and as the owner or several businesses. She will have many options for her future, all of them positive.

Good for her.


Copyright 2018                                       David Preston

About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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3 Responses to The Misunderstood Career of Danica Patrick

  1. Patrick says:

    Interesting… If we just look at Danica Patrick as a race-car driver, she may have had some other factors playing into her record…

    As a female driver she may have run into a long string of sexist hurdles that converged or even conspired to give her so-so equipment and support. Another factor that may also be relevant, is she did not live up to the hype and was not at the level of consistently winning drivers on any circuit on any given machine that can drive the wheels off of a jalopy and win or even had the right-stuff that makes a consistently winning driver…

    Nobody really goes racing just to show-up… Racers come to win the race… Teams come to win the race… sponsor or no sponsor… the will to win must be integral to the most winning teams and drivers… the rest takes care of itself…

    For sure it’s a business of advertising, however, as we see the consistently winning drivers have more lucrative deals with their sponsors, because when they are in the lead or leaders they are exposed to millions more eyeballs and this translates into more money and endorsements for the drivers and teams, which translates into support at all levels and the ability to hire better support people and fund the logistics, R&D, parts, etc, etc… We see winning drivers that are cashing in on their financial successes by nature of being winning drivers,capable of starting their own teams…

    So until she puts out her autobiography, we can only speculate as to why she had such a mediocre career… Successful for her… but her sponsors? Probably not so much… She’s still pretty young and could take a ride if it were available and if the racing folks believed in her as capable of better results in races, she could milk it for a lot longer… So, has she burned-out trying to break-through the sexist barriers or has her lifeline been used up as a driver who’s potential was hyped?

  2. Patrick says:

    Oh yeah… another possibility could be that her sponsors were looking for tax write-offs by burning money on a racing endeavor that operated at a loss… We see this in the music industry with record labels signing artists that they know won’t sell product and writing the expenses off as loses… This doesn’t necessarily speak to her capacity to win races, but it would speak to a potential for an inferior team operation and “also-ran” equipment, personnel, etc. But if she really wanted to win and had the right-stuff to be a consistent winner, it would not make sense to stay with such a team… She kinda fell down the ranks if you look at her career for some reason…

  3. Patrick says:

    My prior comments circumvented the implications in your posting that diminish her accomplishments as a female in a sport where men dominate… What you are saying generally about Danica Patrick the professional race-car driver, is that she cashed-in and will continue to cash-in on her objectification as an attractive female and was exploited by Go-Daddy or whomever, had a mediocre track-record, and that it is OK to be a female professional race driver and not win races, because success is relative… Why do we have competitive races then? And why do the best of the best drivers compete across many formats and consistently win? Based on this logic that success is relative, she may have had a more lucrative career as a model and started there… If you said this to Danica, my bet is she would tell you that she shows up to win races and doesn’t get into the driver’s seat to look pretty for the camera…

    The trajectory of her career going forward will be that of an exploitation of her objectification consciously by her own exploitation of this awareness and/or by others, as an attractive, intelligent female and her celebrity, just as it has been for the majority of her career and very little to do with her track-record racing cars… I think she was lucky to be a female driver that was given an opportunity to prove her ability to win races… just like F1 drivers are lucky to have the opportunity to prove themselves capable of winning races, no matter their circumstances…

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