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Fast Take   Story by Dwight Drum
Web work by Larsen & Drum    Images by Drum
Danica Patrick: Fast cars don’t know gender (Part 1)
 
Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As the whole world must know by now IndyCar racer Danica Patrick has joined JR Motorsports co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and will race a limited schedule in NASCAR for 2010 season. She has a two year contract with Andretti Green to race the open-wheel circuit, but she will attack the steep learning curve that faces all who race stock cars. Her first race will be in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 in the ARCA Racing Series.

One fact is clear, whatever car Patrick battles opponents in she will be among the few females in a male-dominated sport. Also evident is that every car she belts into will be clueless about her gender. Even if that car has an affectionate name bestowed on it by the crew, it hasn’t the proper senses to know even basic things that humans know.

One thing that many humans sense about motorsports, it’s only a matter of time before women compete in the highest level of racing. Getting there will take an abundance of talent, determination and a prolonged learning phase. Beyond that it will take resources and skilled team members.

Danica Patrick knows her limits already.

“I think it would be silly for me to be talking about winning the race, because I’ve never done it before,” Patrick said. “I have no idea. I have a lot to learn. I’ve got a lot of good guys, good drivers around me but how this works out in the race is still a mystery to me.”


Kelley Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick with sponsor jackets

Ashley Force Hood has advanced in NHRA drag racing with the help of her iconic dad John Force and she is on Patrick’s side with her recent thoughts.

“The best thing she can do is just do what she wants to do and not let other people’s opinions and thoughts get in the way,” Force Hood said. “It seems like she’s able to do that very competent in doing that. I think it is going to take time. Especially if you jump into a new type of car or motorsport, you’re not going to just get it in one day. You have to learn. You’re going to make mistakes.”

Force Hood feels the protective bubble of the Force camp around her gave her the time and coaching to learn how to wrestle a stubborn and very fast Funny Car. She feels Patrick won’t have that, but thinks she will persevere and the male/female factor is not the tallest hurdle.

“We are competitors on the track,” Force Hood said. ”We appreciate that these cars are not easy to do. We’re all in the same boat.”


 
Ashley Force Hood     Danica Patrick in another interview

Tony Eury Jr., crew chief for JR Motorsports, understands the bubble that Force Hood mentioned.

“Ashley is really a cool person, Eury said. "She’s exactly right. That’s kind of what I’m going to try to do. I’ve been on that side of the fence in the Dale Jr. saga. I know how the media goes. I know how the people are. I think I kind of fit the role for her right now. Give her a little bit of space. Help tutor her on what she needs to know, what to stay away from -- that sort of thing. These drivers can get used up doing extra activities and stuff.”

Eury Jr. is also eager about the future.

“NHRA has probably put women in a category before any of us,” Eury added. “Those times are coming. Danica’s got all the talent in the world. She just needs good people around her to coach and keep her in the right direction.”

Danica Patrick seems to know her path to further success.

“I just want try to play it smart.” Patrick said. “I have the ability to take it slow and no one is pressuring me to do it.”

Is the 2010 entry list a sign of the times, already? Six female drivers out of 43 raced in the ARCA Racing Series Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona International Speedway to start the season. Three went out early, two faded at the end and Patrick overcame a near wreck to finish sixth in her very first stock car endeavor.

“That was really fun racing side-by-side with people,” Patrick said.

It seems certain she will be side-by-side with many fenders in the future. As for the mystery of racing stock cars on her part? It appears she quickly picked up a trove of clues.




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