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Danica Patrick: 'I Want to Be the Best Driver, Not the Best Female Driver'
Danica Patrick has just made history.
The 30-year-old will race from the pole position at Sunday's Daytona 500, making her the first woman to start the race at the head of the pack in the 54-year history of NASCAR's signature race. She clinched the top position in a qualifying race Thursday with a time of more than 196 miles per hour.
Patrick, who gained fame for racing with the boys and her racy Go Daddy ads, talked to PARADE about the upcoming racing season, being a role model to young women, and more.
On her goals for the 2013 NASCAR season.
“I feel like we need to start the year off and see where we're at and see where we fall into place, and then we start to create expectation levels, whether it be top 20s or top 18s or whatever it may be. Every year is new and different and every now and again you get a team that pops up there and runs really well that you might not have expected, and I hope I'm one of them. But we'll be ready to be patient and learn, and I couldn't have asked for a better group to do it with my crew chief Tony Gibson and the Go Daddy Chevrolet team.”
On what goes through her mind right before a race begins.
“I just try to stay relaxed and focus on what I’ve got to do. I don’t have a lot of superstitions or pre-race rituals. I just try to think about how the race will unfold, especially in the first few laps.”
On how professional racing has changed since her career began.
“A lot has changed, but nothing’s changed more than the sponsorship situation. With the economy the way it’s been the last few years, the funding is harder and harder to come by for every team and driver. I’m extremely fortunate that Go Daddy has supported me for several years and has stood behind me even as I transitioned from IndyCar to NASCAR. Not everyone is as fortunate.”
On the biggest difference between INDY and NASCAR.
“The cars are just so much different. An IndyCar is about 1,500 lbs, with the engine behind the driver and front and rear wings that create massive amounts of downforce. A stock car is 3500 lbs., with the engine in front and not as much downforce. They just drive so much different and that’s why moving from one to the other is such a challenge.”
On how the female role in professional racing has changed.
“I think you’re seeing more and more females in racing either as drivers or mechanics. And I think you’ll see that number get higher in the future. When I was growing up, I competed against a lot of girls in go karts and there’s just as many, if not more competing in go karts today.
On being a role model.
“I think awesome that young girls look up to me. And I always tell them don’t try to be me – be better than me. Reach for the stars. Don’t try to be the next me. Try to be the first you.”
On being one of the few females in a male-dominated sport.
“I’ve always wanted to be the best driver, not the best female driver. And I’m fortunate that I have teammates like Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman who look at me as a teammate, not a female teammate. They don’t treat me any differently.”
From the Archives: Interview with 2006 Daytona 500 Champ Jimmie Johnson
Photos: Speed-Loving Stars