Farewell to a heroine


By Bill Taylor



It seems to me that we all can benefit from recognizing heros (and heroines) of this world. Oh, we have lotsa them in the movies or on TV, but I’m thinking of those real-life people who somehow manage to attain remarkable degrees of accomplishment despite difficulties and obstacles that would appear almost insurmountable. That’s what I have been thinking as a result of the announcement by one of these modern day celebrities that she will retire.

Yep, Danica Patrick, professional race car driver, recently declared she is giving up racing after a career that is unparalleled among female race car drivers. She reportedly started competition racing when she was 10 by racing go-karts and at age 16 she moved to England where she raced for three years while facing opposition both because she was an American and a woman. This experience surely helped her in countering adversity in later years.

Her accomplishments are remarkable and include: first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500; first woman to win an Indy Car Series race: 2013 Daytona 500 pole winner (NASCAR); first woman to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pole; first woman to lead the NASCAR Daytona 500; and, first woman to lead the NASCAR Coca Cola 600. Oh, there’s lots more, but you get the idea.

I probably first became aware of her when she posted the fastest practice speed of 229 mph during the morning practice session on the first day of qualifications for the 2005 Indy 500 but then made a mistake in the first turn of her first qualifying lap, and so didn’t get the pole position. Her fourth place starting position, however, was the highest for a woman. (Note: she was the fourth woman to participate in the Indy 500, following Janet Guthrie, Lyn St James, and Sarah Fisher.) She led a total of 19 laps during this race and finished fourth – both “first’s” for a woman. Now I’m not a big auto racing fan, that performance got me kinda interested.

She continued Indy Car racing – which is an international sport – for 7 years with 117 races and included a win at the 2008 Indy Japan 300. She was recognized as the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year; 2005 Indy Car Series season Rookie of the Year; and, Indy Car Series Most Popular Driver 2005-2010. But then she made a change which truly got me interested in her career.

Yep, She decided to switch to NASCAR racing. Unlike the Indy type vehicles which have “open” wheels and an “open cockpit-in-a tub” for the driver, the NASCAR cars generally externally resemble the family sedan from which they evolved. The wheels are enclosed in fenders, there is a standard sedan-looking body and a “regular” driver’s seat. However, I once had a close-up look at one of these machines and, boy, the inside was quite an array of displays, switches, levers, and other controls – along with massive roll-bar protective devices. Nope, not really your family sedan after all. I recall that when Danica Patrick was asked about the difference between the Indy and the NASCAR cars, she commented that the NASCAR cars were slower – they rarely reached 200 mph..

I was intrigued how such a petite woman, only 5’ 2” and weighing about 100 pounds, could have the strength and stamina to control these relatively large NASCAR cars for hundreds of miles in races where the cars are frequently only inches apart at speeds reaching close to 200 mph. Quite a physical challenge for anyone much less a small woman.

Anyway, I started watching her every race that was on TV as she compiled NASCAR record after record for women. I also shuddered and anxiously waited to see her walk away from wrecks including a couple in which she was “T-boned” on the driver’s side – and several more in which she was deliberately “bumped” into the restraining wall by another driver. Regardless, race after race, she did a remarkable job in holding her own against those NASCAR “good old boys.”

In announcing her retirement she commented she would like to drive in two more races – the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 Daytona 500. You know what? She made her stunning debut on the Indy car circuit at the Indianapolis 500 and did likewise on the NASCAR scene at the Daytona 500. Her participation in these two races would surely be a fitting farewell for this heroine of the auto racing world. At least that’s how it seems to me.

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By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at solie1@juno.com.