Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Danica Patrick Is a Serious Racer

The 2010 Indy 500 has now zoomed into the record books. I missed the finish, and the middle, and in fact missed most of the race, but did catch Jack Nicholson waving the green flag at the start, and the lap 2 crash that brought out the first yellow. I saw midway through the race when Tony Kanaan had moved into second place after starting in the 33rd position. Pretty exciting stuff in my book, and I understand that the finish was equally exciting. Congrats to Dario Franchitti for his second win.

Now, let's turn to Danica Patrick. I'm a bit amazed at how strong some of the critics rant on her, as if she has no right to be out there with all these cool racers from all over the world. O.K.... how does one get into the starting lineup at an Indy race? First, some people with a lot of money have to believe you are a pretty good racer and that you will not embarrass their brand, or wreck those million dollar cars every time you get into the cockpit.

Danica gets criticized just for showing up. Then she gets criticized for qualifying nearer to the back than to the front. When she finishes fifth or sixth, she is criticized for not winning. Come on, guys. She whooped butt on 27 other drivers. She avoided mishaps with superquick reaction times when necessary. She did not put her machine into the wall. She performed exceedingly well in that pressure cooker environment called Pit Row with its complicated rules on how fast you can go or what you can and can't do. Will Power, the other driver I was rooting for, drove away from the pits with the fuel dispenser still connected to the car. Bad move, Will.

Anyways, I may get booed for comparing her to Michael Jordan, but in one respect the comparison is apt. She has caused a lot of people to pay attention to racing again. Even when she did poorly at NASCAR, she did bring a lot of buzz and some new eyeballs at a time when ratings have suffered and their fan base is eroding. No, I am not saying she is yet the superstar standout of Jordan, but she is more than competent and has earned her spot the hard way, just like everyone else in sports. She didn't drive 180 mph and then get a wink and a nod and "Aw shucks, girlie, you can start in the race because we want women in the sport of racing."

There were actually four women in the starting grid this past Sunday. They averaged more than 224 miles per hour to get there. The accidents we saw were not caused by women drivers who didn't know what they were doing. Men drove cars into walls all by themselves. And though Tony Kanaan did a great job of working his way to the front from the back, Danica put in a good day's work to do the same, and finished within striking distance.

So, kudos to Danica. Good luck with the next phase in your career.

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